We're delighted to present an extract from A Sabbatical in Leipzig, the new novel by Adrian Duncan, published by Adrian Duncan - read below.
Michael, a retired engineer, has lived away from Ireland for most of his life and now resides alone in Bilbao after the death of his girlfriend, Catherine. Each day he listens to two versions of the same piece of music before walking the same route to visit Richard Serra's enormous permanent installation, The Matter of Time, in the Guggenheim Museum. Over the course of 45 minutes before he leaves his apartment, Michael reflects on past projects and how they have endured, the landscape of his adolescence, and his relationship with Catherine, which acts as the marker by which he judges the passing of time.
There are seven bridges all within a mile or so of me. They span over the Estuary of Bilbao, a broad river that winds through the city, and from my balcony at night I imagine these edifices quietly arching in the semi-dark. I visit them every day and I will see them later today too as I amble up towards the Guggenheim museum to walk around this set of enormous steel sculptures I've come to know. When I arrived first at this apartment I decided I would carry out a survey of the ten bridges that cross the Estuary of Bilbao. I took my old notebook, a pencil and my city map with me and documented these things – span, material, width, height, general repair. But because each day now my route only reaches the first seven, I consider the last three bridges (the Puente Pedro Arrupe, the Puente de Deuste and the Puente Euskalduna) as distant strangers. The seven I do know, I admire and disdain for different reasons, like the way one might admire or disdain friends within a group you know well.
Listen: Adrian Duncan reads from A Sabbatical in Leipzig
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My father was born a twin, but his brother died two months after he was born for reasons unknown to me. I think of this twin when I pass the first bridge on my route. Once, on either side of the Church of Saint Antony, at the point where the Solokoexte meets the Estuary of Bilbao, arched two bridges. On the right of the church a stone bridge called, I believe, the Puenta Marzana was first built. It once connected the broad Kalea Somera to the steep and narrow Muelle da Marzana on the other side. But the bridge was replaced 150 years ago with another, the Puente de San Antón to the east of the church. However, the two bridges stood either side of the church for a number of years before the bridge that I believe was called the Puenta Marzana was finally removed. The Puente de San Antón is a fine double-span masonry bridge whose northernmost rampart swerves around and up to the rear wall of the Church of Saint Antony. At this junction the difference in hardness between the sandstone of the church and granite of the bridge becomes apparent. The sharpness of the corners of these cut stones contrasts greatly. This is at the ] river side of the building, and if you look up from this junction of material the whole church, its dome, its carvings and statues look all to have somewhat melted. If you round the church to the main entrance on the busy Kalea Ribera you can see that the heads and the clothes of the apostles and saints have almost entirely wasted away, as if some plague of locusts descended on them many years ago. Whenever I enter the church, these phantasms fall away, and I can calmly take in the sandstone structure inside. Here the carvings, details and sculptures are all perfectly crisp, and I realize the difference between outside and inside is the difference between before and after rubbing sleep out of your eyes in the morning. The world inside becomes vivid and serious, so when I take in the deformed and diminished figures on the church’s exterior I think then often of their concerted sibling versions safe within.
One day in late January, during the first few weeks I lived on the Solokoexte and when I first began frequenting the front bench – or on cold days the front window of La Gernikesa, a small café I visit each morning – I spotted, among the schoolchildren and parents gathering at the junction of traffic lights, a host of people with pets of great variety. As the schoolchildren and parents veered left, those with their animals veered right and disappeared into the Church of Saint Antony across the road. I paid for my coffee and wandered over to see what was afoot. The whole building was full of humans and an immediate cacophony of animals and birds – barking, trilling, grunting, miaowing and panting, all attending a brief service. At the end of the service each creature was brought forward to the celebrant for blessing, and I learned later that day when I read a touristic pamphlet made available at the church that in these parts Saint Antony is not only the patron saint of lost things, but he is also the patron saint of animals. To the right of the front entrance of the church there’s a disfigured statue of a saint or some representation of a person important to the story of Saint Antony, but I have no idea who it might be. The lower half of the head has all but disintegrated and
the upper half has slumped onto the chest of the figure, as if he has fallen asleep mid-invocation. My route to the Guggenheim each day takes me past this church, this statue, and down the river side of the Mercado Ribera, a fine old market that smells of fresh fish and fresh coffee. The walkway between the river and the market wall narrows here and is usually peopled by workers smoking, or students hunkered on the ground. After this the Puenta de la Ribera appears. It is a precast concrete footbridge whose two main segments curve up, in pale quarter-circles, to a midpoint, where they rest against each other and gather up into themselves an everyday sort of stillness that I almost nod to each time I pass. The middle of the bridge flattens out into a walkway that leads up over the bank on the opposite side and onto Kalea Conde Mirasol, and from there the city rises and goes out of my reach.
A Sabbatical in Leipzig by Adrian Duncan (published by Lilliput Press) is out now - find out more here.