Los Angeles Times
Laura Blundyby Julie Myerson
It begins with a shocking act of violence. On a humid, thundery afternoon, Laura Blundy murders the man who saved her life. He is her husband, but she has a lover. Fifteen years her junior, already the father of five, Billy is a laborer-one of thousands of faceless men installing the sewers in the city of London in the mid-1800s. He is the only passion Laura has ever known, and so she pursues her obsessive dream of their life together to its dire extremes....
Author Biography: Julie Myerson was born in Nottingham, England in 1960. She is the author of three previous novels, Sleepwalking, The Touch, and Me and the Fat Man. Her work has been translated into many languages.
Los Angeles Times
- Penguin Group (USA)
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Chapter 1 Storm
I do it on a hot and stormy late-summer's afternoon, shortly after the evening post arrives and some time before the lamps are lit.
It's five o'clock and the air is yellow. Thunder shudders through the sky.
It is not done that quickly. Well, he is a big man - five eleven in his stockinged feet - and I am not a hefty woman. It takes several goes. But I have surprise on my side. He never expects it - he can't believe it. Neither can I. In the end I use my crutches as well. I don't stop till he's down and twitching, till he's stopped shouting and screaming, till he's down.
The room flashes. Rain falls - delicate as needles then thick and hard.
I stand there for a few moments, electrified by what I've done. Funny that the dog-weight's still in my hand. I thought I put it down. The crutch is squeezed so tight under my arm that it hurts. Blood runs fast from his head. The air's hot - sweet and sticky. I need the WC. It is bad timing, that I should be coming on the rag just now.
I should go but I can't. Can't take my eyes off him. He should be dead but his nerves don't know it yet. Is that why his eyes are rolling around and his limbs are moving? Not much but a little.
I put the weight down on the table. Carefully so it's still within reach.
Ewan, I say, leaning on my crutch and bending slightly towards him, Are you all right?
I don't expect him to be at all all right, but what else can I say? How do I speak to him?
Ewan? Ewan? Are you?
He doesn't answer. He doesn't even moan. The little movements have stopped and he's the stillest and silentest I've ever known him. He makes my own voice sound too loud.
I should really light the gas but don't want to. The room's so gloomy, drained of colour by the storm, but I think I'd rather not see it any better just now. His body on the kitchen floor - our kitchen floor - the blood running.
Yes, I am glad of the darkness. Look at me shaking, I'm so tired. My brain is tired, so tired.
I can't believe how much blood is coming out. I think I can smell it. That and something else that is not blood.
It's a terrible sight. No one should have to see this. It wouldn't bother him of course, but I'm not like him. I'm not used to seeing inside people. None of this is what I expected. I wish I'd thought to fling something over his face. I could get something. When I get the energy to think.
The storm's still going - banging fit to crack the sky open. Very lucky actually for it drowned out his cries as he fell. But that sobbing now, is it him or is it me? I hope it's me. Hard to say what I'm doing or not doing and that's the truth - one act so tangled in with another.
I am shocked and choked and squiffy. What I will do is I will wipe my fingers on his mother's best linen tablecloth, ha ha, and sit on the settle a moment and think of what to do next.
Peace. I am sitting here in the thick perfect dark, thinking how good it is to be in a silent room. Just the sound of my own breathing.
So many shadows in this room - his mother made it, with her small black cigarettes and her chipping away at everyone's character. It was a bad place while she was here and it is almost as bad with her gone. Bad dead people leave their history behind them. I expect they have their reasons.
Trying to relax, I see with horror that my skirt is entirely splashed with his blood - and then my crutch, the tip of one of my crutches is clotted with his hair and whatnot.
Clutching the mantel and then the table for support, I get myself round the room holding on to the furniture and douse the wooden tip in the big, deep sink, the one where Verity normally does the turnips. Pump the tap. There - a bright slither of his hair going down with a shred of skin attached.
It's gone so quiet - the storm must be moving off now. Now and then a judder of light, a distant crumpy roll of thunder.
The door is open to the pantry, where we struggled. Tins were knocked off, earthenware cracked, a jar of mustard and a half side of ham fell on the floor. Won't be eaten now. Muck and grit embedded in the meat. We fought in there - well, I say fought but he was on his hands and knees. Then he crawled back in here and I had to set on him again.
