Monday, February 11, 2019

"The Secretary"

Renée Knight worked for the BBC directing arts documentaries and has had TV and film scripts commissioned by the BBC, Channel Four, and Capital Films. In April 2013, she graduated from the Faber Academy "Writing a Novel" course, whose alumni include S. J. Watson. She lives in London with her husband and two children.

Knight applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secretary, and reported the following:
When I turned to page sixty-nine I didn't expect to land on such a key scene - one I had struggled with and re-written many times. On re-reading it, I realised too, that it contained moments that are reprised in the final pages of the book - I am not sure I was conscious of that at the time. The exchange between Christine Butcher, the secretary, and Mina Appleton, her employer, encapsulates their relationship. Mina, demanding and careless of Christine's feelings. Christine, unable to say no to her mistress. The more that is asked of her, the more she is prepared to give. In this scene, Mina Appleton's father has recently died and she and her secretary have been working from Mina's home, Minerva. Christine has just brought Mina her lunch on a tray in her bedroom. It is a task that could have been performed by the housekeeper, but Christine insists on doing it herself - her own need to be needed, as always, leading her deeper into Mina's web.
"'I'm so sorry your mother wasn't able to stay on after the funeral, Mina. I suspect you would have liked to have her with you now.'

'God no,' she said. 'We're not close. My mother's a cold-hearted woman. She's never been there when I've needed her - even as a child.' She pushed her tray to one side and looked at me. 'And your mother, Christine. It was cancer, wasn't it? That took her from you.'

My hands started to sweat - the anxiety I always felt when I thought of my mother, soaking into the arms of the chair. I imagine it's still there - my shame absorbed into the deep red plush of Mina's upholstery.

'No.' I felt unable to say more, and perhaps that's what sparked her curiosity. She left her bed to come and sit near me, perching on the stool at her dressing table, and turning to face me. I found it hard to meet her eyes, and looked down, imagining how nice it would be to sink into the thick pile carpet and disappear.

'An accident?' My mother's death was something I never talked about."

"'Yes, it was an accident.'

'Oh, Christine.' I heard the rustle of tissues being pulled from a box, then felt them thrust into my hand. 'Take your time,' she said. '"It might be good for you to talk about it. I thought, perhaps it might. So, I took myself back to the leaves on the pavement. Autumn. Five thirty on a Wednesday afternoon."
The Page 69 Test: Disclaimer.

--Marshal Zeringue