GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2018 IS NOW OPEN
THE DIVORCED LADY'S COMPANION TO LIVING IN ITALY
£7.99 + P&P
Catherine McNamara is an Australian writer who grew up in Sydney, migrated to Paris and ended up in Ghana running a bar.
She has dabbled in photography, selling traditional African art, translating physics, raising a brood and now lives in quiet Veneto surrounded by Palladian villas.
She writes, plays Chopin, free-heel skis, swims, has a daunting shoe collection and adores / loathes Italy depending on the moment.
This is her first novel.
THE DIVORCED LADY'S COMPANION TO LIVING IN ITALY
Marilyn Wade, half-Hungarian divorcée and mother of unflinching teens, moves to Milan to remap her womanhood. Rumour had it that Marilyn’s old icon Jean Harper met her Milanese lover on a singles trip to Macchu Pichu and went to Italy to bear their love child. But sexy glamorous Milan is about as unfeeling as a Prada bag. The streets are full of mile-high models, immigrants and remarkable men in suits.
Who will she meet as she acquires a taste for grappa-laced espresso in bars and learns Italian in a room with George Clooney?
Marilyn’s entanglements involve punishing grammar lessons with a virile agronomist, stolen D&G heels and kisses with astonishing views, a kinky Hong Kong benefactor and a stirring love scene set in Venice.
All this as she moves towards a dodgy Italian nirvana with lederhosen and a spread in Hello! magazine.
Will Marilyn ever find herself and a way to conjugate Italian verbs?
“The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy is fast, sexy and very funny and reveals an Italy you’ve never seen before.
It’s the perfect read for anyone who believes, erroneously, that it’s too late to start again.
Now where did I put my passport?”
Best-selling Chick Lit Author
A NON-CAUTIONARY TALE FOR MOTHERS OF TEENAGERS AND LATE BLOOMERS
CHAPTER ONE (EXTRACT)
An old friend of mine named Jean fell through a tear in her marriage and landed on her feet. One autumn, Jean met a solicitor from Milan on a singles trekking tour in Peru and packed her bags. She sold the house with its clutch of hydrangeas. Her adolescent children learnt Italian with ease. It was reported that, at forty-four, Jean gave the Milanese man a chubby male love-child.
Jean wasn’t really a close friend of mine, though we had married the same year and our children were the same wretched ages. The parallel in our stories narrowed one quiet Sunday afternoon in the kitchen when my husband Peter informed me he had fallen in love with a woman named Danielle and was moving to a flat in Shepherd’s Bush. His words exerted visceral, slow-release punches. I realised he had been naked in the arms of another woman. The first person I thought of was Jean in Milan, framed with dabs of gold from a painter’s brush and a corona of religious spurs. At that moment Jean became my patron saint.
In the aftermath, I dropped a stone in weight while waiting for my outrage to burst like rotten fruit on cement. It never happened. Rather, I was curious to know of Danielle’s hair colour and whether her neck already had faint train tracks; if she blew her nose in public and where she bought her shoes; whether her ovaries were better kernels than mine. I asked Peter. He gave me strained, sideways looks. He refused to include me in any sort of ‘threesome’ and I quickly became the lone mare put out to pasture, the divorcée. I walked woodenly through the streets and couldn’t understand how the brand had come to be on my forehead, but it was now.
Everything that I had taken as given in my life had been swept away.
Several weeks into the summer, I took a leaf from Jean’s book and joined a tour group. I didn’t fancy a long plane journey and my idea of a trek was an aisle-by-aisle supermarket excursion, so I folded away the Andes, Himalayas and Kilimanjaro brochures. I also wasn’t keen on declaring myself a single. That had a discarded, forty-something ring to it and I was terrified of ashen widowers called Ted with yellow teeth. I might have known: my group in Rouen consisted of three young nuns from Tanzania, a haggard gay couple in toupees and crumpled lapels, and the inevitable New Zealander. The tour guide, Sylvie, was bonking the New Zealander by the second night.
I felt a deepening heaviness on returning to the house – had Jean felt like this before she had unearthed the man who’d reset her life? Days later, Peter came around in a hired truck to collect the last of his things. I watched him carry out his university papers from the attic and a deck-chair in the garden that a great-uncle had carted off a P & O liner. He took the bosomy Henry Moore-style sculpture, inherited from his bohemian aunt, from our living room. The new lovers were ready to decorate, he said. I figured that ‘bosomy’ was the flavour of the day.
Later, his guard was down in the sunshine and he suggested I prepare a cup of tea in the garden, where we sat down with new, blinking formality.
