A sublime psychological thriller from Polari Prize-shortlisted Charles Lambert.
Sixteen-year-old Fiona inhabits a privileged world of English affluence, though her relationship with her widowed mother is strained. When she discovers an old newspaper clipping of a woman and her daughter – the little girl a mirror image of her own younger self – she becomes convinced she has a true family elsewhere. Four years later, with the help of charming fraudster Patrick, Fiona drops everything to seek out her doppelgänger in Italy.
Fiona arrives in Rome to find Maddy living hand to mouth with her alcoholic mother. Spooked by the appearance of this strange girl wearing her face and stalking her every move, Maddy wants nothing to do with her. Caught in a surreal push-and-pull, the two are both fascinated and repulsed by the oddly familiar other, each coveting a different life. But they aren’t the only ones trying to control their fate, and the two women will soon learn that people aren’t always what they seem – though blood may still prove thicker than water.
Birthright is a dark, gripping literary thriller for fans of Ian McEwan, Rupert Thomson and Edward St Aubyn
Birthright was published by Gallic Books in ebook and paperback on 23 March 2023. My thanks to Jaime of Ink Editorial for the tour invitation and for providing the extract which I hope you enjoy.
She is washing the feel of the evening’s cooking from her hands when Aldo calls her into the living room. She wipes her hands on a tea towel, picks up her tray and joins him on the sofa.
He is pointing at the screen. ‘Isn’t it remarkable?’ he says.
She looks across and sees a photograph of a girl with a fringe almost covering her eyes and the kind of blue-and-white-striped sweater she thinks of as Breton. The photograph has that deckled edge that photographs used to have and is set at an angle, which accentuates its vintage air.
‘I don’t know what you mean.’ Her fingers grip the tray. For a second she thinks she might faint.
Aldo pours her a glass of wine. ‘Come on, Liz, don’t tell me you can’t see the likeness.’
She lays the tray carefully down on the coffee table next to his, picks up the glass.
‘Likeness?’ she says.
‘It’s the spitting image of you when you were that age.’
She sips her wine. ‘How would you know what I looked like?’ she says, her tone level, under control. ‘You didn’t know me when I was that age.’
‘Well, practically,’ he says. ‘Don’t tell me you can’t see it. You could be twins.’
The photograph disappears and a blonde woman begins to speak, but Liz can’t concentrate. She needs to breathe normally, her heart is racing. She closes her eyes for a second, then takes another sip of wine. Aldo continues to stare at the screen, shaking his head in disbelief.
Moments later, the presenter is replaced by an old woman, frail in an armchair too large for her, a cloud of permed white hair around a sunken face. Liz hears the woman speak a few words of affected English, the English her generation uses on the telephone, until her voice is masked by the confident, strident enunciation of a younger woman saying in Italian that she would never understand, that it was all so long ago, that she would rather be left in peace but she couldn’t bear not to know, the words so contrary to what the old woman is trying to say, everything lost, or almost lost. Liz hates it when they do this, this layer of Italian distorting the still just audible English, so that all she can hear is the gap between the two, into which meaning tumbles.
‘What is this programme anyway?’ she says, because something, sooner or later, has to be said.
‘It’s about people who go missing. You’ve seen it a hundred times.’
‘And hated it every time,’ says Liz, with a shudder. ‘It’s so intrusive.’
‘Look at that poor old dear,’ says Aldo. ‘She’s crying.’
‘I don’t want to look at an old woman crying,’ says Liz. ‘That’s exactly what I mean.’ She stands up, crosses the room to the door leading out to the garden.
‘I need some fresh air,’ she says.
Charles Lambert was born in England in 1953 but has lived in Italy since 1976. His first novel, Little Monsters, a Good Housekeeping selection, was published in 2008, the same year as The Scent of Cinnamon and Other Stories, the title story an O. Henry Prizewinner. Any Human Face, his second novel was described by the Telegraph as ‘a slow-burning, beautifully written crime story that brings to life the Rome that tourists don’t see – luckily for them.’ The View from the Tower, also set in Rome, appeared in 2012, followed in 2014 by With a Zero at its Heart, one of the Guardian’s top ten books of that year.
The Children’s Home, a dystopian fantasy, took readers by surprise in 2016 and was followed in 2017 by Two Dark Tales and, in 2018, by Prodigal, which explores what we do to one another in the name of love and was shortlisted for the Polari Prize. The Bone Flower, a Gothic ghost story set in Victorian London, appeared in 2022. His latest novel, Birthright, a psychological thriller, is published this year (2023).
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