'…quirky and a keenly observant novel… and real fun too!'
-Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent
Jane has the ideal life: loving husband, beautiful house and delightful son. Her fashionable dinner parties are perfect - and so are her secret assignations with her neighbour's husband, Jay.
From Tracey and her ‘New Money’ lottery winnings to eccentric artist Philip and his pornographic portraits, the residents of North London's most privileged enclave The Square are a very satisfied bunch.
To raise money for communal fencing, the Residents' Association decides to hold a Talent Show, produced by Jane and hosted by TV celebrity Alan Makin. But when the show lurches into public disarray, reputations are shattered and everyone has to learn to live with a far less glossy reality than before.
'...hilariously observed… a much-welcomed comedy of manners.'
Jane Green, New York Times Bestselling author
'Pin-sharp and wickedly funny... a very timely satire...'
Adam Foulds, Granta Best of Young British Novelists
'A waspish portrait shot through with wit, insight and buckets of glorious bonking.'
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Rosie Millard
Legend Times LtdCopyright © 2015 Rosie Millard
All rights reserved.
Roberta climbs the steps and rings the door bell. In a disinterested way, she wonders who might answer. Patrick, the dishevelled husband? Jane, the trim, pressurised wife? It certainly will not be 'Boy' George. He will be where he always is. Upstairs, hiding in his room. Trying to squeeze another thirty seconds before being called down for his weekly ordeal.
Roberta is attempting to interest George in the complexities of the piano. Actually, no. She's just trying to get him to learn to play. George is not very interested in the piano. George's parents, however, are. Roberta has been teaching George for nearly two years.
Every lesson, Jane comes into the room that has been officially designated as the 'music room' and leans on the lovely Blüthner grand, with its blond wood and real ivory keys. She taps her fingers on the top of the piano in time to the music. Then, at a pause, she always asks about Grades, and more specifically when Boy George is going to take his Grade Two. Every single lesson.
Although most of her pupils have pushy parents, Jane is without doubt the pushiest. Just as well her son is so resilient, she thinks.
She glances across the Square; the perpendicular lines of the terraced houses face her, the grand facade of a palace. Built for the Victorian bourgeoisie, fallen into disrepair, divided up, broken down, reunited, refurbished, they are serving descendants of their original class once more. She is not disdainful of the Square; she is grateful to have found it. Everyone who has children on the Square hires Roberta. Perhaps it's not so surprising. The cellular living spaces indoors are perfect for music. Outside, the identical white facades of the houses, and their uniform black front doors make the Square look like a giant keyboard.
"Ah, Roberta, how lovely." Patrick swings open the door, and grimaces in a friendly way. Roberta, as a regular visitor, can be grimaced at. Roberta smiles back. He's one of the fathers she's warmed to. Cheery, not given to complaining. He is a man who has gone to seed, however. That belly. Pity.
"Sorry, sorry, Roberta."
He rolls his eyeballs at her.
"Der Führer is on the rampage."
That'll be Jane.
Roberta takes her shoes off. Has to be done. Nobody even asks her any more; it's part of the accepted greeting and entering ceremony these days. As if everyone lives in Buddhist temples.
"Boy! Roberta is here!" yells Patrick in stentorian tones in the vague direction of George, and disappears in order to make Roberta her customary tea.
She pads into the music room and unclips her bag, taking out her own notes. She finds George's book on a coffee table, under a copy of the Daily Mail, and props it up on the piano. After a few minutes, the door opens and Boy George trails in, a diminutive version of Patrick, smiling at her hopefully.
"Hey." George sits down at the piano, ruefully stuffs his mobile device in a pocket, and considers his book. Then he looks at the keys. What is the relation between the two? He wishes he could know. He wishes, as if by a magic spell, he could suddenly just play. He puts his fingers on the instrument, and sighs. He wonders, doubtfully, if someone was holding a gun to his head, say a Nazi, whether he would suddenly be able to remember the piece from sheer panic.
"Now, shall we do some warm-ups? Remember? Shall we start with Hanon?"
George nods. He wants to please. He wants to be liked. He likes Roberta, too. He just cannot be bothered to do the necessary tasks in order to master this instrument.
Laboriously, he opens the papyrus-coloured score and commences the deceptively simple five-finger exercises followed by keyboard neophytes since Hanon wrote them 200 years ago.
A tray bearing a mug of tea comes into the room, followed by Jane. She is blonde, bobbed, bony. She smiles brightly, but no-one is deceived.
