Watch an interview with Tom Crewe here
Tom Crewe was born in Middlesbrough in 1989. He has a PhD in nineteenth century British history from the University of Cambridge. Since 2015 he has been an editor at the London Review of Books, to which he has contributed more than thirty essays on politics, art, history and fiction. The New Life, his first novel, was published in January. The book deftly recreates Victorian England in a stylish and richly-textured exploration of sex and social mores.
Hear an audio extract from ‘The Room Service Waiter’ here
‘The Room Service Waiter’
They found him where he had always been, living quietly on the rue Fournier. It was August. The man sitting across from Charles was a curator at the Louvre called Monsieur DuPont. He wore large rubbed spectacles and smoked seven cigarettes during the time he was in the house. His hair had sparks of grey in it – new ones leapt out when he turned his head in the sunlight bearing through the window. The cigarette smoke, ascending, was gold-tinged; Charles was reminded of misty mornings when he was a child in Normandy, how the sun would glow behind the mist, and the cows sidle through like gods.
He told M. DuPont about these mornings. He was aware he did this often now, telling people things they hadn’t asked to know. (He was getting old, past sixty.) In response, M. DuPont asked polite questions about his childhood – it suited his purpose, Charles realised, because it led him up to the hotel: when had Charles come to Paris? How had he got the job at Le Meurice? Did he remember his first meeting with the artist, Soutine?
M. DuPont was on his third cigarette. The room was a misty morning in Normandy. Charles was in a back corridor, a tray in his hands, cups shuddering, a streak of cold coffee running to the rim.
Did he remember the first meeting? He remembered the room. The smell of paint. His voice? Hard to say; he wasn’t good with voices, he’d never been able to do impressions. He couldn’t put his finger on the first time, no. Did he remember how he’d been asked? How many times, roughly, they had seen each other before then? It couldn’t have been often, because Charles wasn’t used to him yet, and you did get used to guests if they stayed long enough. Monsieur Soutine had asked very straightforwardly, man to man, like making any sort of deal; except Charles was young, he hadn’t bartered the price up, but simply accepted what was offered. He would have done it for nothing, he suspected, knowing himself as he was then. It was exciting, having your portrait painted – it would be exciting now, still. He’d been flattered; he’d showed off about it to his pals, not too much or it might have started to seem funny, one man painting another in his hotel room. In fact, Charles remembered M. Soutine making a point of saying that he wanted him with his clothes on, in his uniform – that the uniform was the important part. He’d supposed that was true when he’d seen the picture, though he made no claims to be a judge.
Continue reading ‘The Room Service Waiter’ here.
Explore more of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.
Follow Tom Crewe on X.
Image © Alice Zoo