Over the course of three decades of writing, bestselling novelist Rosie Thomas has earned an untold number of awards and critical praise.
Her latest novel, Constance, is a powerful story of a woman’s anguished reckoning with her past. Constance Thorne was a foundling, left by her mother within days of her birth. Decades later, she leads a happy, independent life in Bali, but when she hears the news that her sister Jeanette is dying, the last thing she wants is to return to London. As a child, Connie was aware only of the differences between herself and her sister, yet they both fell in love with the same man. With the bitterness of betrayal still between them, Connie and Jeanette have to learn to forgive each other. Do the bonds of shared childhood lie deeper than they had believed? And, surrounded by family, can Connie make her peace with who she really isand who she loves?
|Publisher:||The Overlook Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.38(w) x 8.01(h) x 1.04(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Nights on the island were rarely silent.
The guttural scraping and grunting and booming that was the frog chorus could rise into a din sufficient to drown out all the other wildlife before fading away into a single disconsolate bleat. The many dogs who ranged the village streets barked incessantly, and in the small hours the roosters started up a brassy call and answer that lasted well into daylight. But towards dawn the world suddenly fell silent.
On this day the sky lightened from pitch black to a vast grey touched at the eastern rim with green, against which the coconut palms on the crown of the ridge stood out like paper silhouettes. In the waiting hush the light strengthened and the horizon flushed with pink and orange.
In a beautiful place, another lovely day was breaking.
Wayan Tupereme yawned at the door of his house and then shoved his feet into the brown plastic sandals that he had left neatly paired on the step. He made a brief circuit of his garden, nipping off a flower here and there and cupping the blooms in his left hand. By the time he was back at his door again, it was daylight. A little later he trod quietly down the dusty path beside the swathe of leathery leaves and twined stems that separated his garden from the Englishwoman's, and strolled up to the next-door house. Even though the sun was rising there was no visible sign of life. He stooped to place something on the lower step of the deep veranda that ran all the way round the little single-storey house. It was a tiny basket woven from palm fronds and containing some squares of coarse leaf on which were laid an orange flower like a miniature sun, a scatter of scarlet petals, and a few grains of rice. Wayan touched his hands to his forehead, then stood up straight again and made his way back to his own house. He was getting old, and he walked slowly.
Ten minutes later, Connie's alarm clock went off. She wasn't used to waking to its shrill beep, and her arm thrashed as she tried to find the button to silence it. She extricated herself from the tangle of thin sheet and blinked at the time. It was six thirty. The car would be here to pick her up in half an hour but she lay still for a moment, letting the familiar outlines of the room and its furnishings reassemble themselves in the dim light. She had been dreaming, a thick coil of a dream that still clung to her although she couldn't remember what it had been about.
'Come on. Get going,' she advised herself, once the chair and cupboard and the horizontal slits of pale light marking the shutter louvres were properly distinguished. She felt apprehensive, although not unpleasantly so, but there wasn't time to dwell on any of that. The car was coming. There was a seven-thirty call.
The bedroom doors opened onto the veranda at the back of the house. As she did every morning, Connie opened them to let the light flood in, and stepped out into the air. It was still cool, with a faint breeze stirring the leaves of the banana palms. There was no pool, she had deliberately chosen not to have one, although the other Europeans who lived in the area all did. There was only the liquid music of water trickling down the rocks a little way off, and the view itself. It took her by surprise and then engrossed her, even after six years.
The house clung to the upper rim of a steep valley. From beneath her feet the ground fell away into the gorge and rose again on the opposite side, densely clothed in a tangle of trees, feathery leaves against broad blades against sharp spikes, a lush billow of textured greenery. The crowns of the highest coconut palms spread against the sky, threedimensional in the brightening light. At the bottom of the cleft lay the river, a wide silver sweep with the morning mist rising from it. The cocks were still crowing, and as the warmth of the sun filtered through the leaves the first cricket started up its dry rasp. From the road on the other side of the house came the distant buzz of motorbikes as people headed for work.
Connie smiled at her view, thinking how lucky she was to have all this. She rocked on her bare feet, spreading her toes to connect with the warm, varnished boards. On an ordinary day she would have made tea and sat out here, gazing at the green wave until it was time to do something else. But today was not ordinary. The outside world had arrived.
She had laid out the shooting script the night before, her tape-recorder and her laptop and the sheets of music, even her clothes. All she had to do was shower and dress, make a last check and pack her bag.
At 7 a.m., still with a persistent flutter beneath her ribcage, Connie carried her bag out of the house. The offering placed by Wayan lay in front of the house temple, a little shrine sited at the appropriate corner of the veranda. She nodded her head to acknowledge it and then stepped past. The car was already waiting for her, pulled off the road into the grass and bare-earth space where the way to her house joined up with the path to Wayan's. It was a big silver-grey Toyota 4×4, with tinted windows and enough room to seat seven people.
The driver leapt out as she emerged, and hurried to open the rear door for her.
'Selamat pagi, ma'am,' he said. 'Good morning. All set now?'