"Roberta. Lovely to see you, here's your tea. How are you? Now, I have told George he has got to buck up. I'm sorry, but this week's practice timetable has not gone to plan. Has it, George?" George shrugs happily. He stopped playing the moment his mother came in the room.
"If you say so, Maman."
Jane chooses to ignore this carefully weighted snub, and smiles again at Roberta.
"Piano has a tough trajectory," says Roberta. Think about something other than Grades, she wants to say. Let the child learn how to enjoy the music. But Jane will not. Grades are the holy grail. Roberta suspects the mothers of her pupils gather together on a regular basis comparing notes. Why is it so important? Don't ask. It just is. Learning the preludes and fugues of J.S Bach is improving. Baroque music is good for you.
Roberta never sees it in this way. For her, music has always been a code, a discipline which gives the world some meaning. She plays a Bach prelude every morning. Every evening, not too late (neighbours), she plays a fugue. There are forty-eight in the series. After she finishes the book, she starts again.
"... and so I said to George, if you pass Grade Two, I'll buy you one."
Roberta smiles. She has no idea to what Jane is referring, but can only guess it is a bribe involving an electronic toy of some distinction.
"Great idea. Come on George, let's see what shape these pieces are in."
George sighs, shifts on his stool. Thursday afternoon piano lesson is just one of the rather duller hurdles in his week.
"Ça va, Roberta, my dear. Here we go again. Encore."
The patterns of Hanon emanate rather feebly from the Blüthner.
Jane leaves the room. Goes into the hall. Looks in the hall mirror. Sees a middle-aged woman with crow's feet. Thinks about when she was pushing George, fatly huddled with earmuffs and a scarf in his buggy, aged two, to Martha's Music Group. "He has real musical talent," Martha used to say, when George was minded to pick up a glockenspiel stick and wave it. So much for Martha.
She looks at her face again. Those lines. Thinks she might invest in Botox. If only it wasn't so bloody expensive. If only it wasn't so frightening.
She wonders vaguely when Patrick is going to find out about her affair, not whether he is, but when he is. She feels that she must hold the present together with all her might, as if it is a vase which is just about to break into a thousand fragments.
At least everything, for the time being, is calm. Earlier that day, it had not been. It makes her heart race to think about it.
Several hours earlier Jane's lover, Jay, texted her. Says he is coming over. Well, she had suggested it. How are you darling? was all he had written. Come over, she had messaged him back, immediately. Patrick is at work. George is at school. Can't wait to undress you.
Fine, he replied. Is it safe?
Oh for God's sake, Jane thought. What do you think? Patrick is at work, she texted, again, irritated.
Then she goes to put on matching underwear.
She sees his shadow through the glass of the front door. Even through opaque glass, she desires him. He steps into her house. Mercifully, and rather uniquely, after he enters the house, she takes the precaution of putting the chain on the door.
There is then a frantic scramble between Jane and Jay, as if they are backstage at a show, in the wings, and must change their costumes instantly. Except the promise ahead is the more thrilling performance of having sex.
They cannot wait to get into another room, there is no time. There is no time for their desire to wait another second. There is no time even to speak. They are still in the hall, and he is pulling her cashmere jumper up, over her head, and at the same time, pulling down her trouser zip and then her trousers. She is getting out of her bra and at the same time, pulling his shirt roughly out from the back of his trousers, scratching him, yanking the starched cotton away from his body.
And then, as her breasts are bared to the light and Jay's pursed lips bear down upon her puckered nipple like a lunar pod landing, dreadfully, unexpectedly, Jane hears Patrick's key rattle in the lock. Patrick is outside. He is coming home. Everything goes into slow motion. Seconds yawn as she, Jane, computes the noise, figures out that he, Patrick, her husband, is in the Square, he's outside, he's standing on the doorstep of the house, their house, their shared home, where he will discover her, his wife, Jane, without a bra, and that he will also discover him, Jay, their neighbour and her lover, ready to suck her breast, his stiff cock within seconds of fucking her, up against the wall of their hall.
There is no time for a game plan. Even if they had one. There is no time for anything. Time has slowed down, but there is no time.
It is sheer unadulterated adulterous panic in the hall. Jay whips round, takes the stairs two at a time and hides in – where? Jane has no idea. He just hides. Upstairs. The houses in the Square are all the same. He knows the layout.
The door opens, is caught by the chain. She hears Patrick calling through the door.
"Darling? Are you there? My afternoon meeting was cancelled."
