Cardiff University MA student and regular BookTalker, Caitlin Coxon, reports upon our March event, Laura Powell in conversation with Sophie Coulombeau.
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.
A report by Robert Lloyd on the fifth BookTalk of the 2015/16 season, which took place on 3 May 2016: Simon Mawer’s Mendel’s Dwarf. Our latest BookTalk event focused on Simon Mawer’s Mendel’s Dwarf, a novel about identity as seen through the lens of genetic … Continue reading Simon Mawer’s Mendel’s Dwarf: Event Review
But it was Mendel’s Dwarf that saw him come into his own as a writer. A dozen years on, his voice still lifts when he talks about it. The novel—which tells the story of the molecular biologist Benedict Lambert, great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel, who suffers from achondroplasia (dwarfism)—tackles science with tools that have become hallmarks of his writing: multiple timelines; an exploitation of the slippages and spaces between languages; a fascination with memory. ‘I’m distant enough from it now to say it’s a bloody good book,’ he grins. ‘I was fascinated by Mendel, but he led a fairly dull life, if intellectually extraordinary. So I had Lambert tell Mendel’s story while telling his own. It clearly wasn’t going to be a biography . . . I’m a novelist. I don’t want to tell the truth. I want to manipulate things as I choose. I want to lie.’
Photo: HN – Lukáš Bíba
Mendel’s Dwarf is an unusual piece. It’s a work of science fiction in the strict sense, but without any of the familiar traits of the genre. It is scientific literature in the literary sense but not the scholarly one; it’s a novel with footnotes that is in a hurry. Its narrator annotates his text with references because he is a scientist and that is how scientists write. But they do not write with the overtone of horror, and the unmistakable implication of looming disaster, that Simon Mawer sustains throughout his story.
The May BookTalk event will focus on Man Booker shortlisted author Simon Mawer’s controversial novel Mendel’s Dwarf, which weaves together a reimagining of the life of Gregor Mendel, the father of genetic science, with contemporary geneticist Benedict Lambert, who is both a dwarf with achondroplasia and a distant relation of Mendel.