Is Alice?


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176 in stock


By Bill Bailey

ISBN: 978-1-84747-671-5
Published: 2008
Pages: 341
Key Themes: fiction, schizophrenia, psychiatry, love



Is Alice? is a powerful and fictionalised love story. The novel was written solely as a manuscript gift for my partner, and publication is therefore dependent upon her wishes. Her primary one, along with pleasure about its surprising publication, is anonymity. She is not “Alice,” and I am not “Theo.” This is not a biography. Fiction is used in Is Alice? to illuminate an actual madness along with a real search for the ideas that may help in understanding the living and political nature of consciousness – the structure of “normality” and the “real” world and its incoherent collapse into the hell that is known as schizophrenia. There are passages from the patient’s point of view, which make this novel an unusual project. That is because the inner landscape of madness does have a logic and meaning that should be acknowledged and evoked, instead of ridiculed or misunderstood. Contemporary psychology – nevermind clinical psychiatry – fails in its attempt to address the nature of consciousness or its creation of the “world.” I believe philosophy underpins psychology, not the other way around.

About the Author

Born in a small rural town in North Carolina, Bill Bailey began his itinerant life after graduating from university with a degree in philosophy and a keen interest in judo. After being drafted and subsequently ejected by the US Army for being “incompatible,” he found work as a prison guard in Canada and continued his study of judo before briefly prospecting for gold in British Columbia. Having meanwhile accidentally married a Texan heiress, he moved to Houston, Texas where he managed a ranch, scrambled motorbikes, rallied sports cars, worked as a bouncer, taught English and French and organised the first white collar union in the US meat-packing industry. He placed third in the Southwestern US Judo Championships (light-heavyweight division) and was awarded his black belt. Backing quickly away from Texas after stumbling into the acting profession he moved to London. Within a year of his arrival he became the first full-frontal male nude on the British stage and, consequently, was featured in a full page photo in Life Magazine opposite Lennon and Ono. In the course of his acting career he has worked extensively in film – in Hollywood and Europe – television, and London’s West End. During the Miners’ Strike of ’84-’85 Bill wrote a play about the strike and toured the embattled coalfields performing with a small company of actors. He is the published author of five novels called The Haug Quintet, an investigation of the political nature of consciousness set in a compelling fictional landscape.

Book Extract

The hush rolled across the Royal Albert Hall like a noiseless wave, when moments before the auditorium was alive with an animal chatter as incessant and relentless – and far less musical – than the canopy of an Amazon rainforest. The house lights were quickly dimming. All eyes refocused on the stage, which held a concert grand Steinway piano, a cushioned stool, and no other props. The silence of the audience became sepulchral as the seconds slid by slowly. Ten seconds, twenty, then thirty, forty-five, one whole minute. When he finally appeared from behind the stage-left curtains, the breath intake from the audience was sharp, as if from one huge pair of lungs.

Aleksei Cherkasov was a tall man with a lantern jaw. He had once been even taller, but age had rounded his back, bringing his big chin closer to his chest. He was bald, except for a crinkly fringe of still-dark hair that connected the backs of his ears like an Alice band. Having recently celebrated his 81st birthday, Cherkasov walked slowly and carefully across the polished floor of the stage towards the piano. Surely this must be his final public concert. Ten days ago he played the identical programme on the same stage. The over-subscription of that concert led to this extraordinary evening. The legendary Russian maestro demanded that another evening be fixed to accommodate those who failed to get a seat in the first concert. In any other case, this would have been impossible, as the Royal Albert is fully booked over a year in advance. Schedules were frantically shuffled, agents and performers called, all the heavy furniture of bookings were shoved and pushed. Somehow one more evening was created for this astonishing pianist to play again, one last time before he disappeared back into Russia and expected retirement. Aleksei Cherkasov was the last of the great Russian virtuosos of the 20th Century, a man considered the equal of Horowitz and Gilels, and even the monumental Richter. If anything, the second bookings were snapped up more rapidly than the first, so Cherkasov insisted some accommodation should be made for those who could bear standing for the length of the whole concert.