She squawks a response, pours her arms into the cashmere, jumps back into her trousers, charges into the music room, finds a CD, shoves it into the machine, shoves her bra behind it, scrambles her fingers over the buttons, presses Play and turns it up. Music, blessed music floods the house.
Absurdly, it's the piano pieces for George's Grade Two.
Jane adjusts her top, zips her trousers, opens the door, smiles. The above actions have taken about eight seconds. Patrick is bemused.
"We never, ever chain the door, darling, what's going on, why?" "Oh, I got a letter from, you know, from Neighbourhood Watch today," says Jane, casually guiding him into the music room, and shutting the door firmly.
"Which said we should always chain the front door."
Her blood is thundering in her ears. The CD is thundering in the room. Jay is upstairs. It is all she can focus on. Jay. Upstairs. Actually, he is about twelve feet away. She feels as if the roof is going to lift off the house. Or perhaps the doors will fly open, or the walls fall away, like a doll's house, and she will be discovered. And then it will all be over. George's music crashes on.
Has Jay got the initiative to use the music as cover? He'd bloody well better. She gestures to her unusually unkempt appearance.
"I was just about to take a shower," she shouts, over a short study by Bartók. "Then we'll have tea, shall we? Lovely to have you back so early!"
And then, deliverance. The unmistakeable sound of the front door closing, very quietly. He doesn't hear it. She hears it, because she has been yearning to hear it. Thank God, Christ and all the saints and fucking hell. That was close.
She waits a moment, then opens the door of the living room gently, to find the hall completely empty. The music hammers on.
"Just let me take that shower, darling," she calls easily over her shoulder to her husband, the cuckold, who is sitting looking at the front cover of The Mail.
"This is the most dreadful rag, sweetie. Don't know why you love it," he shouts.
She pads towards her upstairs bathroom.
In the shower, she finds herself shaking, and then laughing. She feels as if she has been in a farce by Alan Ayckbourn.
Two hours later, the same music comes out of the room, only this time being played, far more slowly, by an actual child.
Jane looks at herself in the hall mirror again. As guilt, closely followed by relief, washes across her body one more time, she allows herself a small conspiratorial smile before briskly taking the stairs up to her bedroom.
Downstairs, things are not going well. "Try this piece," says Roberta. "The lit-tle boys of St Paul's," she sings as George's fingers with bitten nails slowly achieve the broken chord, "they pull all the app-les down".
Patrick comes into the music room. His socks have large potatoes in the toes. He peers over Roberta's shoulder at the page of music.
We're never going to get anywhere, thinks Roberta, if these two don't leave me alone. Children are no problem to teach. It's the parents you have to watch out for.
"Isn't that marvellous, Roberta," he smiles at her. "A piece about St Paul's when St Paul's itself is just around the corner! Well, a mile or so off, but still." He sighs. "Grew up in Barnsley. Never quite lost the magic of living in London. Sic monument requirit, and all that. You?" "Oh, very dull," says Roberta. "Maidenhead."
She smiles up at Patrick.
"Come on, George. One last time and then that's your lesson done with."
Patrick pads out of the room again, picks up an envelope from the doormat, opens it, unfolds the letter within and reads it. "Jane? Darling!" he shouts.
A strangled cry comes from upstairs.
"Have you seen this letter? From the Residents' Association? Darling?"
"What?" she says, on the landing, newly near.
"Oh, sorry. There you are. Just picked this up. It's from, oh, you know, the neighbourhood lot, it's just arrived?"
He waves it in her direction.
Roberta comes out of the music room, signals that the lesson is over.
"Goodbye, Roberta," he says to the piano teacher's departing back. She waves abstractedly at him and steps out into the Square, checking her watch.
"See you next week. This letter?" continues Patrick.
Jane arranges her face carefully. She may need time to think.
"Oh, is that the thing about the chain?"
"No. There's a meeting. Something about railings around the Square. It might be to do with all those car thefts recently. Would you like to go?"
She pulls a face. "It's probably about security. They are very hot on security at the moment. That's why I had the letter, that earlier letter, you know, the one I was talking about, about chaining the door. Did they mention chaining the door?"
"Don't think so. But I'll go to the meeting. It's only at Jay and Harriet's. Not exactly far, is it?"
That's Jay as in Jane's lover. He is also the head of the Residents' Association. He lives five doors down.
