When social attitudes researcher Bill Harcourt puts an advertisement in the newspaper for ‘listeners’ to work on an unconventional project, he anticipates that his team of eavesdroppers will discover previously untapped insights into public opinion.
But as five eager listeners begin eavesdropping in the cafes, dentist waiting rooms, public toilets, tube trains and launderettes of London, discreetly noting the details of unguarded conversations, Bill starts to notice subtle changes in their behaviour and realises he has underestimated the compulsive nature of his group. His anxiety is compounded after he receives a series of anonymous letters warning him of the dangers of his experiment.
As the group becomes increasingly intertwined in their subjects’ lives, eavesdropping descends into obsession and Bill has to find a way to rein in his increasingly unruly team before they are beyond help.
Informed by conversations collected over three years, The Eavesdroppers, by award-winning author Rosie Chard, is a dark, yet wryly humorous tale of present-day Londoners, living in a constant state of noise and crowds and eavesdroppers.
Praise for The Eavesdroppers:
"A creepy ambush of a novel, unsettling and profound in its ideas and fears. One feels the weight of history and of the future; one hears a warning.”
~ Michelle Butler Hallett, author of This Marlowe
“At an address somewhere between Bletchley Park and Franz Kafka’s house, Rosie Chard locates a curious and compelling tale about a group of life’s outsiders who find meaning – and much worse – when they’re tasked with listening in. Part spy-thriller in miniature, part fable for our disconcerting times, The Eavesdroppers is funny and haunting and achingly human.”
~ Ian Weir, author of Will Starling and The Death and Life of Strother Purcell
|Publisher:||NeWest Publishers, Limited|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
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"Can you hear me? Mr. Harcourt. Can you hear me?"
I thought I was alive. My fingers were moving; my nose itched; yet I was detached from the world. Something lay on my face. A binding of sorts, it stopped me opening my eyes and seeing where I was. I felt a twinge of panic at the base of my throat.
"Everything's alright, Mr. Harcourt." A female voice beside my ear. "The surgery went well."
A voice, just a voice - sugar-coated and impatient. I couldn't judge the distance of the disembodied sound, so far away, yet I could feel breath on my cheek. I could smell coffee wafting up from a stomach. Was this person about to kiss me? I struggled to remember where I was - a faint smell of antiseptic, a rustle of rubber curtains, then yes, the details of a face poured in: tired, bloodshot eyes and eyebrows that were badly plucked. The nurse had missed a bit just above her left eye, and with sudden clarity I recalled my thoughts as the gurney had been pushed through the double doors - could a nurse with badly plucked eyebrows be trusted to hand over the correct scalpel?
"Why can't I see?" I said, trying to keep the slur from my voice.
"It's the bandage, dear." A pause. "Over your eyes."
I imagined a child in the room, so laden was her voice with condescension. I waited for the child to retort but all I heard was my own breathing and the sound of something being dragged down a nearby corridor. A bag of clean sheets perhaps? Or a bag of old bones.
"Where am I?" I said, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth.
"You're back in the room."
The room? I tried again to recall where I'd spent the last few hours but the only room I could remember bumped and rattled across the ground at speed. "Can I go back to sleep now?"
"Yes, you can go back to sleep. But, wait. Just a couple of questions . . . what year is it?"
I tried to visualise numbers. "Two thousand . . . two thousand and fifteen . . . no, eighteen."
"Correct. How old are you?"
"Thirty-four." The air held a pause. Could I be wrong?
"Also correct. Finally, where are you?"
Tight within the bandage my brain struggled to form a picture of the route to the place that now held me. Inside, yes. A hospital without doubt, but where? For how long had the siren screamed into my brain? I concentrated on my ears, my most reliable sense, so reliable they could pick up the distant throb of a black cab. "London," I said.
"Correct. You can go back to sleep now."
"Mr. Harcourt. Mr. Harcourt."
My thoughts snapped to attention. I was no longer a dullard, a woozy patient in post-op; I was sharp as a pencil. "Who's there?"
"Nurse Rigby." The sugar had melted from her throat.
"Are you the same person as before?"
I heard her chest rise and fall. "Yes, I'm the same person as before."
I tried to roll my eyes. "How long is this thing going to be on?"
I couldn't halt the sarcasm. "The bandage."
Two days in the dark. The bandages felt tight already and, with a new twinge of panic, I tried to visualise how I'd aim straight in the bowl of the hospital toilet. "Will I be getting a dog?" I said. Faked innocence is entirely about the eyes. I realised this as I waited, trying to hear her laugh or at the very least hear a smile, but lips turning up at the corners make no noise at all.
"Is that meant to be a joke, Mr. Harcourt?"
I sighed, just like her.
Flat on my back with a bandage over my face it was impossible to be myself. That half-raised eyebrow I used so often to project sarcasm was immobilised, and it was difficult to tease someone with your nose. And it was nigh on impossible to look sheepish with a bandage over your eyes.
"I'm going to feed you now," said the nurse.
Forget pissing on the toilet seat, forget the anonymous breath on my cheek, this woman was going to feed me now. "I'm really not that hungry."
I heard the tut of her tongue. Then I heard what sounded like glue being whipped up with a spoon before the immortal words cut the air. "You need to eat to keep your strength up."
Defeat was not sweet. The five-year-old me opened his mouth and tipped back his head. Such tepid mush I never experienced from my mother, but luckily it was quickly over, my mouth wiped with a rough cloth and the rattle of bowls being put away.
Icy hands - why always icy? - began making the bed with me still in it. I lay stiff, mulling over the hospital protocol concerning the making of beds while still occupied. No 'do you mind if I make the bed, Mr.Harcourt?' and no, 'I'll just tuck this bit under your chin, sir,' - just strange hands glancing private parts.
"I think you're done, Mr. Harcourt," the nurse said after the sheet was tightened somewhere down by my feet, sealing me in like a piece of vacuum-packed fish. "I'll be back later to check on your temperature."
The idea of being 'done' quickly quashed all speculation on unfamiliar hands in private places, but before I could utter a comeback I heard a whoosh of hospital-starched skirts - as I imagined them - and was left alone - as assumed.
"And. . . ." A sentence was deposited at my ear. "If you need any help, just press this."
Disturbed that the starched skirts scenario could be so wrong, I fingered a plastic object that had been placed into my hand. "Okay."
People could clearly come and go without my knowing it. I lay still for several minutes before I felt satisfied I was alone. Feeling my wrist, I found it bare. Bastards, I thought, they've nicked my watch. I gingerly tested the space beside my bed. A table was uncomfortably out of reach, but by wrenching my arm out from my sheeted bondage and stretching out I could explore its surface: a plastic cup with water inside - I surmised by sniffing it - and a card that tipped over under my touch - who'd send me a card? - plus my wristwatch. How cheerful it sounded pressed against my ear. But I soon grew weary of the chipper little sound and strapped it, with surprising difficulty for an activity so familiar, back onto my wrist.
For a while I lazily formed a picture in my mind of the nurse tidying her eyebrows in the Ladies loo, then I fingered the callback object, resisting the urge to press 'nurse' just for the sheer hell of it. Finally I sank back down into my pillow. It smelt funny and creaked a bit. My God, there was nothing to do in a hospital bed with a bandage over your eyes. Nothing to do, but lie back and listen.