It is most odd and strange to see him, my husband, on the floor. Like a child or a dog. Hey, Ewan, what's the world look like from down there? I am sorry, my love, I am sorry for the manner of your going, but at least now you can't hurt him. I had to stop you. Some things you don't know how hard you will fight for. And I couldn't have you hurt him, I just couldn't.
Well, I think you know that now.
His name is Billy, but I didn't tell him that.
Don't try to stop me, is what I said, Nothing and nobody will stop me. I'm sorry. I'm going now. I won't be back, Ewan.
He still held on to his newspaper though his face was white. He liked the evening paper. He read it all over from start to finish, then went back to the beginning again to see what he'd missed.
Did you hear me, Ewan?
Where? he said, half smiling as if it was a joke, Where are you going?
To be with someone, I said. Which was very brave of me, to say that - to say someone. I did not think I would do it, but the words came to me - they burst right out of my head.
Ewan folded the paper but he still held on to it.
Oh, he said, crisp and calm as a Sunday school teacher, Who?
A person, I said.
He got the point. The look on his face said it all.
You don't know him, I added, He's someone I met.
Ewan stood up. He came towards me so I moved gently away.
Laura! he said, You - what are you saying?
I said nothing. My eyes filled with tears. I had told myself not to cry, but now my eyes would not listen. Ewan took heart.
Laura, he said, This is ridiculous. You've gone mad. Despite everything, you know I love you. No one could love you more than I do -
Really, Ewan, I hissed through my tears, Despite every-thing! Really! Is that supposed to cheer me up?
Slowly and carefully, as if it was made of glass, he put down the paper. Folded his arms.
You can't go, he said. He said it stiffly and without effort. He said it as if it had been decided by someone else.
I said nothing. I watched the shadows creeping into the room - over his head, around the door, around his face. He licked his lips. He was nervous. Look at him, I thought. I've made him nervous.
I won't let you go, he said, You know I won't.
How will you stop me? I asked him gently.
Noting with satisfaction that his hands were shaking, I took a small step away from him. Then a bigger one. More shadows, then a glint of late sun slid into the room, illuminated the wall and dissolved in front of us as if it had never intended to be there at all. Sorry.
Sorry, I said, But it is not what you think.
Oh? said Ewan, And what do I think?
I love him, I said, But for a different reason.
Ewan tilted his head - but rather stiffly - and laughed.
It is, I said and I hesitated, It is to do with my baby.
It's him? Ewan looked shocked, The man who - ?
No, I said quickly, No, of course not.
Who is he?
I'm not saying.
I take it you do mean a man? It is some bloody man we are talking about? One of your workhouse dossers?
No, I said, Not exactly, Ewan. He is working on the new sewers. He is rebuilding the city, you know, making it -
I bit my lip. I had said too much.
Ewan burst out laughing again.
Oh! he said, The sewers, eh? And what's his name, my darling?
I'm not saying. Don't try to make me. There's no point. Someone I've been looking for, who is important to me, that's all.
Ewan pretended to put his head in his hands but it was not from despair. He was just thinking.
I'm sorry, Laura, he said, But let me make something clear. You can't just spring this on me, you can't just run off with some little sewer squit, no way, my love. What I mean is - and he gritted his teeth - you're my bloody wife.
Bloody wife? It sounded like a foreign language, like the one the grey-faced pedlars talk on Saffron Hill.
And I said, Well, I know that, Ewan, of course I do -
Do you want to go back where you came from? he said.
I watched his face. I watched him check the fury in it. He was clever enough to know it would do no good.
Please, he said then without raising his voice - and I know he thought he sounded mild and reasonable - Please, darling, think about what you're doing -
I have thought about it, I said quietly, I have thought of nothing else for a long time.
Ewan sighed, ran his hands through his bright hair. So red. When I first met him I found its brightness unnerving. Now I had learned not to look at it if I could help it.
He said: Remember how you were when we met, Laura, when you came to me -
I never came to you, I said quickly.
In the hospital, he insisted, When you were brought in there - I liked you - from the first -
I let my hands fall to my sides.
I was very sad and confused, I said truthfully, I had no choice.
Immediately I regretted my honesty. It was Ewan's fatal talent, wasn't it, squeezing little truths out of you, till the emptiness you were left with took your breath away.
He took strength from my admission.
Exactly, he said.
I mean -
You are not a - how shall I put it? - a level person, Laura, he said, That's why I'm not angrier about this. You are a strange woman - gritty but with a big imagination, much bigger than is good for you -
I tried to interrupt him but he continued.