In the early years of his fame, Aleksei Cherkasov was treated gingerly by the West. Most of his life was spent as a citizen of the USSR, and he was as outspoken in its support as he occasionally was in criticism of the government. Yet his avuncular charm and ironic wit finally endeared him to people all over the world – that and his absolute command of the piano. In his youth he was known for his fire and ice at the keyboard, but in later years his musicality became more internalised, gorgeously dense and philosophical. His concerts became like séances as he was the medium between this and another world. He completely re-invented the late Beethoven sonatas, and one reviewer exclaimed that he must be experiencing the music exactly as Beethoven would have played it himself. His Debussy was ethereal, like gossamer threads of silk. His Bach unfolded with Euclidian clarity in its celestial geometries. He let it be known that Mozart was his favourite, and developed the composer’s precocious playfulness to bring smiles to the faces of his audiences. Yet he could also tease the depths from shallower works that would have musicians hustling back to have another look at the scores. The respect with which he was held by the musical community was awesome.

Only since the disintegration of the USSR did he begin wearing his Order of Lenin medal when he played. It was not ostentatious. It was a simple statement. Perhaps you could say his citizenship in the USSR fully began with the collapse of his old country. He was contemptuous of the new systems of market-oriented global capitalism, and pointed out in interviews that an old three-shell game was being played where the poor became poorer and the rich thrived. In the old days, he commented, everyone at least had a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. Few went without. He didn’t wave the red flag, but he wore his medal whenever he appeared in public. He realised he needn’t say any more than that.

Aleksei Cherkasov sat down carefully on the piano stool and contemplated the white and black keyboard. His chin crushed his splendid black bow tie as he examined for a moment his instruments, those big miner’s hands, now heavily veined and lined. Slowly, he closed his eyes and began to play.

It was Schubert’s B-flat Major Sonata, with the extravagantly long first movement based on a melody so sweet that Schubert could not let it go until every drop of emotion could be squeezed from it. It so reminded Cherkasov of a youth that would never be restored. Memories were dim and unreliable. But when he closed his eyes, he imagined he was 13 years old, leaning with his elbows on an old wooden fence, his chin on the back of his folded hands. His huge, serious eyes were following the magical swing of Ludmilla’s petticoats as she walked past his house with two loaves of bread. The longing of the adolescent boy was still in the old pianist’s heart. It was pain, and it was joy. Ludmilla was almost 16, far too old for him, he thought. They weren’t really sexual thoughts. He dreamed only of holding her close to him and burying his face in her blonde ringlets. Just to enfold her, to touch her, that’s all. That would be heaven. He imagined the two of them lifting from the earth and rising to a palace of stardust where they would lie side by side, listening to the serenade of angels. And for the young Aleksei, Ludmilla was angelic. What magic powers did she possess to lift his whole mind to the heavens? The movement of her body was inexpressibly and exquisitely beautiful…

Cherkasov opened his eyes and followed his fingers on the keyboard. The music took him back to moments like that – so romantic, so youthful, so unblighted by coruscating age. He felt the audience, too, and hoped he and Schubert were helping to illuminate memories of their youthful naivety. He was nervous – as are all performers – but not tense. His focus was to provide access to himself, the deepest meanings of his existence, and thus, he hoped, to Schubert. He raised his eyes from the keyboard, and he was seeing not the stage but those few memories still preserved in the catacombs of self.

Then he did see something else, something peculiar, something completely out of context, as if from another kind of reverie. A man had walked hurriedly onto the stage from the wings. He wore only a pair of underpants and socks. Cherkasov watched as he continued playing. The man stopped downstage in the centre and addressed the audience.

1 review for Is Alice?

  1. Mel Cobb (verified owner)

    Having read several other writings by this author, I was intrigued by his take on not only the mental health system, but how that crosses over to an understanding of human consciousness in general. The author’s prose has a bite that very few contemporary authors seem to possess. “Is Alice?” has the taste of devastating personal experience with the mental health system illuminated by almost super-human courage to combat such monsters. If you’ve ever grappled with the system, had friends who have, or fear that you might, “Is Alice?” will provide an invaluable and fascinating perspective. Along with that, it’s an old-fashioned page-turner.

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