Published by Head of Zeus
Available in Ebook and Hardback (5 April 2018) | Paperback (1 November 2018)
My thanks to Clare at Head of Zeus for the blog tour invitation and for providing the extract.
Joan had craved salt with the two girls, but not with William (whom everybody called Wim), disproving centuries of questionable pregnancy counsel. With Wim, she craved a boy. Her instincts proved dependable, but she already knew this from having once filled out a Jungian personality quiz on the last page of a woman’s magazine. Like Pericles, President François Mitterand and, some speculated, Barack Obama, she was an ENFJ (Extrovert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging) – anxiously altruistic and logical.
When Frank moved his pregnant wife and daughter out of their cramped apartment in the old town and into the rental house in the suburbs, he’d spoken of a temporary situation. Six months at most. Joan had unpacked only a few boxes, thinking they’d be in the new house before it was time to take out the winter clothes.
Over the next four years, Frank finished a great many houses. Just not theirs.
Every now and again, Joan opened a new box; to find old clothes for the new baby, to revive her Roxy Music records. When her mother died, she tore through three boxes labelled KITCHEN just to exhume the julienne slicer from her childhood. She julienned everything for a month. Frank complained that it looked like play food. Eventually, when the last box was unpacked, it was time to move again.
Wim was almost four by the time they moved into what Joan called the New Chapter house. Lois wanted the room in the eaves – the one with the romantic half-moon window and a long hallway to separate you from everyone else. Maya wanted that room, too, but it was given to Lois, the eldest. Maya and Wim had adjoining rooms with a sliding door that could be opened to increase the play space. Within two years the diplomatic opening was walled up, and their Lego collections kept separate.
The new house, which Frank had designed himself, was like a salt dome. New columns swelled up through the foundations, sprinkling white dust on the children’s quilts. Walls were built and later knocked down to expand the dome in useless places, such as too close to the neighbour’s precious boxwood hedge. One year, Frank mined the basement to excavate an unsanctioned wine cellar, causing a minor landslide in the garden. They were having dinner on the terrace one evening when the lawn suddenly swallowed the ficus. One room in the basement was soundproofed to watch films in, then waterproofed for a wetroom, then filled to the ceiling with firewood.
Frank couldn’t leave the house alone. It was never finished, there was always something that could be improved – or, as Joan put it, worsened, to be improved someday when we’re dead. Frank picked at the house like a scab, but it was Joan who couldn’t heal.
Once, when Frank was working on an extension for a luxury spa in Switzerland, there was no hot water for ten days. He blamed the new-fangled boiler, and shouted at someone over the phone. He asked to speak to that someone’s manager, and then yelled at them. Every night, Joan hauled saucepans and kettles of boiling water to the bathroom, and the girls had to bathe together. One evening after the school run, Joan came in to find Frank hunched over one of his maps with a pencil and a magnifying glass. When he asked for the eyedrops, something in her snapped. She marched over to him and swept the open maps and papers off the table with her arm. Crash went Frank’s glass of water as it smashed to pieces on the marble floor. The water puddled between them like a moat, and it was hard to tell the broken ice cubes from the shards of glass.
| About the Book |
Frank and Joan’s marriage is in trouble. Having spent three decades failing to understand each other in their unfinished house in the French alps, Joan’s frustrations with her inattentive husband have reached breaking point. Frank, retreating ever further into his obscure hobbies, is distracted by an epistolary affair with his long-lost German girlfriend. Things are getting tense. But it’s Christmas, and the couple are preparing to welcome home their three far-flung children.
The children, though, are faring little better in love themselves. Maya, a gender expert mother-of-two, is considering leaving her family and running off with a woman; Wim is considering leaving his girlfriend; and Lois, who spends her time turning war documentaries into love poems, is facing a change of heart.
Written with a rare precision and insight, the author explores the thorniness of familial love and its capacity to endure with warmth, wit and disarming honesty.
| Author Bio |
Sarah Françoise is a French-British writer and translator currently living in Brooklyn, NYC. Her writing has appeared in Joyland, Bone Bouquet, Hobart and Poor Claudia.