You have no sense of embarrassment or disgust. You fly into states and you don't know what you're doing -
I don't want any more of your pills, I told him quickly and firmly, I am doing fine without them. For weeks they have gone out with the refuse, so there you are -
I don't believe you, he said.
I shrugged again, but I did not like that he was taking me away from the main point.
I have kept you out of trouble, he said, Haven't I made your life smooth? - Remember, I have seen all of you, Laura. Don't delude yourself. You can't hide from me -
Then let me go, I said, If you know so much, then let me go and so much the better for you - !
That's not what I meant, he said and I did not like his eyes when he looked at me.
I was silent. I heard faraway thunder, the first spatter of rain on the dark window.
Ewan stared at the rain as if it would tell him something.
What's his name and who does he work for?
I did not answer.
Who is he? Tell me, Laura. I can easily find it out -
It's nothing to do with you who he is, I screamed at him suddenly.
Ewan did not flinch. Carefully, wearily, as if he knew I was unpredictable and not to be trusted, he replaced his arms back on those of the chair. He let out a breath.
I don't know why you married me, he said slowly.
Neither do I, I replied as lightly as I could.
I loved you, he said, accusing me.
I said nothing.
D'you hear me?
He was sweating. I could see a trickle coming from his sideburn. I tried not to think of it.
Oh, come on, he said. He was trying to smile but his eyes were choked and angry. Again he tried to take my hand but I pulled away smartly.
He cleared his throat.
You'll take nothing, he said, You'll go with nothing -
Fine, I said.
None of your clothes. How will you manage without your fine things?
As I managed before, I said.
Ewan smiled at me.
In the workhouse?
I won't go back in there, I said.
What sort of life will your sewer man provide for you?
I shook my head.
Love isn't like that, Ewan, I said.
Oh, he said, Love is it now? You silly girl, you sound like a bloody Essex kitchen-maid, a bubble-head, can't you hear yourself ?
I smiled again - I did not mean to but I could not help it. Thinking of Billy made my heart go hot.
I know you, Ewan said - but there was no trace of love in his voice, only possession and superiority - I know you like no one else -
No, Ewan, I said, but he ignored me. He reached for me, made as if to gather me in his hands as if I was a thing of his. And that's when I knew I would hurt him.
Shut up, I said sharply.
I know all the -
I don't want to hear it -
You go back to your crawlers and dossers if you want, but I'll find you easily and when I do, I won't hurt you -you know that, Laura, don't you, I would never hurt you, but by God I swear I'll hurt him -
Shut up, I said.
If he means so much to you, whoever he is, I'll hurt him so badly he won't want to know you, my darling -let alone (and Ewan laughed again) build a new bloody London -
No! I cried.
It won't be hard to do. Think of who I am and who he is. You think about it, he said.
On the mantel was a very heavy spaniel made of bronze and marble - or at least I think it was marble, a dull, mottled stone, pinkish in colour. It was a gun dog or a hunting dog. It had its ears pricked and something - a dead, fetched thing - was hanging out of its eager mouth. A patient had given it to Ewan as a mark of gratitude. It seemed very funny and unfortunate therefore that I now chose it as the thing to lob into his skull.
Two seconds - maybe three - as he realised. He just had time to shout: Laura, no!
But he certainly didn't have time to duck away before I crashed it into his head.
It was a great weapon. It was so heavy that it wrenched your arms from their sockets just lifting it. I remember we'd laughed about it at the time, such a leaden, useless thing, in its shot silk presentation bag.
Ewan didn't like ornaments. Most of the unnecessary things in the house were mine. Peacock feathers with their blunt, unseeing eyes, swollen glass beads and trinkets bought at the market. But the dog, well, neither of us liked it much. So ugly, fit for nothing - but now for something.
At the first blow I felt a soft smashing, a caving-in of bone and brain. A slosh of blood came straight out, hit the wall beneath the dado which had just been done in a creamy colour. Jam and cream. I breathed in and the air filled my head and made me giddy.
I laughed or maybe I cried out.
Outside, the storm was going on and getting louder. Rain was falling very hard and heavy, hitting all the lead parapets and guttering. And every time the thunder crashed, the sky lit up.
Ewan was very brave, truly. Apart from that first attempt to discourage me, he did not scream at all.
