Betty watches the row of cars waiting to follow the hearse. Or the grand car, as Mr Eden calls it. Betty is pleased that Mother gets a grand car and lots of eyes on her. She’ll like that. The grass is wet around the grave pit. A big brown box is lowered into the earth. Gallagher still isn’t in the crowd; she checked. He will come though.
A man wearing a white robe says a prayer. Mrs Eden cries. Mother hates Mrs Eden. She will hate Mrs Eden crying too. I’ve no time for that green-eyed woman, that’s what Mother says, even though Mrs Eden has brown eyes. Mother’s eyes are a beautiful ice blue.
Betty wanders off to find the nearest tree; it is an oak. She presses her head against its trunk and lets it take some of her weight. The heaviness has returned but she has hardly eaten so shouldn’t she be losing heaviness? Maybe she should have a nap on this branch. Would this be a good place to sleep, Mother? She tries to hoist herself up but her arms are weak as butter. Mr Eden appears then. He smiles gently.
‘Time to go home,’ he says.
‘Where’s home?’ Mr Eden rubs his chin. Grey stubble pricks through the pores.
‘You need to shave,’ she says to be helpful.
‘Hotel Eden,’ he says. ‘It’ll always be your home.’
‘Thank you.’ Because that’s what you’re supposed to say to people who are trying to be kind – and he sounds kind, but she doesn’t really feel thankful.
She feels nothing apart from heaviness.
Taken from The Unforgotten, Chapter 17.
It was never like this on holidays with Jerry. They never ate in hotels, as he always wrote a list of recommended restaurants. He wrote daytime itineraries too and lined up interesting attractions for them to visit. He knew she needed structure, even though it didn’t come easily to her.
Sometimes they fell behind schedule because she took so long doing things; not that she spent hours applying lipstick or mascara, just an inordinate amount of time drifting between rooms, picking up a skirt here, a bottle of moisturiser there and setting them down elsewhere as if her brain had frozen.
Jerry never complained. He just seemed afraid to ask why she was that way.
Their honeymoon to the Isle of Man; Jerry always said, that was a good holiday – one of their best. Mary picks over the exact days of it in her mind. Actually, it wasn’t good. She recalls an argument about her clerical job and how he had suggested that she slow down to get ready.
‘Get ready for what?’ she had shrieked.
It was the first time she had raised her voice around him and she had felt her neck veins jut out like spines on rhubarb. He had looked at her baffled, yet she knew exactly what he was going to say next, just as she knew what her answer would be. That conversation had been scripted in her head years earlier, between her and whichever man took her on.
‘To have a baby of course,’ he had said.
Taken from The Unforgotten, Chapter 8.
Parked motorcars line the street and a man wearing a spotted bow tie lolls outside the hotel sipping a glass of something amber. His left arm blocks out half of the hotel sign. Eden, it reads now.
‘Fully booked, love,’ he mutters without looking up.
‘I live here,’ says Betty curtly and squeezes past him.
Inside, the big room is misty with tobacco warmth. Men stand shoulder to shoulder, still wearing their overcoats, and Mother wriggles between them doling out cups of tea and
cinnamon biscuits and toothy smiles.
‘Want your grushans topped up with a drop of stout?’ she calls to a man in an armchair, with an empty teacup balanced on his knee. He ignores her.
‘The killer has to be a local,’ another of the reporters is saying to no one in particular.
‘Apparently her blood was still warm when they found her,’ chips in a younger one with a cigarette wedged in the gap between his front teeth. ‘And the Inspector just told me that the first poor lass was stabbed in the stomach forty times… Or was it fourteen?’
‘Mind your lip, Tony,’ says the eldest with an Irish accent. ‘There’s ladies about.’
‘I’m just saying it like it is.’
‘Well don’t,’ snaps the bow-tie man, stepping into the room. They all quieten. His face is stern but he slips Mother a wink. Betty pretends not to notice.
Taken from The Unforgotten, Chapter 1.
Join us for a special ‘Meet the Author’ BookTalk that welcomes Cardiff-born writer, Laura Powell, who will be in conversation with Dr Sophie Coulombeau about her debut novel The Unforgotten (2016), described as ‘a clever first book by a remarkable new voice’ (Sogo Magazine). As well as giving selected readings from the novel, Laura will discuss her inspiration for and the creative process behind The Unforgotten, which blends a coming-of-age drama with a multifaceted crime mystery. The novel was selected as one of Sainsbury’s Summer Book Club for 2016 and longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize.
Here’s a description of The Unforgotten from the publisher’s website:
Betty has a secret. One she must keep forever.
Summer, 1956. Fifteen year old Betty Broadbent has never left the Cornish fishing village of St Steele or ventured far beyond the walls of the Hotel Eden, the boarding house run by her erratic mother. But when a string of brutal murders brings London’s press flooding into the village, Betty’s world changes. She is instantly transfixed by one of the reporters, the mysterious and aloof Mr Gallagher.
An unlikely friendship blossoms between Betty and Mr Gallagher. But as their bond deepens, and they become entangled with the murders, each is forced to make a devastating choice – one that will change their lives forever. Fifty years later, the devastating consequences of Betty and Gallagher’s secrets finally unravel.