Connie knew him quite well. His name was Kadek Daging and he was Wayan's relative by marriage. Usually he worked in his small general store up in the main street of the village and was famous as a source of local gossip, but today he would have left one of his several sons in charge of the shop in order to undertake this important driving assignment for 'the movie company', as he put it. Actually it was less a movie than a trio of expensive thirty-second commercials for an online bank that were being shot on the island. But Connie didn't want to diminish his sense of importance by making the distinction.
She would have shaken his hand, or even lightly touched his shoulder, but she took her cue from him and put the palms of her hands together to make a polite bow.
'Good morning, Kadek. Thank you for coming.'
To preserve the formality of the occasion she climbed into the back of the car, even though she would have preferred to sit up front. Kadek jumped smartly into the driver's seat and eased the Toyota out into the stream of scooters and motorcycles. One young man on a motorbike tried to race them, his blue shirt ballooning and his black hair raked back in the wind, but Kadek hooted and they sailed majestically past him.
Once they were established as the kings of the village traffic he asked over his shoulder,
'Ma'am, would you care for a cold drink? A cool towel?'
Normally he would address her as 'Ibu', as he called all the other European women customers and neighbours, or 'Ibu Con' when he remembered, although Connie tried to persuade him to make it just 'Con'. Today, however, they were in a different relationship.
'Thank you,' she said gravely.
'In the box,' he reminded her.
There was a cool-box in the foot-well, in which were bottles of water and soft drinks and a couple of rolled hand towels. Connie took out a towel and patted her hands and face with it, although she wasn't hot. Kadek nodded with satisfaction at having done the right thing.
'Busy day for you,' he observed.
It was going to be.
After half an hour's driving, away from the village and following the course of the river to where the valley spread in a series of pale ledges planted with rice, they reached the location.
There were several Toyotas parked in a line, three bigger trucks standing with their doors open, two motor caravans, a trailer-mounted diesel-powered generator, a couple of pickups from which heavy boxes were being unloaded by local labour under the direction of one of the key crew, green awnings set up for shade, groups of people converging on a larger tent, and a general air of purposeful activity. Con looked at her watch. It was seven thirty precisely. The sun was gathering strength, promising a hot day ahead. On the horizon, across the shimmering paddy, the sacred Mount Agung was a pale-blue pyramid.
He opened the door for her to step out. 'Welcome, ma'am. Anything more for you? I have to collect other film people. The young girls, you know, who take part.'
'Of course you do. Off you go. Thanks for getting me here so punctually.'
As he prepared to reverse away, Kadek permitted himself a wink and a grin that revealed his filed teeth.
Connie shouldered her bags and walked towards the set.
'Hi,' Angela called out, and waved her arm in welcome. Angela was Connie's old friend from London, a producer with the company that was making the commercials.
Connie gave her friend a hug. 'You all right?' she murmured in her ear.
Angela had an unusually expressive set of features. With her back to the location, she made her wasps-invade-the-picnic face. 'Couple of the crew complaining about their hotel. Ran out of beer last night is what it amounts to.'
Angela shrugged. 'More or less.'
Connie was relieved to hear it. Usually she worked alone in her studio, either here in Bali or in London, and she rarely came face to face with the agency who commissioned her work, let alone travelled to commercial shoots. But she knew enough about the ad business to be certain that worse things could go wrong on location than the booze being in temporarily short supply. Could, and probably would.
She was anxious, and in Bali that was most unusual. Her life here was calm, pared-down and minimal like the interior of her little house, and in its own uneventful way it was satisfying.
Now, disorientatingly, London had come to her.
She put her arm through Angela's. She said cheerfully, 'So let them drink green tea. Or vodka. Or fresh mango and papaya juice. Be different. This is Bali, isn't it? Come on, Ange, let's get ourselves some breakfast. How's Himself this morning, by the way?' There was no doubt who she was referring to.
'Fine. In a pretty good mood. Really keen to get rolling.'
Rayner Ingram, the director, was a tall, saturnine man who said little, but when he did speak he made his remarks count. He and Angela worked regularly together as a director–producer team.
Connie had tried to joke mildly, privately, about him to Angela.
'Rayner? What's that about? Is his real name Raymond? Do you call him Ray?' Angela had reproved her, without a glint of a smile. 'No, of course not. Why d'you say that? His name's his name.'
It hadn't taken even this exchange for Connie to conclude that Angela was in love with Rayner Ingram. Producer–director relationships weren't exactly uncommon in the business. It was just uncommon for them to have happy endings.
Connie half-listened to Angela, but the other half of her attention was on the stacks of metal boxes and lights and cables being unloaded from the trucks, and the way people were rushing about, and the British and Australian colloquialisms shooting across the set.