He just stared at me with his head gushing and then -as if nothing had happened - brought up some more words, except this time they made no sense at all. Laura-no-Laura- no-Laura-no - they spewed out all cock-a-snip, like gibberish.
I did not mean to laugh but I couldn't help it. My head had gone into a different place where good and bad did not exist and there was only this and that. And he looked so funny, falling backwards off his chair - the shock widening his face and a bloody black hole taking the place of his mouth.
Somehow, he got himself up and dragged himself towards the pantry - perhaps hoping to lock himself in there. But I was too quick for him. I dashed across and swung the door back on its hinges and lobbed the bronze animal at him again. Easier this time. I got his face - felt the bone that held his nose in place crunch like sugar.
There was a clatter of enamel dishes, jars falling off the shelves, the earthenware beer smashing. That was when I saw the ham skid, pinkly glossy in the half-light.
Ewan was on the floor and he was crying like a baby animal. It was a snouty, fumbling noise.
I hit him hard with my crutch.
I knew from the very start where Billy lived and how. It was easy to know that he shared some cramped and dingy rooms at Shanklin Court with his skinny, makeshift wife and four babbies.
I knew the wife was named Cally, short for Caroline, and that her and the child Pinny slept in the one wide single bed by the window with the ex-babby Lulu. I knew that Baby Dora lay fretfully next to them in a rickety banana crate cot.
I knew that Billy shared a bed in the next room with Arthur, the only male child since the other died. I knew that was the sleeping arrangement most of the time but if he and Cally fancied a bit of a shag, then they shuffled the babbies around to suit themselves.
I knew what it was to live by the river, for hadn't I spent so many years doing the exact same thing myself? Though I was brought up by my dear father in a good and comfortable home with one servant and glorious views over the Thames and a great deal of books and maps, I had found myself at the age of fifteen on the streets and been drawn to the river for no reason other than that it seemed familiar.
And right until I married Ewan, I lived along its edges in the muck and dull damp, in cottages, rooms, on the steps of the workhouse with the meanest of the crawlers - even, once, under a tarpaulin dragged up on the shingle by the whiting factory near Nash's Yard.
Even when I was imprisoned at Tatum Fields, I was never far from the river's familiar stink. The place was close enough that the laundry rooms were constantly foul and slick with damp and more often than not ankle-deep in thick brown water.
In the Tatum laundry it was a constant battle against damp. You could fumigate the clothes all right, but sometimes you were better leaving them crawling with lice for, once they were soaked with stale water, it was hard to dry them. We had horses for airing - airing? what a joke! - so in the end would resort to flat-ironing them damp and giving them back with the sulphurous steam and odours still coming off them.
I say all this because when you live by the river, it is a certain style of life, a constant consideration. You are well acquainted with how the moisture clings to your face and hair regardless of the season, how the buildings lean so close in together that they coax the alley below into permanent shadow. How in winter there is flooding and in summer there is the big stink and then of course the cholera that floats into your chest, borne on the wind from all that filthy air.
They said that the structure that Billy was working on would save us from all that, though it has to be said that even B. himself did not exactly see how. They said that when it was finished you would not recognise London -and it would be goodbye to turds floating on the river and there would be salmon to catch again off London Bridge in its startled blue waters.
Well, I did not know about that, but meanwhile it was so damp and cessy at Billy's place that the whole family had to walk on bricks to reach the privy in the yard, for there was so much waste and overflow slopping about your ankles. This was not helped by his downstairs neighbour, the red-faced and rambunctious Mrs Reeves who, not being communally-minded, never bothered to so much as replace the candle in the shared convenience, so that Billy's littl'uns- having managed to teeter across the bricks - frequently ended by falling in the privy.
I know also that the said Mrs R. scrubbed the doorstep with ochre and then had a great old moan if any of the kiddies trampled it through. And that her own, solitary, female child sat forlornly on countless other doorsteps while her mother entirely forgot her in her hurry to go around poking her fingers into everybody else's pies.
I knew that Billy loved all his kids with a big, sweeping passion, but that he still had a sudden temper and could not stop himself knocking them about. I knew they had bruises in various stages of ripeness all over their small sweet faces. And that he was full of shame about this fact.
But he had a lot to put up with. I knew that Arthur was born with a potato for a brain and that he mostly just slumped in his chair or had to be tied in for his limbs went all jerky otherwise.
