We're delighted to present an extract from The Art of Falling, the debut novel by Danielle McLaughlin, author of the acclaimed short story collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets, published by John Murray.
Nessa McCormack's marriage is coming back together again after her husband's affair. She is excited to be in charge of a retrospective art exhibit for one of Ireland's most beloved and enigmatic artists, the late sculptor Robert Locke. But the arrival of two outsiders imperils both her personal and professional worlds: a chance encounter with an old friend threatens to expose a betrayal Nessa thought she had long put behind her, and at work, an odd woman comes forward claiming to be the true creator of Robert Locke's most famous work, The Chalk Sculpture. As Nessa finds the past intruding on the present, she must decide whether she can continue to live a lie - or whether she's ready to face the consequences once everything is out in the open.
Read an extract below...
After dropping Luke off at the Ferriters' cabin, Nessa drove home to Sunday’s Well. She showered and changed and went with Philip to a dinner party hosted by a banking lawyer called Dennis Fogarty and his wife, Olga. The Fogartys lived in Elgin Woods, a gated development of detached fivebedroom houses on the city side of Blackrock. The 'wood’ comprised four oak trees that had grown for several hundred years in the grounds of an adjoining manor house recently converted into apartments. There were twenty houses in Elgin Woods, each with large gardens in the back and smaller gardens with circular driveways out front. They all had the same miscellany of shrubbery, tended to, Nessa suspected, by the same gardener. All the topiary was shorn that little bit too tight, and the roots of all the black bamboos were causing tiny undulations in the otherwise neat lawns.
Olga was from Carlow, her father a beef farmer, her mother a primary school teacher who had encountered the name Olga in a romance novel. Olga talked a good deal, almost exclusively about books. She’d had some short stories published and occasionally wrote reviews for newspapers. That night in the Fogartys’ dining room, Nessa was seated beside her. There were three Louis le Brocquy prints and an original Gottfried Helnwein on the dining room walls. The Fogartys had caterers looking after everything, so there was no respite, no lull when Olga might otherwise have got up to check on vegetables. Nessa listened politely, a smile fixed to her face. Halfway through the starter, Nessa thought that she’d rather chew off both her own arms than listen to Olga for another minute. The particular book she was talking about that night involved a man attempting to generate a new life-form in the hull of a beached schooner in Patagonia. Olga had been speaking about it for a while and all that had happened, as far as Nessa could make out, was that the man had broken a cup. It was all about the very particular way in which he’d broken it – Olga was careful to explain this – and how the broken cup was a metaphor for a fractured world.
After a while Nessa allowed her gaze to wander and caught a man directly across the table staring. Immediately he looked away. He wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination an attractive man, but all the same Nessa felt flattered. She turned her attention back to Olga, who’d moved on from the cup to some new occurrence. When a moment later she glanced back at the man, he was staring again, this time in a more intense manner that made her uncomfortable. ‘Excuse me,’ she said, interrupting Olga mid-sentence, ‘I’ll be right back.’
She wove through the bustle of catering staff in the Fogartys’ kitchen and let herself out into their garden. In a different age, the Fogartys’ butler might have come after her and escorted her back inside, or perhaps fetched a warm wrap. But the caterers couldn’t have cared less, and she pulled the door shut, walked a little distance down the path. The city glittered like a circuit board, the grids and boxes of lights, the rows of streetlamps. How magnificent, by night and from a distance, the homes of Cork. She stood there, breathing deeply, and tried not to think of anything at all.
Behind her, she heard the kitchen door opening. When she turned, she saw the man from across the table, and she realised she wasn’t surprised. He was approaching through the grass, in long strides. When he was within a few feet of her, he stopped. She wondered if he’d said something very quietly and she hadn’t heard. He had his hands in his pockets, and was rocking back and forth on the heels of his shoes.
She said, ‘It’s a nice house, isn’t it?’
‘Only the best for Dennis and Olga.’
He was very drunk, she realised. He must have been getting quietly and inconspicuously drunk indoors, and now the cold air had hit him.
‘If my wife could see me now,’ he said, ‘out here with you.’ He took a step closer. ‘What would your husband make of it, I wonder?’
‘He’d make nothing whatsoever of it,’ she said lightly. What was it about men, that they always presumed a woman was about to jump on them?
‘Trust each other, do you?’
‘As a matter of fact, yes.’
He laughed. ‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘Oh dear.’ He shook his head. ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ He held out a hand. ‘Richard Wilson.’
It took a second to register. Richard Wilson. Cora’s husband. She had never seen him before. He wasn’t one of the small number of fathers who graced the school gates. She didn’t take his hand and after a moment he withdrew it. ‘He’s some man, your husband,’ he said. ‘He fucks my wife; he, presumably, fucks his own wife. Maybe he’s got a harem going up there in Sunday’s Well?’ The Wilsons lived in Hollyhill, though not in one of the estates. Nessa went to step around him to go back to the house, but he caught her by the elbow.
‘Let me go,’ she said. She glanced up at the Fogartys’ kitchen and was relieved to see the outlines of the catering staff. She could shout, if it came to that.
He brought his face close to hers. ‘What do you think?’ he said. ‘Maybe you and I should give it a go. That’d show them.’
She shrugged off his hand and walked to the house, trying not to show how panicked she was. The caterers paid her no notice; they were in the middle of a different sort of crisis – a sinkhole of soufflé sat on the countertop. In the dining room, Philip was in conversation with a woman she knew to be a project engineer. Nessa went up, tapped him on the shoulder. ‘A word,’ she said.
The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin (published by John Murray) is out now.