16 October 2014

The faultlines in all of us: An extract from In the Beginning was the Sea

Posted by the Bookshop

Colombian novelist Tomás González joins us at the Bookshop on Friday 31 October. Ahead of his visit, here's just a brief taste of In the Beginning was the Sea, a novel that Juan-Gabriel Vasquez described in the Guardian as a ‘taut, uncompromising study of the faultlines in all of us’.

“The house right opposite that island there,” said Julito. Elena and J. could see, not one, but three small islands lying parallel to the shore where the house was supposed to be. “Which one, Julito?” Elena asked. “The one with the palm trees, seño.” It was noon and the blazing sun shimmered on the dark green water. J. was wearing a white straw hat, Elena a green cap with a visor. Gannets dived into the waters near the beach and flocks of seagulls wheeled around the islands. As they turned into the cove, the outboard motors slowed until J. could no longer feel the forward thrust of the boat but only the rocking motion of the sea beneath them.

The house stood on terra firma at the foot of a hill. The rear of this huge, ramshackle wooden mansion was built into the side of the hill while the front was supported on brick piles. The roof had two broad wings fanning out on either side while, at the front of the house, a third extended from three metres below the roofline to cover a wide veranda that overlooked the sea. A skylight half a metre from the gable made it seem as though there was an upper floor, but in fact there was not. All five rooms in the house were directly below the corrugated iron roof; what looked like a skylight was simply a hole that had been patched with a rusty, broken screen.

They did not come ashore in front of the house. Julito explained that this stretch of beach was rocky and there was a risk that the boat might sink. Instead, they landed on a small beach with white sand and calm waters some two hundred metres from the house. Julito’s mate dropped over the side into water that scarcely came up to his knees and pushed the bow of the boat into the sand. “Best take our shoes off before we get out,” said J. Rolling his jeans up over his knees, J. jumped out of the boat, paddled to the shore, set down the shoes and went back to help Julito and his assistant to heave the boat ashore. “One, two, three,” called Julito, and the three men pushed. When the boat was firmly wedged in the sand, Elena jumped down onto the damp sand and quickly ran to avoid a breaking wave; once on dry land, she sat on a tree trunk and lit a cigarette. Meanwhile, J. collected their hand luggage and brought it up to the beach then went back, heaved one of the large suitcases onto his shoulder and carried it to where Elena was sitting. By the time he unloaded the second, the assistant had already brought the trunk ashore. “What you got in here, jefe?” he asked, “a dead body?” “Books,” said J. tersely.

Download more of In the Beginning was the Sea here