I knew that he had unexpected skills all the same - that he smiled at three weeks old and at two years could roll a ha'penny into an empty jar from three feet and that he could tell when the big girl Pinny had rounded the corner of the next street just by sniffing at the moist and tetchy air.
I understood that last January he fell down the backstairs and lost his speech for a while. And that these days he was mostly tied to the bed or the chair while his mother did a wash or fetched water for the copper. And that this was the reason for the soreness of his wrists and ankles, since he always worked hard to undo his bonds.
I knew more about Billy's children for I had made it my business to find out. I knew that his favourite boy Jack died one night of a chill on his chest and that he was only three years old and loved horses so much that he'd wait at the window for hours just to watch the night soil man go past. And that he had his own little rag thing - a wisp of a toy bought off a pedlar on Lambeth Walk - that he called hoss. And his favourite thing at night was to suck his thumb and stick a piece of hoss up his nose at the same time.
I knew that Lulu, the ex-babby, was a frantic and consumed little person - three years old now, the same age as Jack when they lost him and bearing this burden stoically. I knew that all she wanted in the world was to be the same as the others - as big and free and lively. I knew she spoke her first words at one year old but no one noticed. And that she could clap along merrily to a tune and was dry at night, but liked to cry and throw tantrums and was generally thought to be a delicate and peevish child.
But the fact about Billy's family that caused me the greatest and jealousest pain was this: that he had a particular and unfathomably deep and gentle love for the oldest -the one that was not even his.
This was the girl Pinny who, if he hit the babbies, would not speak to him, and this was what made him sorry and kept him in check. She was pure woman in the making, that one. She had the pull over him and could wrap him around her little finger. She knew all the delicate things you were supposed to take years learning and even then, in company, were best off hesitating to admit you knew.
I also knew that, though he would have maintained that he was quite satisfied with his life, Billy often lay alone and restlessly sad in the sour dawn light, tasting the four o'clock tang of bacon smoke from Shanklin Court and knowing there was no more sleep to be had.
I knew he lay there waiting, knowing that in another ten minutes the dog stealer would go, banging the back gate after him. And that soon after the church clock would strike the five, then the quarter, then the half. And I knew that, once he considered it all pretty barren and hopeless, he'd rouse himself and settle on the sill for a sullen, thoughtful smoke of the dib he'd left from the night before.
All the babbies still asleep, thank God.
And early wind would carry the foul smells of the tide turning at the foot of the lane which led to the cottages. Flood odour, too, was always very marked down there - doused paper, brick, flesh. And soon men would come from every door, stopping a moment in doorways to light their fags, before passing fast out of sight.
And I knew that my Billy would watch the sky flush crimson and maybe notice the sound of Lainy Sampson's canary starting up, spiking the general birdsong. Then he'd hear the Dalley infant add its shrill twopenn'worth and he'd know that was it: morning.
I had never been to Billy's or met a single one of them except in my dreams. I just knew all of this, I just did.
Well, Ewan is dead, certainly. He is bleeding from lots of places and he does not move.
There is a dull pain in my stomach. I am ever so dry-mouthed and would kill for a soda. When you are thirsty that is all there is, no other sensation matters. All I want is to feel the sharp bubbles dancing on my tongue.
A great deal of dust has been dislodged in the fight - proof that Verity has, just as I thought, been doing a very half-hearted job for weeks. Big burbles of fluff are set in motion by my skirts as I travel swiftly across the rug to the door and leave the room.
Something, a dicky, cobwebby feeling around the back of my neck, makes me lock it. I pocket the big clunky key and climb the stairs one at a time, convinced that the most pressing thing to do is change my clothes. I am always changing my clothes - in my new life, since I had clothes, I have done it a lot - but now it is essential. The smell of him is on me and I must get it off.
In the dressing-room glass I see that I am splashed with his blood as he must once have been splashed with mine. Spots of it across my forehead and even in my hair. I find a pocket handkerchief to spit on and get most of it off. Stuff it in the big pine drawer, beneath his own ties and leather tabs and cedary man-things.
After going to the WC and finding I am indeed on the rag, I make my way slowly down the stairs, crutches thudding once on each worn-out step. In the hall, I pause, listen, but there is only the humdrum ticking that I would expect. I take my cloak and am about to leave when a sudden worry gets me. Shouldn't I close the shutters in the kitchen where he lies?
So I unlock the door again and go across in the half-darkness. The window-pane is black, flecked with rain, they haven't lit the gas yet. That's what I'm worrying over, the moment when the man comes to light the lamps.
