Read The Drowning People Online
Authors: Richard Mason
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1999 by Richard Mason
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First eBook Edition: January 2000
PRAISE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD
FOR RICHARD MASON
THE DROWNING PEOPLE
“[AN] OXONIAN LITERARY SENSATION … Mason’s twist on his generation’s cynicism is that his narrator has, in fact, seen it all.”
—New York Times Book Review
“MANNERS, MUSIC AND MURDER … MASON IS A TALENTED WRITER … with an eye to the wink, the wry aside, evidence of a youthful writer predisposed to mischief.”
—Washington Post Book World
“How [Mason] could have so much wisdom and insight is baffling. … His elders will be jealous of his storytelling ability, not to mention his BEAUTIFUL COMMAND OF THE LANGUAGE. HIS DESCRIPTIONS … ARE LYRI-CAL AND HIS TAKE ON BRITISH HIGH SOCIETY UNCANNY.”
—San Francisco Examiner
“EARLY FAME EARNED. … Mason’s take on the world and the human condition often is more sagacious than that of many people twice his age, and the scope of his writing talent is broader than some writers with many books in their canons.”
“The much-hyped literary thriller/romance actually
“GRIPPING … wonderfully articulated characters … Mason’s strength is the plot.”
—New York Post
“Richard Mason, a student at Oxford, is only 21, but … this suspenser, a bestseller in England, echoes
“THE DROWNING PEOPLE
is this summer’s
A Secret History,
and author Richard Mason is the publishing world’s Donna Tartt.”
“COMPELLING. … NODDING TO FITZGERALD in its
world of beautiful people smoking elegantly and luminous women.”
“THE STARTLING OPENING SENTENCE AND THE COMPELLING VOICE … DRAW THE READER INTO THE EMOTIONAL VORTEX OF THIS ACCOMPLISHED DEBUT NOVEL. … Mason is remarkably assured for a young writer … clever plot twists … told in literary and polished prose.”
“PAGE-TURNER … a sweeping, romantic thriller … quite an achievement—at any age.”
“AUDACIOUS … ENGAGING AND WELL PACED. … Impressively conceived and painstakingly executed.”
“What is most stunning of all is his intelligent grasp of the tangled emotions of a man in his seventies. … Mason’s perception of the interior life … his comprehension of the forces that motivate betrayal and revenge, and his command of language result in a story that is, in the literal sense of the word, UNFORGETTABLE.”
—San Diego Union-Tribune
“ASTOUNDING. … How he can be so accomplished at such an obscenely tender age is beyond reckoning … thoroughly authentic, displaying an empathetic imagination that would be notable in a writer twice Mason’s age.”
—Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
“Mason writes perceptively of love, relationships, and the foolishness of youth. … A BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN STORY … EXQUISITE USE OF LANGUAGE.”
“STRIKING IN ITS WISDOM and thoughtful beyond its author’s years. It would be a worthwhile addition to any writer’s body of work—IT’S A STUNNER.”
“ADMIRABLY AMBITIOUS … the pacing and control of the plot, too, have the confidence of an experienced hand. His themes and upright, retrospective tone echo Daphne du Maurier and John Fowles.”
“Assured, well paced and ambitious … the writing is a delight. … A junior Iris Murdoch, with promising nods to Donna Tartt … AN EXCEPTIONAL ACHIEVEMENT.”
“AS A STUDY OF THE AWESOME POWER OF FIRST LOVE, IT DAZZLES. … Mason, awesomely for one so young, writes with a style both spare and powerful.”
“ONE OF THE MOST TALKED ABOUT FIRST NOVELS OF THE YEAR. If you want to be
with modern fiction, you will need to read it. … A truly extraordinary novel … impressive stuff. Mason is also capable of thrilling concision: densely packed sentences pregnant with ideas; vivid descriptions; terse, epigrammatic dialogue.”
“A GREAT READ, A SUSPENSE-FILLED BLOCK-BUSTER WITH BRAINS. … It’s a brilliantly written book, a profound statement on love and revenge and what some people will do to get it.”