Split between 1956 and present day, The Unforgotten is a stunning debut novel. With her skilfully drawn characters and evocative language, Laura Powell is an exciting new voice.
What reviewers have said about The Unforgotten:
- ‘Forbidden love. A serial killer on the loose. A huge moral dilemma… Bid your to-do list goodbye because you’re not going to be able to put it down.’ (Stella Magazine, Sunday Telegraph)
- ‘Assured and intriguing … with a slight Broadchurch feel.’ (Sunday Herald)
- ‘An eerie and sorrowful tale, beautifully-told: a hugely impressive debut.’ (Joanna Kavenna, novelist)
- ‘Gripping from the first page, this is a remarkable debut. I highly recommend it.’ (Katie Fforde, novelist)
The main event (7pm) will be preceded by a reception with tea, coffee and biscuits at 6.30pm in Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Maindy Road, Cardiff CF24 4HQ.
About the author
Laura Powell is a Commissioning Editor at the Daily Telegraph. She has worked as a Features Writer at the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, and as Deputy Editor of Economia, the UK’s largest monthly business magazine. Laura grew up in Cardiff and studied at Warwick University. She later completed an MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, for which she was granted a Scott Trust Bursary from the Guardian Media Group. Several of her poems and short stories have been published in small literary magazines and anthologies, and she was awarded a New Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales in 2013. She has also written features and interviews for the Guardian, the Evening Standard, and various women’s magazines. She lives in London. You can find out more about Laura on www.laurajaynepowell.com and follow her on Twitter.
Director Robert Wise based The Haunting on The Haunting of Hill House after being frightened by the book. The abbreviated title was a suggestion by Jackson herself. Released in 1963, the film has since become a cult classic, and is often found near the top of ‘Scariest Film’ lists.
The Haunting of Hill House was a financial and critical triumph. A month before the publication date of October 16, 1959 – appropriately close to Halloween – Viking ran an unusual announcement in The New York Times, generating advance sales of about eight thousand copies and considerable buzz. Though there was the usual wonderment at Jackson’s dual writing personas, reviewers responded far more enthusiastically than they had to any of her previous novels. Some treated it as little more than a particularly well-written horror tale.
In The New York Times, Orville Prescott – often one of Jackson’s more skeptical critics – called it ‘the most spine-chilling ghost story I have read since I was a child,’ although he was unsure whether she intended it to be ‘taken seriously’ or had simply designed it ‘to give delicious tremors to readers who delight in one of the oldest varieties of folk tale.’
Some thought the book was too obviously Freudian: Time opened its piece with the snide line ‘When busy Housewife Shirley Jackson finds time for a new novel, she instinctively begins to id-lib.’ Jackson professed to think this was hilarious, claiming she had ‘never read more than ten pages of Freud,’ though she later invoked him regarding Castle.
But most critics recognized that Hill House was, as the Providence Journal’s reviewer put it, ‘a strong and scary parable of the haunted mind’ in the vein of Hawthorne, Poe, or James.— Excerpt from Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
(New York: Liveright, 2016), p. 424.
Each of the houses that anchor Jackson’s final three completed novels – The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle – has its own distinct personality and indeed functions as a kind of character in the book. Her interest in houses and their atmosphere extends back to the beginning of her career: to her early fiction, which so often describes the efforts of women to create and furnish a home, and to the first family chronicles she wrote for women’s magazines. Her preoccupation with the roles that women play at home and the forces that conspire to keep them there was entirely of a piece with her cultural moment, the decade of the 1950s, when the simmering brew of women’s dissatisfaction finally came close to boiling over, triggering the second wave of the feminist movement.
In Hill House, which appeared in 1959, Jackson gathered powerfully all the objects of her long-time obsession: an unhappy, unmarried woman with a secret trauma; the simultaneous longing for a mother’s love and fear of its control; the uncertain legacies handed down by previous generations; and finally the supernatural as a representation of the deepest psychic fears and desires. The result, a masterpiece of literary horror on a par with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, is arguably her best novel, and certainly her most influential.— Excerpt from Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
(New York: Liveright, 2016), p. 409.
Critics have tended to underestimate Jackson’s work: both because of its central interest in women’s lives and because some of it is written in genres regarded as either ‘faintly disreputable’ (in the words of one scholar) or simply uncategorizable. The Haunting of Hill House is often dismissed as an especially well-written ghost story, We Have Always Lived in the Castle as a whodunit. The headline of Jackson’s New York Times obituary identified her as ‘Author of Horror Classic’ – that is, ‘The Lottery.’
But such lazy pigeonholing does an injustice to the masterly ways in which Jackson used the classic tropes of suspense to plumb the depths of the human condition. No writer since Henry James has been so successful in exploring the psychological reach of terror, locating in what we fear the key to unlock the darkest corners of the psyche.
‘I have always loved … to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work,’ Jackson once wrote in a line that could be her manifesto.
In our fears and in our crimes, she believed, we discover our truest selves.— Excerpt from Ruth Franklin, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life
(New York: Liveright, 2016), pp. 6–7.
The first BookTalk of 2017 will focus on Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Using the gothic motif of the haunted house, Jackson’s novel explores the complex gender politics of mid-20th-century America and their impact on the psyche of its protagonist, Eleanor Vance.