The Teardrop Method (TTA press) is set in modern-day Budapest and features singer and composer, Krisztina Ligetti, who at the start of the tale hears a fragment of a song which refuses to resolve into a complete composition. Having not composed anything since the death of her love, Alice, five years previously, the fragment galvanises her. She follows it and realises it part of the life essence of a man called József, whom she had previously met in a theatre. At the same time, she realises she is being observed by a man in a porcelain mask, a second unsettling element which sets the story in motion.
It is only upon József’s death that Krisztina is given the complete song. Something that is the quintessence of his life, which she captures in words and music.
She continues to hear song fragments and follows them to their source. Each time, the person dies and Krisztina is given the material and melody for her new songs.
Everything changes when one of her incipient muses, torch singer Camille Darling, is murdered in front of her. The murderer is a novelist who kills to inspire her own writing. And now Krisztina begins to fear for her own life.
In this melange of mythology, magical realism, crime and horror, there is a deeply humanist undercurrent about love and relationship: Krisztina and her estranged musician father; her grief over her lost love; the potential for a new relationship; and, of course, the profound love of music and creativity.
In less capable hands these elements could be overheated. But Simon Avery’s prose is spare and masterly, and certainly the equal of any Booker Prize nominee I’ve ever read. As much goes on between the lines as on them. The interstitial dark spaces are filled with horrors and a creeping unease that drags the reader in and won’t let go. The characterisation and storytelling, too, are brilliant.
There is a line in the novella that crystallises its theme, and it is one I shall remember for a long time:
“Art leads you back to the person you were after the world took you away from yourself.”
As a bonus to the novella, the volume also contains Avery’s shorter work, Going Back to the World. The protagonist is Susanna Cook, wife of music journalist, Dave Cook (whose reviews and articles about Krisztina Ligetti and her father are sprinkled through The Teardrop Method).
The story has a creeping dread about it, and tells us something about the nature of matters in our lives that are unresolved, grief without closure, unsupportable behaviours and much, much more. The supernatural element – if that is indeed what it is – gets its hooks into the reader in much the same way that MR James’ classic story, “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” does. And I can’t imagine higher praise than that.