Welcome to another exciting Always Trust In Books book extract. Today’s blog tour is hosted by Hodder & Stoughton. Thank you to Jasmine for both a copy of The Comfort of Others for review and a spot on the blog tour. I have an intriguing extract to share with you all that was selected by Kay herself.
The extract, which is chapter 4 from the perspective of Minnie, does a great job of showcasing Kay’s writing and giving us an insight into the tone of the book. First I will share some information on the story and Kay herself. Then straight to the extract. I hope you enjoy this post and please leave a comment on what you thought of the piece.
Minnie and her sister Clara, spinsters both, live in a dilapidated country house in the middle of a housing estate, built when their father sold off the family’s land. Now in their seventies, their days follow a well-established routine: long gone are the garden parties, the tennis lessons and their suffocatingly strict mother. Gone, too, is any mention of what happened when Minnie was sixteen, and the secret the family buried in the grounds of their estate.
Directly opposite them lives Max, an 11-year-old whose life with his mum has changed beyond recognition since her new boyfriend arrived. Cast aside, he takes solace in Minnie’s careful routine, observed through his bedroom window.
Over the course of the summer, both begin to tell their stories: Max through a Dictaphone, Minnie through a diary. As their tales intertwine, ghosts are put to rest and challenges faced, in a story that is as dark as it is uplifting.
About Kay Langdale
Kay Langdale is the author of six novels: The Comfort of Others, Away From You, Choose Me, Her Giant Octopus Moment, What the Heart Knows (Rowohlt, Germany) and Redemption (Transita; published as If Not Love by Thomas Dunne Books.) Visit Kay’s website at www.kaylangdale.com. Follow her on Twitter: @KayLangdale.
The Comfort Of Others – Kay Langdale
Clara will be rounding the corner soon. I could set my wristwatch by her. Tap tap tap goes her stick on the pavement, but I can’t actually hear it so I am embellishing that part. The shopping trolley looks particularly full. Likely she will have bought curly kale, swedes, turnips; floor wax, too. Tomorrow I will polish the hall floor. The colour of the wax is Bishop’s Cardinal Red. Clara’s posture is impressive. ‘Did you ever ballet dance, m’dear?’ a market stallholder asked her once. She told me she shook her head and said, ‘No, never.’ She is not stand-offish, but she can be mistaken for being so. I am less likely to be misunderstood, mostly because I hardly go out and I speak as little as possible.
It has crossed my mind that all my unsaid words might be stacked up somewhere, waiting, like a wick, to be set alight. If it ever happens, I wonder if I will find myself torched by a hot flame of words. The marmalade cat which belongs to a house down the road is looping itself around the gatepost. It lifts its tail like an ensign. Clara will shoo it away with her stick. She can’t abide cats, their scratching and scraping. Sometimes, I think it would be companionable; a soft tabby in the parlour, mewing when it is hungry. Instead, there is mostly silence, always order, myself and Clara moving around Rosemount. There are rooms I have not been in for years: small attics, the billiards room where the green baize table gathers dust.
Clara steps purposefully in there sometimes, the ostrich-feather duster held upright in her hands. I’m not sure it does much good. Dust re-gathers, re-groups, re-falls anyway; rooms become softly shrouded in greyness. However one tries to avoid it, matter settles and ossifies. Clara is getting closer. A boy cycles past her, and it looks like he is singing or shouting. She doesn’t flinch. The woman in the post office asked her if she considered herself a target, what with her fixed routines. ‘I’d be worried,’ the woman said. Clara replied that she didn’t see why anyone would target her. She’s probably right. There is something in the way she wields her stick, some kind of peculiar authority and untouchability, which means it would take no small measure of courage to mug Clara. A mug used to be something one might drink from; now it also means a kind of assault. There is no denying it; words scamper forth and make new meanings for themselves. You can look out of a window for the best part of fifty years, and the whole world can label itself differently. My label changed. I began as Hermione, my baptismal name. It was rapidly truncated to Minnie; sometimes Min, my father’s pet name for me. Hermione, Minnie, Min. Smaller and smaller, as if I were shrinking.
Clara always insists on unpacking the groceries herself. She says I am undisciplined about what goes where in the refrigerator, which is not entirely fair. Also that I do not always replace the newspaper which lines the vegetable basket before laying out the fresh potatoes and onions. It is not worth a squabble. I am usually relegated to watching as Clara takes out carrots, cauliflower and a small block of cheddar. Perhaps she will have treated us to a custard slice each. Or it might be a jam tart, red and smooth as wax.
As I sit now by the bay window again the late afternoon sun casts long, angular shadows and the gate is picked out by the light. Rosemount Park, written on slate, retains its purchase on the ornate ironwork. The lowest hinge is broken. Clara has noted it in the Repairs book, which is no longer necessarily a step to it being repaired. Our house stood, previously, in a hundred acres of its own parkland.
There was a tennis court, a croquet lawn, a walled garden fragrant with pleached fruit trees and soft, blowsy roses. There is an ancient photo of myself and Clara, dressed in white sprigged muslin dresses, obediently holding hands in front of the neat vegetable garden. The butcher delivered meat tied in waxedpaper parcels, and the fishmonger, on Fridays, a fillet of cod or haddock laid out on granules of ice. I remember the gardeners, their tools, barrows, clippers; a man who pruned the trees, harnessing himself to the branches, and who with particular skill trimmed the wisteria, encouraging it to thread its way along the length of the glasshouse. The apples from the orchard were stacked in trays in an outhouse. ‘Apples from the garden,’ our mother used to say, ‘right through until February.’ It was Father who, after the war, in the mid-1950s, sold off all the land to the council to build a new estate.
The houses now lap practically to the front door. The child who lives opposite is physically closer to me than Clara making tea in the kitchen. ‘People need homes,’ my father had said firmly, ‘the time for all this is gone.’ When I close my eyes, I can still see the lake, the parkland, the feathery asparagus beds, the row of delicate aspen trees. The planners tried to commemorate the original context. Lake Street. The Long Walk. Wisteria Avenue. It’s all a nod to Rosemount’s vanished space. The money gained is perhaps now almost gone. Clara has not said – the accounts are her business – but last November she burned our stack of accumulated Yellow Pages in the woodstove, cutting them up with her old pinking shears. The flames danced green.
What plays out now in front of me are other people’s lives with all their business and colour. I watch the hurry and scurry of their routines; women on their way to nurseries with pushchairs, stooping to pick up things their toddlers hurl; schoolchildren bumping up the kerb on their bikes and wheeling with no hands on the handlebars down the middle of the road; teenagers smoking and laughing by the row of garages; grocery deliveries arriving in supermarket vans; young women in high heels teetering out on Friday night; a man in a yellow sou’wester walking his dachshund at precisely the same time, twice daily. I can measure my day by it all.
Thank you for visiting and supporting this blog tour. Kay Langdale has written an interesting and thought-provoking novel and I hope you all get a chance to pick up a copy. To find out more information The Comfort of Others please check out the other stops on this blog tour, information on the poster below.