This debut novella of poet Michael Loveday is filled with questions such as ‘Where are the fragranced pillows, where are the flying horses?’ The answers unsurprisingly, are not always forthcoming. Temporarily and sadly, the flying horses are not to be found no more the Spitfire key rings or the tiger print purses as protagonist Denholm rummaging through boxes in a old storeroom is an opportunity too good to pass up, and we are soon drifting back through layers of time to coin box skulls and footballing pigs and remembrance of hated games of blind man’s buff.
This book is an investigation of the mindsets of its three protagonists, threaded through with evocations of the settings of Rickmansworth/Chorleywood/Hertfordshire ‘on the edge’ of London. Such geographical placements – as is the case with many settings in literature and poetry – are both physical and metaphorical, for it is part of the human condition to feel on the edge of things, to experience this acute ‘edgeness’ as being alone.
But beyond the metaphor of the protagonists psyches, the landscape fulfils another role, that of a character in its own right. Second protagonist Gus seeks out the shadows and forms of the natural world which lap at the edges of our space:
‘there’s a veil between him and the world that will not lift and to tear it down seems like a betrayal. Why is it still not consolation – witnessing these swans, these shadows, this sky?’
Amid the minutiae of everyday life including the afternoon TV show Homes under the Hammer and a visit to Watford’s ‘antiseptic shopping mall’, Loveday renders this acute (even surgical) inspection of the lonely confusion of being 21st century human. The landscape functions to remind us what we are losing, that we are the only animal on the planet that destroys its own habitat.
The author mocks the meaningless nonsense which modern culture forces on us in the interests of the safety elves and some insurance company somewhere. For example, ‘the small print’ consists of fourteen lines of horrendous sounding symptoms, obviously taken from some prescription medication, ending in a pinnacle of silliness: ‘pins and needles, psoriasis, diarrhoea, impotence, mental disturbance … and (rarely) temporary thinning of the hair.
In the section entitled ‘Martyn – chewing glass’ I particularly like the way the author pinpoints the co-dependence of sexual relationships:
In Anja … he’s found the companion men surely crave; a guardian god of his secrets, magnifying mirror to his better self, and match for his lost mother’s perfections,’.
and, the increasingly extravagant media-fed fantasies upon which we rely for a sense of identity;
To join the London Olympics as proxy hero, Martyn intends to complete two thousand and twelve laps of Bury Lake. He’s not running for charity – it’s a piece of performance art, and he’ll be running backwards with a paintbrush as a baton that he’ll pass to nobody.
Another fantastic question: What is a gateway but a history of exits? How many have passed this way before? What lives did they lead?
This book is a rummage through the storerooms of the human heart with all its fears, its passions, its yearnings, its failures, its betrayals. Part of me suspects that Three Men on the Edge is a series of prose poems with an interlinking narrative structure. But that is merely a quibble of naming. That the prose is a feast of poesy is no accident, Loveday being a fine poet as well as, now, a fiction writer.