Dartmouth Park Buy from other retailers

Publication Date: Oct 24, 2023

432 pp


List Price US: $18.99

ISBN: 978-1-63542-167-5

Trim Size: 5.24 x 7.95 x 1.10 in.


List Price US: $11.99

ISBN: 978-1-63542-168-2

Dartmouth Park

A Novel



What triggered it was utterly innocuous
A young woman standing a few feet away from him took out a travel card and tapped it against the card reader, the gesture instinctive, automatic, like a reflex
There was also the noise the card reader made
A kind of beep
Then there was the tram’s interior, the metal poles upright and painted orange, the seats upholstered in a practical, hard-wearing charcoal gray
Though he was sitting still, his head began to float sideways and backwards, the motion frictionless and easy, like an ice cube sliding across a pane of glass
But that wasn’t all
A hand had wrapped itself around his brain, and it was squeezing
He was worried he might throw up or pass out
He was worried he might scream
He couldn’t think
There was nothing left to think with

If he suddenly found what surrounded him unbearable, it was because it was artificial
Everything had been designed and manufactured, and he was trapped in it
He had also become aware of possibilities that might or might not have been explored
Behind that beep, a thousand other beeps
Behind that upright orange metal pole, a pole made out of something different, or molded into a different shape, or painted a different color
Somehow all the conceivable alternatives were still there, stacked up behind the version that had been decided on, and all of them unnoticed, overlooked
Except by him

He had boarded the tram at Nonneseteren
He was on his way back to London, after a four-day conference in Bergen
Studying the map above the window opposite, he counted twenty-five stops to the airport
The journey would take approximately three-quarters of an hour
He ran his eyes through the various stations
Paradis, Hop, Lagunen
In normal circumstances, he would have reveled in the foreign sounds
That afternoon they made him feel nauseous
Behind each station’s name lurked all the names that station might have had instead

The tram slowed down
A series of electronic notes, a sort of jingle, and then a woman’s voice
He lowered his eyes
How many women had auditioned for that role?
Like an image from a hall of mirrors, the queue of applicants curved off into a distance that seemed infinite
As for the voice itself, decisions would have been taken about character and tone
His mind began to spin and swirl with all the options, and once again he had the feeling that his head was leaving his shoulders, his neck as soft as chewing gum that has been chewed for hours
He had become the host for a sensitivity—a hypersensitivity—that he couldn’t regulate or even influence
He was tempted to get off the tram
He could sit on a bench and breathe the cold Norwegian air
Would it make any difference, though?
What if he felt no better?

He looked out of the window, hoping to distract himself, but the tram had stopped next to a billboard
He didn’t notice what the product was, only that it began with an A, and that the apex of the A was colored white, as if the letter was a snowcapped mountain
This was the most unbearable thing so far
It was so obviously made-up
Dozens of ideas would have been discussed, presented, and rejected in favor of the one that now confronted him
Behind the surface of reality lay other surfaces, other realities
Behind every single thing was something else

He brought his eyes back to the tram’s interior, and there, as before, were the seats and the poles
This is just a ride on a tram, he told himself, a ride on a tram in Bergen
He hung his head again and closed his eyes
He could still hear the beeping of the card reader as new passengers got on
The sequence of electronic notes
The female voice

He opened his eyes and stared at the smooth gray floor
The smoothness was sickening
The grayness too
He couldn’t close his eyes or keep them open
There was nowhere he could look
I might have to kill myself, he thought
It seemed like a perfectly reasonable response to what he was going through
It might even be the only solution available to him
How else could he make it stop?

Miraculously, he managed to hang on until he reached the airport

He stepped off the tram
The nausea was still there, though it was milder, more subdued
It reminded him of what happened when he took medication for a headache
The pain might lift, but it would leave a memory, a kind of afterimage
A place that was dazed and listless
Hollowed out

With an hour to spare before his flight was due to board, he found himself standing in front of a seafood restaurant called Fiskeriet
Here again the feeling was one of overload or surfeit
There was a prawn salad, a grilled salmon salad, a smoked salmon salad, a crab salad, and a salad with tuna, red onion, and black olives
And that was just the salads
There were also fish cakes and fish soup and fried fish and steamed mussels
Choice was one of the hallmarks of modern society
Choice was a kind of hell

He couldn’t have said how long he stood there for, though there came a point when he attracted the attention of the woman behind the counter
If she thought he was behaving suspiciously, she would call Security, and then there would be trouble
He selected the dish that was closest to him—a prawn salad—then paid for it and took it over to a table
The woman seated nearby was dressed in a dark-blue blazer and a white skirt
She might have just stepped off a yacht
She had ordered a plate of fish-and-chips and a glass of rosé
He doubted it had been difficult for her

He took a breath, but couldn’t seem to fill his lungs
It was as if he had been transported to a planet with a different atmosphere, and he was struggling to acclimatize
He picked up a wedge of lemon and squeezed a few drops onto his prawns
The woman in the blazer looked at him
It was the kind of look you give a lift door when the lift is on its way

Her mind was almost certainly elsewhere
He ate slowly, feeling he had made the wrong choice
Perhaps they were all wrong choices
Was he even hungry?
He forced himself to go on eating
He remembered a faint taste of salt water
Nothing else

Half an hour later he set off towards his gate

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