I don't want him found today.
I do it and start back. I thought I gave his body a wide berth, but I can't have, for there is a sudden, bubbly sigh and a hand grabs my ankle. I scream and in the panic I drop both crutches - my hands fly to the mantel for support.
I thought, after how many times I hit him, he would be dead. I was so certain of it. How can his fingers still be moving? How can his brain still be making plans?
I am screaming and clinging to the mantel, standing here on my one leg which is captured and I am unable even to give him a swift kick. I must not lose my balance, I must not fall. How he moans - again and again, moaning, clawing at me. Blindly, I feel around for the poker - the one which was there when Verity left it this morning.
Holding my breath, one hand still on the mantel, I use it to feel for the outline of his face and then I shift it across, lean hard on it and dig it in like a gardener does.
A definite juicy crunch, like going into raw potato. Another sigh, a rushy liquid sound. I am faintly surprised to feel my face wet with tears. As the seconds fall away, so do his fingers and my ankle is released. He does not move again.
Now the silence in the room is deathly and the taste in my mouth is ashes. I lower myself to the floor and crawl as fast as I can back towards my crutches.
Men are very hard indeed to manage. Even if you offer your whole self up on a plate to one of them, still he will dawdle and prevaricate and find a reason to say that what you are offering is not quite right.
So I go to Billy. I tell him that Ewan is out of the picture and now we must skedaddle as fast as possible to France.
He stares at me and scratches his head and then his groin. He looks extremely bothered, yet does not ask me any questions. Then he kisses me long and deep and I feel him shiver into life down there. Then he says that his family needs him.
I am your family, I tell him stoutly. And I kiss him again.
He draws back. Looks at me.
No, he says, You know what I mean -
He does not know what I mean but I do not enlighten him.
You are mine, I tell him, I love you and we must be together -
Christ, Laura, he says, Don't look at me like that -
You're putting me off with your strange face - I love you too -
But - ?
You tell me, Billy. Sounds like there's a but coming -
He bends his head. Poor lad. He is a noodle, stumbling around for reasons. I could eat him whole, but I won't.
I don't know, he says, I don't know what to say. I mean, I thought -
What? What did you think?
That we'd got ourselves clear on this. I thought you understood. About me and Cally, the kids -
Oh, I say rather sharply, Forgive me, Billy, of course, I had forgot -
He looks at me warily, checking. His look says it all.
Do you understand what I have done? I ask him.
Silence from him.
It is only now, as I say it, that I realise how tired I am. My eyes are dry and hard in their sockets, my teeth sinking so far down in my head. I am wiped out with it.
Billy says nothing. Stares at me. He has the neatest face of anyone I've ever known, especially when he's worried or confused. Wide, roguish eyes. Cheekbones and dimples that make everyone else's faces look dreary and flat. He is glorious, a perfect specimen. I am so gone on him.
So I tell him the whole thing - what I have just done, though I never meant to, and what it means for us. Yes, for us, Billy. I spell it out, in case he still does not understand. He is a young boy, after all, twenty-three is no great age. So I tell it slowly. I am careful to leave nothing out. I even tell him the bad bit at the end with the ankle and the kitchen poker. But a happy ending, nevertheless.
I feel suddenly lifted by the thought.
I did it for you, I tell him, pressing my deed on him, freshly done. For now the thing feels oddly like a gift - something carried a long time scrunched in the palm of my hand, and then released into the world, unravelling.
Maybe I expect him to be angry now. Or at least, let's say I wouldn't blame him, for the lad has a good heart and would not willingly hurt anyone. (I hesitate to say `a fly' for actually I believe we would all kill a fly, would we not?)
But no, not anger. That's not it at all. He seems instead almost to struggle for breath. I wait.
He says nothing.
Speak to me, Bill -
Laura! he gasps, Please. Tell me it's not true!
Now I burst into tears.
I thought I was your family, Billy, I say again, bitterly this time. All I want in the world - I am sobbing now - All I want is to belong to you -
He does not hold me or kiss me. He says nothing.
Here it is, though. Here is his face containing all the grief and shock and pain I have been waiting for. Reprinted from Laura Blundy by Julie Myerson by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Julie Myerson. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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Never has a book (writer) had a hold on me like this has. The characters were alive. All that mattered was to get back to the book. But. The ending. Please someone explain it to me.
