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Quiet City by Philip Davison

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Quiet City

By Philip Davison

Richard Meadows, the principal character in Quiet City, doesn’t know he’s in a thriller. A heart condition requires that he use nitro glycerine spray and forces him to live his life in the slow lane. Richard is no fool, but he just doesn’t see the danger. He concentrates on exploiting a newfound fearlessness, which he thinks might not last. The desire to be daring – which, perhaps is in all of us – has surfaced and he is sure that what a person needs in such circumstances is to hold their nerve, to be brave, to talk themselves into radical action. It has to be the right course of action. Clear judgement doesn’t always present in a timely manner.

We rarely know how well equipped we are when we step beyond our safe zone. That can fuel fantasy. So, what happens when the fantasy manifests as real opportunity? When Richard’s wife, Gloria, tells him he is showering too noisily he knows he has entered a new phase in in life. That is not to say that all is lost between the couple – on the contrary. There might a chance for something new and exciting for them, if they can just see their way. Best retrieve his wife’s favourite chair, which he had thrown away earlier. At the city dump Richard encounters old flame, Virginia Coates. Being properly damned can bring its own joy, he’s thinking.

To begin with I had a strong sense that the narrative would be driven by an interloper; an uninvited guest. Someone who, nonetheless, brought a familiar affection and seemed to promise redemption. How would the brief affair with Virginia Coates work? I wondered. With this type of storyline there is a strong urge to fix on the price the parties pay for their supposed or actual transgression. I wanted to address this, but also to give some sense of a sudden closeness that doesn’t yield the desired intimacy, doesn’t satisfy the passion. This, to me, was a more interesting quest.

I showed an early draft of the novel to my wife, Alison. She seemed to be engaged by it, but asked: what about Gloria? She was right, of course. Gloria’s situation had to be investigated. There was a nice irony, for she, too, was experiencing the same sense of disaffection; a similar desire to take action. In the end, it is she who truly fastens on her chance for fulfilment.

I call the novel Quiet City because the city, and indeed nature, are indifferent to our trials. This interests me as I think it has an effect on how we manage those trials. It can sometimes help us to focus on priorities. It can, in some strange way, hearten us. It can give perspective. It can even give warning, if we are attuned to it. I say sometimes – there can be slippage. Noir stories revel in such slippage.

Quiet City was dramatized for radio and broadcast on RTE before the novel was published. I have long been drawn to radio. For me narratives often begin not with plot, but with voices; with dialogue exchanges, rash utterances, discordant fragments spoken out into the ether. They hang awkwardly by themselves, but somehow provide the key to understanding a character’s perspective, something of their history, their intentions – however misguided. I was most fortunate in that we had an exemplary cast assembled for the project. Stepping into the radio studio with actors, a writer is aware that there is no hiding place for woolly thinking. That is not to say there is nothing left to explore. Quite the opposite. From the outset actors lift their lines to see what forces are at work underneath. If I haven’t done the same, then we are in trouble.

In this instance, recording for radio presented an interesting question about the narrative voice – we were dramatizing, not simply reading the novel for listeners. In the radio version I decided that Richard should narrate when he was desperate to do so, thereby forcing his perspective on events. This was the means by which I might further reveal something of his humanity, which in the novel could be alluded to in the abstract.

Book covers matter, just as titles matter. If the author is fortunate, the cover has its origins in the centre of the work and it becomes part of the body of text. In this regard Quiet City has indeed been well served. I am happy to see it out in the world, clad as it is and with generous quotes from people whose work I deeply admire. So much has changed in publishing in recent years. Much of the wisdom about publishing fiction one might have acquired has been made redundant. The emphasis seems evermore focused on the writer as quick performer, as celebrity, as social media aficionado. We must be pragmatic, of course, but to my eyes this seems to fly in the face of what really matters – namely that writers of fiction are, at their best, seers who offer insight that is the result of slow contemplation.

(c) Philip Davison

About Quiet City:

Everything works out – except in the end. In the meantime, concentrate on temptations of the flesh; on naked desire. Being properly damned brings its own joy: that’s what Richard Meadows is thinking on his way to the city dump to retrieve his wife’s favourite chair, which he had thrown away earlier. And that’s where he meets old flame Virginia Coates. So begins a dance of circumstance that feeds on Richard’s newfound fearlessness, and his desire to be daring. Time to lean in to the danger.

How can a nice man like him get things so wrong? For some reason, the sudden closeness between Richard and Virginia doesn’t yield the desired intimacy, doesn’t satisfy the passion. It is Richard’s wife, Gloria, who truly fastens on her chance for fulfilment.

Quiet City is a literate, satisfying work of fiction which crosses Richard Ford with Kinky Friedman, with a noir undercurrent. Spellbinding storytelling from a novelist at the height of his powers.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Philip Davison’s published novels include The Crooked Man, McKenzie’s Friend, The Long Suit and Eureka Dunes. The Crooked Man was adapted for television. His play, The Invisible Mending Company, was performed on the Abbey Theatre’s Peacock stage. He has co-written two television dramas, Exposure and Criminal Conversation, and Learning Gravity, a documentary film on poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch. He has written twelve plays for radio. An adaptation of his novel Eureka Dunes was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 in 2019, and an original dramatisation of Quiet City was broadcast on the same station in 2020.

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