‘You know, you’ve done wonders with this patch of ground.’ He looked around with detachment at the trellises we’d put up together, as though he’d never seen them before. His lower lip had become more sensual and pronounced. ‘So how was the history trip to France? Did you meet anyone? We’re all keen for you to … you know, move ahead. I’ve spoken with the children. They want you to savour life. You have a right to it all, Marilyn, remember that.’
I was alarmed to feel that Peter was prodding about my soul with his poker. Peter bought foreign programmes for a huge television network. He had spent years sorting the sheep from the goats and dangling carrots before his audience. I was now seeing the invisible side of Peter I had never known. He was trying to sell me the new Marilyn reality show: Here’s Marilyn sobbing on the Channel crossing. And here she is crying into a très, très grand bag of French crisps.
He drove off in a fine mood and I shut the front gate under the Queen Caroline roses. I ate a greasy bar of chocolate I found in my daughter’s pocket and turned on a documentary about Mussolini with his harsh, captivating face and his thwarted escape to Switzerland. Mussolini and his lover were brought back to Milan and hung upside down like fowls.
Whatever Peter had said to the children about Danielle, it clearly hadn’t upset them. School recommenced and they came home bickering from the station, emptying the refrigerator as voraciously as ever and wandering distractedly and untouched to their rooms. For years our family life had provided book-ends for Peter’s heavy working week. Now that he had removed himself from our lives for good, I waited for Vanessa to break down or for Eddy to come sniffling into my bed – but I hugged myself under the covers alone.
In fact Peter had been quick to install a new schedule so that no one missed a beat. Every other weekend he drove the children down to Brighton where Danielle, whose name bobbed about like an apple in a bucket, had a place. On Sunday night they were dropped off and burst shrill and clear-eyed into the house.
After suffering this for a while, I called Peter. ‘What do you mean, I’m dismantling you?’ he cried. ‘We’re all trying to give you some time to yourself. Some time to rebuild. You need some personal space around you, you know, now that you’re on your own,’ Peter said with ugly clarity. ‘Read up, spend some time online. Go into the city. Be open about it.’
But I didn’t feel like opening up any further, any more than I had already been split apart. On one of those first weekends alone I brought out our wedding album plus a couple of boxes of photographs. Seventeen years ago we looked like a pair of intercourse-driven sods. Peter’s career hadn’t taken off and I was swimming with nausea from our daughter’s tiny seed inside of me. Peter’s gestures – an arm beckoning me, a disarming clutch – were those of the man who used to say he wanted to die in my arms. What had happened? I put aside the series of awkward, non-art house photographs he had taken of my stretching belly, which revealed the fright and embarrassment in my eyes. Then there was Vanessa, my shrieking cub, my downy pink alien in a home-knitted blanket. I combed through masses of baby photographs with their limpid physical cadences: the first smiles, the first steps on soft summer grass. Oddly, I came across an unfamiliar photo of my neighbour Jean Harper and I holding onto our toddlers down by the river, surrounded by ducks. It was an unexpected surprise. My patron saint was reaching out from her new life to speak to me. Try as I might, I could not recall who took the photograph or what we might have said to each other that afternoon, as I never took my children to the river and I hated ducks.
After that I used Jean’s photograph as a bookmark. I went for a job interview at a local sports clinic and returned to work as a physiotherapist. Nearly four months down the line, it seemed I had turned the first corner in my new single life. Each day it gave me immense pleasure to use my hands to deliver relief to other people in pain. I came home exhausted, arms and shoulders aching. I worked with a young girl who had just had the pins removed from her broken leg and an elderly woman who told me my hands were like angels’ wings.
But one morning, only weeks into the job, the street was buzzing with police cars and the clinic was sealed off. I watched my boss Mrs Giles being frogmarched into a vehicle, blood all over her tunic. Apparently Mrs Giles had displaced Mr Giles’ head with a hunting rifle after she found him canoodling with a nurse called Sheneen. I drove home, stunned, in my crêpe soled shoes and blue uniform. The postman was zigzagging at the far end of the street. Some travel company had obviously anticipated my unemployed status and the letter-box was stuffed with a fresh batch of brochures for singles tours: The Missionary Trail in Coastal China, Cro-Magnon Man in the Swiss Alps, Rock Wallabies in Tasmania ….
Peter commiserated briefly about my job and then, out of the blue, asked if I were ready to meet Danielle. So far, according to our family and few communal friends, it had been a seamless separation. I listened to my ex-husband’s upbeat voice. He sounded as though he was headed to a restaurant with candles on wonky tables, and a jazz concert afterwards; he sounded as though he had just had fantastic sex. I began to shake all over, thinking of quiet Mrs Giles raising the gun to her husband’s head. Then, bang! – all the splattered mulch on the walls.
I cut him off and threw away the phone. I cursed Sheneen and Danielle and wept into the couch.