The ShortRead of 25 February
Author: Will Smith
What's the story: No, not that Will Smith - unless the one you're thinking of is the scribe of award-winning TV shows Veep and The Thick Of It, in which case you're spot on.
Mainlander is a book about loneliness. Colin Bygate may not appear lonely: a married school teacher, he's constantly surrounded by people. But he's a Mainlander wed to an Islander, and the delights of his new isolated Jersey home are starting to needle. After a chance encounter with one of his pupils on the coast who then fails to show up for school, Colin finds himself entangled in a search for a missing child the Island authorities would rather ignore.
It would be lazy of us to give Mainlander a back-of-the-cover review of "knockout"... but it really is.
Release date: Out now
Hundreds of feet below where Colin Bygate sat on a mosscovered rock, the Atlantic was eating away the coast. Huge surges rolled in to fling up their spray as they hit the cliff-base, then sprang back to collide with the next incoming wave and send a line of water skyward. The sinking sun gave the brilliant white of the foam an apricot tinge, and turned the vapour trails above to threads of fire. It was one of those sharp and clear dusks peculiar to Jersey, with a brightness that belied the approaching dark. A sky that might have hung over Eden.
Since he couldn’t climb down to the waves, he dreamt of them rising up to wash the Island clean of all the impurities that so irritated him.
A vast storm, a second Flood: that was what was needed. One that would carry off the bankers, the lawyers, the accountants and all the others who looked down on him from their vertiginous social position, with their sports cars, their boats and their skiing holidays. It was his wife’s sensitivity to his low altitude, and his resentment that he should be made to care about it, that had brought him here tonight.
‘Rob and Sally have invited us to Chamonix for New Year.’
‘I don’t know if we can afford it. We’re stretched enough with the mortgage, and we’ve got to get your car through a service in February.’
‘Sally says they’ll pay.’
‘Why not? She’s my best friend and she can afford it.’
‘You mean he can afford it.’
‘Don’t be jealous.’
‘I’m not jealous.’
‘You’ve such a problem with money, you’re really not suited to this Island at all.’
‘That’s not true. You can’t just throw that in. Hey, come on, look at me.’
‘I’d rather not. I don’t like your face when you know you’re wrong.’
Colin wasn’t being disingenuous: he didn’t have a problem with money. He just preferred it to be earned rather than inherited, but he could live with this inequality on the grounds that people inherit plenty of things that give them an unfair advantage in life – a disarming smile, a propensity for kicking a ball, or precocious numeracy. His problem with Rob de la Haye was Rob de la Haye. He didn’t like the way the man laughed at his car.
‘Renault 5! Don’t drive it too long, you’ll grow tits!’ Rob had a Porsche 911, which, on an island that had a maximum speed limit of 40 m.p.h., on only two sections of road, Colin saw as a needless display of conspicuous wealth.
Neither did he like his attitude to the local itinerant Portuguese workers.
‘Did you hear about the Porko who took a bath?’
‘Nor did I!’
Or his relentless stereotyping of the Scots, Irish, Mancunians and Liverpudlians who made up the remaining seasonal workforce of receptionists, waitresses and car-hire representatives.
‘Check your change – Scouser on the till.’
In fact, he didn’t like much about his world view.
‘Take away unemployment benefit, they’ll soon find jobs.’
It irked him that Rob’s horizons were witlessly free of storm clouds. ‘Keep going like this and in five years I can buy a parish,’ he joked, after another run of luck on the markets, at which Colin smiled while inwardly praying for a crash.
He shifted on his granite perch, unsettled by the idea that maybe his wife was right, that underneath the layers of antipathy he was just jealous. His own father had died when Colin was seven. Rob’s had kept on living and acquiring hotels, one of which, the Bretagne, he’d given to his son on his twenty-first birthday.
The thing that Colin really had a problem with, and which had hit him like a telegraph pole to the chest, was that his wife had dated Rob when they were teenagers. It had come out as a response to his diatribe over Rob and Sally’s plans to build a swimming-pool in the grounds of the old farmhouse they were having renovated at a level of expense that Colin found simply incomprehensible. Sally was flying back and forth to London, sourcing furniture and wallpaper, because she was determined that guests shouldn’t recognise any element of her house from visits to the few local department stores. Colin was aware that he had to tread carefully because Sally was Emma’s oldest friend but, like many such friendships, his wife seemed to spend more time talking about the qualities she didn’t like in Sally than those she did. Hence Colin felt on firm ground when it came to expressing his heartfelt but puritanical disdain at the de la Hayes’ need for a swimming-pool when surrounded by such beautiful beaches.
‘But they won’t be living near any beaches in St Lawrence. It’s bang in the centre,’ Emma had pointed out.
‘It’s an island. You’re never that far from a beach.’
‘It’s nice to have your own pool, though. Beaches are full of kids and tourists. And the sea’s only warm enough to swim in about one month a year.’
‘It’s bloody freezing.’
For more excellent reads, check out our previous choices below - just click on the link:
Second Life by S J Watson
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
The Winter War by Philip Teir
The missing and the dead by Stuart MacBride
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
The ShortReads of 2014
(Image: Flickr/Kate Hiscock)