Set amidst the gritty poverty of Victorian London Laura Blundy is the mesmerizing exploration of a lost soul, a journal of obsessive love, and a harrowing tale that haunts. The author of three critically acclaimed novels, most notably Me and the Fat Man (1998), Ms. Myerson has now created an otherworldly protagonist, an enigmatic woman capable of both nefarious acts and abiding devotion. It is appropriate that Laura Blundy's life, which is related in flashbacks, unfolds at a time when illness pervades; cholera takes its toll. London's city sewers are being built so that the city 'will have a proper sewerage system and lives will be saved.' Yet now the 'normal stink of Thames,' the dank sewer tunnels and the debris ridden river banks anchored by the Baptist Chapel with its forlorn, broken windows mirror Laura's murky thoughts, which are disseminated by Ms. Meyerson with candor and clarity. Dickensian woes pale beside the travails of Laura Blundy; Dickensian villains are pussycats compared to her. Once an educated daughter of privilege, her father's death and financial reversals have forced Laura onto the streets. She sleeps among the crawlers and dowsers on the steps of the workhouse with only a stained tarpaulin for shelter from the rain. We learn that while imprisoned in Tatum Fields she was made to wear a thick foul smelling veil. When she protested that she could not see, the reply was, 'There's nothing to see...This is it. This is the punishment - darkness and solitude - the best way to contemplate the errors of the soul.' She is 38 when we first meet her, 'but my hair,' she discloses is 'mostly black and the teeth I had left still had their whiteness and though my waist measured a little more now than the curved gap of two men's hands, I still had a lot of my young girl's punch.' More than punch is needed when she is run down by an errant carriage, and 'her woman's bones are crushed like eggshell' beneath the iron wheels. Ginger haired Dr. Ewan Lockhart manages to save her life, but not her leg which he amputates. Eventually, Laura marries the surgeon, a 'carrot-nob' as she calls him and goes to live in the home that he shares with his mother, Eve. The older woman is a harridan who makes no secret of her distaste for Laura, and demands attention from her top floor room by rattling 'a tin of barley sugar.' But Laura pays no heed for her mind is consumed with thoughts of the child she bore when she was 15, earning a penny an hour making party streamers 'whenever the work happened to come along.' Unable to feed the baby she had taken him to an orphanage to which she returned each week, asking to see Child Z as he was known, until the day she was told he was no longer there. She pined, she yearned, she ached to find her lost boy. '......the truth is you carry a child in you and it seeps into your bones,' she says, 'and infects you for ever and you spend the rest of your life trying to get it back....' She feels a similar addictive emotion for her lover, Billy, a married sewer worker some 17 years her junior. And, Billy, for reasons he cannot fathom is inexorably drawn to her. Determined to be with Billy Laura commits a crime of unspeakable horror, which Ms. Myerson describes in grisly detail. However, this act is only prelude to an even more shocking denouement. Laura Blundy is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is an unforgettable story propelled by currents of foreboding, and delivered with sinister, stunning panache. Ms. Myerson knows how to weave a spell and she weaves it mightily well.
In Victorian London, LAURA BLUNDY¿s merchant father owned a successful store that allowed Laura to live in a beautiful house, wear expensive clothing, and have a decent education. When Laura was fifteen, her father died. She quickly found out that he owed more than owned. When her aunt passed away, the Church inherited everything and Laura was unceremoniously dumped on the street. She became a nanny to the children of many hard working mothers. While walking, a carriage runs over Laura¿s leg, leading to her hospitalization. Her surgeon Evan comes to care for his patient. However, in spite of his efforts to save her leg, Evan amputates the extremity. After the hospital discharges Laura, Evan begins taking her out and shows her a good time. They marry, but Laura fails to provide what Evan wants from her. She meets a street person and decides to leave Evan for him, but her spouse refuses to free her. Tragedy appears the only possible outcome. LAURA BLUNDY is a surreal atmospheric historical story told in a non-sequential manner that adds to the foreboding feel of doom that haunts the plot. Readers have a rare opportunity to glimpse at the residents of the London slums during the reign of Victoria. In some ways, that look appears more dreadful than the frightening main story line because most novels have ignored the abject conditions preferring the aristocracy or rising middle class. Though nightmarish in many ways due to the lead character¿s ability to manipulate events and people, Julie Myerson has written a period piece that will please historical fiction fans with a dark Dickens twist. Harriet Klausner