George is still in the music room, looking at a photograph of himself sitting in a sandpit. He notices something behind the CD player. He puts a small hand into the crevice, and pulls at a piece of frilled material. He suddenly finds himself pulling out a lacy, coffee-coloured bra. He raises one eyebrow.
He puts it in his pocket, and saunters up to his room. There, dominating the space, beside his single bed and small desk, is his Lego City; its construction a work of devotion and time, its shape of a style answering only to him, its benevolent architect.
He lies down and picks up a tiny brick, positions it on a fluted column, considers it, removes it.
Then he rolls over, pulls out the bra from his pocket, surveys it. Quickly, he puts it on his head. The two conical shells poke up like absurd ears, the lacy strap making it into a sort of Easter bonnet. He hears his mother coming up the stairs. Quickly, he stuffs it back into his pocket.CHAPTER 2
Belle grabs the long pole with weights on it at either end and brings it up to her shoulders. She grunts with the effort and peers at herself in the mirror, under the giant radiance of neon lights that flood the gym. It is a basement gym, but the lighting is specially designed to mimic sunshine and rid members of depression brought on by Seasonally Affected Disorder; a possible side effect of exercising in a sun-free basement.
She takes the pole back down again, switching the position of her wrists as the 20kg weight crashes back down on the floor. After a few seconds, she lifts it up again. She is meant to do thirty such lifts, three times. Well, scrap that idea. I'm not really old enough for a major work out. I'll just do thirty lifts, once.
She continues to survey herself. Her spots aren't looking good, but her hair is fine. Do people do that? Focus only on one thing, like hair? And ignore other things, like spots? She's glad she doesn't have other worries. Such as fat ankles, the ones which sort of join up with your calf. What was it that her friend Cathy called them? Cankles? Cathy doesn't have Cankles. Nobody in the Populars at school has Cankles. Everyone has long hair. A few spots are fine. Short hair and Cankles, however, are not fine.
She abandons the free weights and moves to a bench below a long horizontal pole fixed with chains to a long stack of metal slabs. This could almost be a medieval torture chamber, thinks Belle. In a dungeon.
As she pulls the weight down towards her collarbone, she considers her options for the evening. Slight lack of funds issue, but she could probably bleed her father Larry for a tenner. Some of the Populars seem to have self-replenishing wallets; they never lack cash. Cathy says it is because their parents feel 'so guilty'.
"For what?" said Belle.
"Oh, only the divorced ones. For leaving. For being stupid, and breaking everything up," remarked Cathy, methodically, robotically brushing metre-long tresses. "I have to do this 100 times a day you know."
Excerpted from The Square by Rosie Millard. Copyright © 2015 Rosie Millard. Excerpted by permission of Legend Times Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter One Jane,
Chapter Two Tracey,
Chapter Three The Residents' Association Meeting,
Chapter Four Philip,
Chapter Five Philip,
Chapter Six Tracey,
Chapter Seven Roberta,
Chapter Eight George,
Chapter Nine Jane,
Chapter Ten Jas,
Chapter Eleven Tracey,
Chapter Twelve Belle,
Chapter Thirteen Jane,
Chapter Fourteen Tracey,
Chapter Fifteen Belle,
Chapter Sixteen Roberta,
Chapter Seventeen The Dinner Party,
Chapter Eighteen Tracey,
Chapter Nineteen Belle,
Chapter Twenty Jane,
Chapter Twenty-One Harriet,
Chapter Twenty-Two Roberta,
Chapter Twenty-Three Tracey,
Chapter Twenty-Four Jane,
Chapter Twenty-Five Belle,
Chapter Twenty-Six Sunday Lunch,
Chapter Twenty-Seven The Talent Show (i),
Chapter Twenty-Eight The Talent Show (ii),
Chapter Twenty-Nine Tracey,
Chapter Thirty Jane,
Chapter Thirty-One Roberta,
Chapter Thirty-Two The Screening,
Chapter Thirty-Three Tracey,
Chapter Thirty-Four Jane,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story took a little time to get going, but after it started it was kind of funny. The best part was the preparation for and the actual talent show. That actually got a few laugh out chuckles from me. The whole thing is pretty much making fun of suburbia and everyone in everyone else's business. There is hardly a thing that goes on in the Square that someone doesn't know about. Of course, the reader knows it all so it's kinda of funny that people think they are getting away with things that they are not. You also may need a spreadsheet to keep track of who is sleeping with who. Ha! Just kidding, but there is a lot of adultery going on. Like I said, it starts off a little slow, but worth getting through to get to the end. I want to thank Legend Press and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.