Two crucial parts of Neely Sharpe’s life are missing: Her once-great potential and her girlfriend, Angela. A failed academic turned frustrated office drone who had assumed that once she made it to London, she would be somebody, Neely finds herself tasked with a job finally suiting her intellect – piecing together the hidden life of the working-class, epileptic, and quietly devoted woman she loves. As the crucial days of Angela’s disappearance pass, Neely excavates Angela’s secrets, uncovering a sister who pushed her family away, a father obsessed with immortalising it, and a smattering of locals who don’t let their own problems get in the way of poking around in those of others. In search of answers as to what happened to her girlfriend - and why - Neely scours the city, from parks to pubs to the sewers in a snowstorm as the two women’s networks of friends, family, and old adversaries intertwine. In order to find any answers, Neely risks losing all the illusions she so carefully cultivated about what her life should be – but for the generation that was promised so much, one thing is certain: there is nothing worse than being a nobody. The Hope and Anchor captures the dreams London embodies for its natives and newcomers alike, and what happens when the dreamers finally have to wake up.
If Angela is not in, then it makes sense to Neely that she must be out. Basic logic, common sense. Any idiot could figure that out, and Neely thinks herself more than a scratch above any idiot, and so she locks the door and hits the pavement in the evening chill. Neely does the Harrow Road door-to-door, a tour of the pubs and their yellow-lit insides. Why might Angela be in the pub? Again, logic: she might be in the pub because she is definitely not in the flat, and if she is not in the pub, then that will be one less place left to look afterward. Simple as.
A peek in the Barlby Arms: no Angela. Not on either side of the wrap-around bar, which splits the pub evenly down the centre and gives it the only bit of charm to be found within its walls. She is not sitting by the old men watching the cricket, nor is she among the tracksuited wasters around the snooker table. The Windsor Castle: no sign of Angela Archer. No sign of anybody in particular, because the clientele right now certainly count as nobodies. Neely recognizes them. The gingery one with the broken nose and the fingers shakily looking for something to scratch is called Rob, a fitting name for someone whose only useful skill seems to be thieving. His girlfriend, Alex, another Alex like Neely’s brother Alex and Angela’s brother Alex and so many others born in unimaginative years to unimaginative parents – well, strictly speaking, not Neely’s parents, they came up with fucking Neely – sits across from him. Her lips are split again. Rob isn’t responsible for that. He’ll bust anybody except his girlfriend, and he’ll especially bust anybody who looks at her sideways. Neely knows this. She’s seen it happen on the corner of Harrow Road and Elgin Avenue just around kicking-out time. Alex has spoken three words to Neely in all her life: “Black don’t crack,” with a cackle, when she saw Neely staring at a scrape on her cheek one night during a pub quiz. But it just did, Neely thought back, smiling only to be polite. Rob and Alex weren’t playing. They never did.
The pub quiz tonight isn’t at the Windsor Castle, though. It’s down the road. Rob and Alex always migrate pub to pub, wispily, like Neely is doing now, and as she leans her full weight into the door of the Hope and Anchor and grunts it open, the heat and the noise rush to meet her. Melanie the barmaid’s eyes do, too. Her face registers relief for a split second before she covers it with an asinine grin. On this night, she serves as quizmaster and ringmaster of a human circus with far too many coked-up amateur clowns and no safety net beneath the trapeze. Mel is in fact younger than Neely, Angela’s age, but her overall appearance is that of a once-stunning outfit that has been put through the wash twice as often as recommended, and on a turbo spin cycle at that. She has both faded and sagged considerably from the last time she and Angela Archer shared a classroom at Sion Manning School. Her ankles are too thick for her high heels, which are too high for any practical purpose and make her wobble on the carpet. The broad, inexpertly-applied highlights in hair pulled tight against her skull give the impression her head had been burnished by a sculptor who quickly lost interest and moved onto the next project before finishing the first. The overall effect screams, from every curve: I will grow old here and I will die here and when that happens I will be doing the exact same thing I am doing now. And right now, she is verbally wrangling a speeding skinhead who has greeted Neely’s arrival with nothing less than the facial equivalent of a raging hard-on.
Hello! A video message from me on this gorgeous day in New York. Forgive the upspeak, but I'm really that happy, y'know? We hit 50% last night and I'm incredibly grateful to all of you who have pledged. Please help me maintain the momentum and spread the word to anybody you know who might be interested!
I also wanted to share with you a visually-stunning but very gloomy near-elegy for London…
To everybody who has pledged so far, I want to let you know just how grateful I am. This project has been several years in the making and I can't wait to see the final book with all your names in it. To be 28% of the way funded in just five days is thrilling, and I'm hoping I can sustain the momentum! It's also very humbling to see people I've never met pledging a copy. This is the kind of thrill…
These people are helping to fund The Hope and Anchor.