An exclusive extract from American author Paul Auster's next novel, Hudson Script, due to be published spring 2012.
For almost a year now, Jack Spratt had sat at this same desk at this same hour. He sublet this room, no more than a storeroom, on the other side of the city where he was born and came here each morning at 8am, with the money workers going into their jobs. The space was brightly lit by overhead fluorescent tubes, and hot in winter. The only ventilation was a small window that could be reached by standing on his desk, even if he opened it he could not see out. At a certain time of day, in the late afternoon, by some chance the light would fall on it and, by now thoroughly drowsy and usually dispirited with his project, Jack would follow the square of sun that would trace its way across a small part of his boxroom.
Jack had left college without completing his studies intending to write a novel. He believed routine would allow the words to come, but each day he began again on the first page. He had 230 starts to more than 100 stories although often he returned to the same story, a reimagining of his relationships with his parents - now dead - and his step-sister, who he had last seen on his first day of college. He was no longer in contact with the one friend who could have passed on some news of Molly so he would imagine new lives for her, for them. How had they come to this, he wondered, when their childhood seemed full of colour and happiness. His father had set up a small independent publishing house, the Medici Press, in the late sixties, full of optimism following a trip to Paris as a student dropout himself. Paul's first wife, Jack's mother, died soon after the Medici Press was bought by a major publisher, the large payout he received meant Paul no longer needed to work.
Paul Spratt met his second wife, Mary, in the early seventies at an auction of rare books; she was an art dealer and they started talking about their shared love of seventeenth and eighteenth century French literature, which Paul specialised in publishing in translation. She impressed him with her knowledge of the poets of an even earlier era, François De Malherbe, one of his disciples, François Mainard, Malherbe's adversary Mathurin Régnier, Théophile de Viau and de Viau's friend Saint-Amant. When the couple moved in together, Molly immediately looked up to her new older brother. Cigar-smoking Paul would take them to baseball games together and Molly learned the players' averages so she could join in the men's conversation, as she thought of it. As they grew, she outpaced Jack, she invited him out with her friends, joined protest marches and rallies against the invasion of Iraq and the behaviour of bankers on Wall Street, and was the first to lose her virginity, an event after which she returned home immediately to tell Jack.