Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Hold My Hand"

Serena Mackesy is a journalist and novelist. Her journalism includes features and travel writing, mostly for The Times; her Independent column was published as a novel, The Temp, which soared into the Sunday Times Top 10, and was followed by the critically acclaimed Virtue and Simply Heaven.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hold My Hand, and reported the following:
She feels, in the cabin-like kitchen, like a sailor lost at sea. It's warm enough in here, for she's turned the oven on full whack and left the door open, but she knows that going out into the corridor will be a different matter. The wind, stepping up a gear, howls against the walls like a wild animal. She's always been a city child: lived with her mum and dad in Peckham until she was grown-up, would probably have gone back there with Yasmin if she'd had the option. She's never been alone somewhere where the orange glow of streetlights and the occasional sound of passing footsteps couldn't give at least the illusion that someone was at hand. Out here, miles from anywhere… anything could happen and no-one would know.

Abruptly, she pushes her chair back. It's the tiredness talking, like Carol said. This has to be better than Streatham. There's nothing worse than being surrounded by people and knowing that no-one will help you. You're not to go down this road. You're still healthy, your daughter is beautiful and bright and loving and life is going to get better. It has to. Tomorrow we'll buy double-thick duvets and a couple of fan heaters and hot water bottles, and I'll get the kettle and the clothes and the TV from the car and we can start to make a little home here, at last. But tonight you must sleep.

Something clatters out in the yard, makes her jump. Don't be silly, she thinks. There's a wind. It's probably a branch or something, blown loose and bowling down the hill. And now there's rain rattling off the window like gravel thrown by a teenage lover. It doesn't mean anything. He's not followed you. He will have been at the office when you left. It's just nature, and you're in the middle of it.

She considers, for a moment, leaving the oven on overnight; turns it, reluctantly, off. No point in testing the fuse box; it obviously trips at the most minor of provocations.

Entering her bedroom is like stepping into a fridge: a month standing empty in early winter has left the whole house shivering with neglect. Pulling the curtains, she feels a blast of cold air from the window, creeping round the ancient casement. She remembers her father, one winter of her childhood before they could afford vinyl replacements, going round the house with clingfilm and sellotape sealing out the cold air. I'll get some tomorrow, she thinks, when we go to the supermarket. The list gets longer and longer.

Slightly to my surprise, p69 does reflect quite a lot of the themes of Hold My Hand. Bridget, the character portrayed here, has packed up her daughter and a small number of belongings and run away from London, debt and a stalkerish ex-husband to start over with a new name and a new home. She is caretaking Rospetroc House, a mansion on the edge of Cornwall's Bodmin Moor, and this is their first night, barricaded into the housekeeper's quarters, while the weather that the area's Summer visitors never see howls about the eaves. Bridget has lived under siege for a number of years, and tends to jump at her own shadow – but something is wrong at Rospetroc and she's soon going to find that she's leapt from frying pan to fire. The house is isolated and its electrical supply unreliable; and the family who own it are covering up a number of secrets about the place's history. Soon, Bridget will realise that not all the mysterious noises in the night can be written off to natural phenomena – and that what might seem at first glance like a place of safety can just as easily – for those who lived here in the past as well as for herself and her daughter – turn out to be a trap...
Read an excerpt from Hold My Hand, and learn more about the book and author at Serena Mackesy's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue