Monday, 16 November 2009

Read an extract of Marian Keyes new novel

Marian Keyes has been published again by Penguin Books. Here you have more details:

Title: The Brightest Star in the Sky
Author: Marian Keyes


At 66, Star Street in Dublin, someone is watching over the lives of the people living in its flats. But no one is aware of it - yet...

One of them is ready to take the plunge and fall in love; another is torn between two very different lovers. For some, secrets they want to stay buried will come to light and for others, the unveiling of those secrets will have tragic consequences.

Fate is on its way to Star Street, bringing with it love and tragedy, friendship and heartbreak, and the power to change their lives in the most unexpected of ways…


Day 61
June the first, a bright summer’s evening, a Monday. I’ve been flying over the streets and houses of Dublin and now, finally, I’m here. I enter through the roof. Via a skylight I slide into a living room and right away I know it’s a woman who lives here. There’s a femininity to the furnishings – pastelcoloured throws on the sofa, that sort of thing. Two plants. Both alive. A television of modest size.
I appear to have arrived in the middle of some event. Several people are standing in an awkward circle, sipping from glasses of champagne and pretending to laugh at what the others are saying. A variety of ages and sexes suggests that this is a family occasion.
Birthday cards abound. Discarded wrapping paper. Presents.
Talk of leaving for the restaurant. Hungry for information I read the cards. They’re addressed to someone called Katie and she appears to be celebrating her fortieth birthday. I wouldn’t have thought that that called for much celebration but it takes all sorts, I’m told.
I locate Katie. She looks a good deal younger than forty, but forty is the new twenty, according to my information.She’s tallish and dark-haired and bosomy and gamely doing her best to stay upright in a pair of spike-heeled knee-boots.Her force field is a pleasant one; she vibrates with levelheaded warmth, like a slightly sexy primary-school teacher.(Although that’s not actually her job. I know this because I know an awful lot.)
The man next to Katie, glowing with dark pride – the pride is in large part to do with the new platinum watch on Katie’s wrist – is her boyfriend, partner, loved one, whatever you want to call it.An interesting man, with a compelling life force, his vibrations are so powerful they’re almost visible. I’ll be honest:I’m intrigued.
Conall, they’re calling this man. The more polite members of the group, at least. A few other names are hovering in the ether – Show-off; Flash bastard – but remain unuttered. Fascinating.
The men don’t like him at all. I’ve identified Katie’s father, brother and brother-in-law and not one of them is keen. However, the women – Katie’s mother, sister and best friend – don’t seem to mind him as much.
I’ll tell you something else: this Conall doesn’t live here. A man on a frequency as potent as his wouldn’t stand for a television of such modest size. Or plant-watering.I waft past Katie and she puts a hand up to the nape of her neck and shivers.
‘What?’ Conall looks ready to do battle.
‘Nothing. Someone just walked over my grave.’
Oh come now! Hardly!
‘Hey!’ Naomi – older sister of Katie – is pointing at a mirror that’s propped on the floor against a cupboard. ‘Is your new mirror not up yet?’
‘Not yet,’ Katie says, sudden tension leaking from between her teeth.
‘But you’ve had it for ages! I thought Conall was going to do it for you.’
‘Conall is going to do it,’ Katie says very firmly. ‘Tomorrow morning, before he goes to Helsinki. Aren’t you, Conall?’
Friction! Zinging around the room, rebounding off the walls. Conall, Katie and Naomi volleying waves of tension against each other in a fast-moving taut triangle, the repercussions expanding ever outwards to include everyone else there.
Entre nous, I’m dying to find out what’s going on but, to my alarm, I’m being overtaken by some sort of force. Something bigger or better than me is moving me downwards. Through the 100 per cent wool rug, past some dodgy joists, which are frankly riddled with woodworm – someone should be told – and into another place: the flat below Katie’s. I’m in a kitchen.
An astonishingly dirty kitchen. Pots and pans and plates are piled higgledy-piggledy in the sink, soaking in stagnant water, the lino floor hasn’t been washed in an age, and the stove top sports many elaborate splashes of old food as if a gang of action painters has recently paid a visit. Two muscular young men are leaning on the kitchen table, talking in Polish. Their faces are close together and the conversation is urgent, almost panicked. They’re both pulsing with angst, so much so that their vibrations have become entangled and I can’t get a handle on either of them. Luckily, I discover I am fl uent in Polish, and here’s a rude translation of what they’re saying:
‘Jan, you tell her.’
‘No, Andrei, you tell her.’
‘I tried the last time.’
‘Andrei, she respects you more.’
‘No, Jan. Hard as it is for me, a Polish man, to understand, she doesn’t respect either of us. Irish women are beyond me.’
‘Andrei, you tell her and I’ll give you three stuffed cabbages.’
‘Four and you’re on.’
(I’m afraid I made up those last two sentences.)
Into the kitchen comes the object of their earnest discussion and I can’t see what they’re so afraid of, two fi ne big lads like them, with their tattoos and slightly menacing buzz cuts. This little creature – Irish, unlike the two boys – is lovely. A pretty little minx with mischievous eyes and spiky eyelashes and a head of charming jack-in-the-box curls that spring all the way down past her shoulders. Mid-twenties, by the look of her, and exuding vibrations so zesty they zigzag through the air. In her hand she’s carrying a pre-prepared dinner. A wretched-looking repast. (Greyish roast beef, in case you’re interested.)
‘Go on,’ Jan hisses at Andrei.
‘Lydia.’ Andrei gestures at the, quite frankly, filthy kitchen. Speaking English, he says, ‘You clean sometime.’
‘Sometime,’ she agrees, scooping up a fork from the draining board. ‘But sadly not in this lifetime. Now move.’
With alacrity Andrei clears a path for her to access the microwave. Viciously, she jabs her fork into the cellophane covering her dinner. Four times, each puncture making a noise like a small explosion, loud enough to make Jan’s left eye twitch, then she slams the carton into the microwave. I take this opportunity to drift up behind her to introduce myself, but to my surprise she swats me away as though I were a pesky fly.
Don’t you know who I am?
Andrei is giving it another go. ‘Lydia, pliz . . . Jan and I, we clean menny, menny times.’
‘Good for you.’ Breezy delivery from Lydia as she locates the least dirty-looking knife in the murk of the sink and runs it under the tap for half a second.
‘We hev made rota.’ Feebly Andrei waves a piece of paper at her.
‘Good for you again.’ Oh how white her teeth are, how dazzling her smile!
‘You are livingk here three weeks. You hev not cleaned. You must clean.’
An unexpected pulse of emotion radiates from Lydia, black and bitter. Apparently, she does clean. But not here? Where, then?
‘Andrei, my little Polish cabbage, and you too, Jan, my other little Polish cabbage, let’s imagine things were the other way round.’ She waves her (still soiled) knife to emphasize her point. In fact, I know that there are 273 different bacteria thriving and fl ourishing on that knife. However, I also know by now that it would take the bravest and most heroic of bacteria to get the better of this Lydia.
‘The other way round?’ Andrei asks anxiously.
‘Say it was two women and one man living in this flat. The man would never do anything. The women would do it all. Wouldn’t they?’
The microwave beeps. She whisks her unappetizing dinner from it and, with a charming smile, leaves the room to look up something on the internet.
What a peppy little madam! A most fascinating little firebrand!
‘She called us cabbages,’ Jan said stonily. ‘I hate when she calls us cabbages.’

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