It was bizarre to contemplate this other world, this self-important capsule of schedules and shots and scripts, given birth to by a line of trucks drawn up beside a half-ruined temple in a rice paddy under the blue cone of a volcano. A few yards away, behind a loose cordon of local men who had been recruited to keep spectators off the set, Connie could see two women squatting at the edge of a green thicket of rice. They had been harvesting, and their hand-scythes lay at their feet. They looked as though they might be mother and daughter. The younger one, perhaps sixteen years old, wore a bright red sarong that made a brilliant slash against the green and the dark earth. She carried a baby bound against her chest. The two women watched the activity on the set with wide eyes and motionless attention.
Connie tried fleetingly to establish which of these places was the more real to her: the silent women and the rice paddy or the ring of people within which a hairy man in shorts and a khaki waistcoat with a dozen pockets across the front was yelling for someone to bring over the genny cables. Both were familiar, she decided, and she could feel at home in either. Whatever home meant. It was the juxtaposition that was disconcerting.
The two women reached the open flap of the tent, which had a fine netting screen across it to keep out the insects. As Angela gathered the netting in one hand she whispered, 'You haven't met the clients yet, have you?'
'No, I haven't.'
'Now's your chance.'
Two men were sitting in canvas chairs at a folding table, surrounded by three others and a woman and a circle of cups and plates and cafetières. Both of them looked up at Connie. She had time to see that they were the kind of men who naturally wore grey worsted, and that now they were dressed in what Angela, using her primitive-tribe-found-in-Papua-jungle face, called 'clients' shoot clothes'.
Angela said warmly, 'Simon, Marcus? This is Constance Thorne. Our musical director, of course.'
The older one half got to his feet and held out a big hand. There were croissant crumbs on his safari jacket.
'Ah, Boom Girl,' he shouted. 'We're honoured. Simon Sheringham.'
'Hello,' she smiled at him.
She hated being called Boom Girl. If it had ever been welcome, it had stopped being so a very long time ago. She had written the Boom music when she was barely twenty. A fluke. A day's work.
'Boom, boom, baboom ba ba, bababa ba.' The younger client sang the few bars as he also stood up. 'And it was long before my time,' he asserted, intending a compliment. 'Hi. Marcus Atkins.'
'Hello.' Connie shook hands with him, and smiled some more. From further along the table the ad-agency copywriter and art director nodded at her, too cool for introductions. The agency producer was very pretty, Connie noted.
Angela and Rayner were conferring over the schedule of the day's shots.
'I'll just get some breakfast,' Connie murmured.
Two Balinese men in white jackets were clearing plates. Connie followed them out of the back of the tent. Behind the scenes, enclosed by canvas screens, Kadek Wuruk, who was moonlighting from Le Gong Restaurant ('Don't Go Before You Come'), was frying eggs on a two-ring gas burner. He beamed at Connie and waved his spatula at her.
'Hello! Welcome, Ibu. Egg for you? Very good, you know. My own chickens.'
'Yes, but no thanks. It's a bit early for me. I'll have some coffee, though. Everything okay, Kadek?' There was quite a limited range of Balinese first names.
'Everything fine, great.'
His assistant was chopping onions, three women were peeling vegetables, two young girls were washing up, and a line of boys processed by with cases of bottled water. Connie was reluctant to pass back through the canvas flap that separated kitchen from tent. It was more comfortable out here, with the women laughing and chattering and the shy girls with their bare lovely feet planted in front of the portable sink unit. She poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup, and watched Kadek Wuruk and his assistants at work as she drank. There would be nasi goreng for lunch.
She heard a crackle of walkie-talkies.
'We're in,' the first assistant called to the crew. It was the signal for work to begin on the other side of the canvas. People began shifting towards the set, but there would be several hours of waiting and watching while the rest of the gear was brought in and lights and cameras were set up. If everything went really well the camera would be turning over before the lunch break was called. Connie's gamelan orchestra was listed as the first shot.
When she had first arrived in Bali, Connie had been intending to make a short stopover on her way to London from Sydney. The plan had been to keep still, to take stock of what was left of her life, and let her bewilderment subside a little. It was only a few weeks since Seb had told her that he was in love with a Chinese violinist, and intended to marry her.
At that time Sébastian Bourret was becoming a sought-after conductor. When he made the announcement, sitting on the balcony of their rented flat overlooking Sydney Harbour, Connie had been his lover and partner for more than six years. Their home was nominally in London but Seb travelled so much that they were away more than they were there, and this had suited Connie well. Their peripatetic life together had been comfortable and civilised, and she had been sure that it was what they both wanted and needed. She had her own work, composing music for television and commercials, and as technology developed it was becoming increasingly easy to do that work anywhere in the world.
She wasn't under the illusion that Seb was wildly in love with her, at least after their first year together, any more than she was with him. But they had much in common, and they were considerate and mutually respectful and deeply fond of one another.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Constance"
Copyright © 2007 Rosie Thomas.
Excerpted by permission of The Overlook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“Mystery, intrigue, a great love, passion, and a terrible sorrow all come together to make The Kashmir Shawl a very touching and satisfying read.” —Barbara Taylor Bradford, bestselling author of Letter From A Stranger
“Thomas writes with a sharp nib, not a dull computer key. She is neither mawkish nor squeamish, but full of fresh images.” —Washington Post Book World