—Toronto Globe and Mail
“Drowning in talent. … All-round super-Brit Richard Mason shows uncommon nerve by infusing a confessional narrative with gothic creepiness, touches of the whodunit formula, and yes, a beguiling probe of disturbed psychology. … AUDACIOUS FROM BEGINNING TO END.”
“ONE CANNOT HELP BUT BE AMAZED WHILE READING THIS EXCEPTIONAL STORY THAT THIS IS THE WRITER’S FIRST NOVEL. … Beautifully told … a remarkable book.”
“IF HIS DEBUT NOVEL … IS AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT MASON CAN ACHIEVE, NO ONE QUITE HAS THE NERVE TO IMAGINE WHAT MAY COME NEXT.”
“A COMPELLING WRITER … at times I just had to stop reading and marvel at how an eighteen-year-old could have such insight, such presence. The story is brilliant, with a touch of madness, wickedness, fate, consuming love, and jealousy. RICHARD MASON MUST BE THE NOVELIST OF THE NEXT CENTURY.”
— Sunshine Coast Sunday
For my splendid parents,
Tony and Jane
y great thanks, first of all, to my parents and my family: to Jane, Tony, Jenny, Kay, William, Terry and Matthew, without whose faith, love and encouragement this book could not have been written. My thanks also to my friends: to Rod, Christina, Marina, Victoria and Lycia Parker, for their seemingly endless generosity; to Lord Joicey for commissioning the diary which first sent me to Prague; to Adelyn Jones, Randy Watson and Holly Golightly who were my partners in crime there; to Daph and Shells Borkum for their tireless talk and Tequila; to Chris Ogden for being at the end of a ’phone when needed; to Fremmers, Thierry Morel, Eleanor Rees, Joy LoDico, Jani Loder, Sophie Orde, Kate Harris, James Hardy, Emma Dummett, Dougald Hine, Will Poole, Marjorie McMillan and my uncle Arthur Schoeman, amongst others, for all their affection, conversation, criticism and coffee. From a succession of fine teachers I am particularly grateful to Karen Le Gros, John Evans, Nicholas Kaye, Dennis Hunt, Nick Welsh, Angus Graham-Campbell, Richard Pleming, Chris Davis and Jeffrey Branch; and I could not have asked for better agents than Peter Robinson, Kathy Anderson and Diana Mackay, nor for better editors than Jamie Raab at Warner, Tom Weldon at Penguin UK, or Hannah Griffiths at Curtis Brown. My thanks to them all.
… I leaped headlong into the Sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the Soundings, the quick sand, & the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea & comfortable advice.
, in a letter to
J. A. Hessey, 8 October 1818
Y WIFE OF MORE THAN FORTY-FIVE YEARS
shot herself yesterday afternoon.
At least that is what the police assume, and I am playing the part of grieving widower with enthusiasm and success. Life with Sarah has schooled me in self-deception, which I find—as she did—to be an excellent training in the deceiving of others. Of course
know that she did nothing of the kind. My wife was far too sane, far too rooted in the present to think of harming herself. In my opinion she never gave a thought to what she had done. She was incapable of guilt.
It was I who killed her.
And my reasons were not those you might expect. We were not unhappily married, you see; far from it. Sarah was—until yesterday—an excellent and loving wife, for she was conscientious, in some respects, to her core. It’s funny that, isn’t it? How completely contrasting standards can coexist in a person without seeming to trouble them. My wife was, at least outwardly, never anything but dutiful, correct, serene. “She gave of herself tirelessly in the true service of this island and its people”; that’s what the chaplain will say of her when the time comes; and he will be right. Sarah had many virtues, chief amongst which was an unflinching sense of duty made graceful by serene execution. That is what she will be remembered for. And her serenity was not only for herself: she had a way of making the lives of those around her serene also—serene, ordered, and secure. It was security on her terms, of course; but I would have welcomed it on anybody’s terms when I married her, and that has held true over forty-five years.
If you knew me, you wouldn’t think me at all the murdering type. Indeed I don’t consider myself a violent man, and I don’t suppose that my having killed Sarah will change that. I have learned my faults over seventy years on this earth, and violence—physical, at least—is not amongst them. I killed my wife because justice demanded it; and by killing her I have at last seen a sort of justice done. Or have I? Doubts trouble me; old wounds reopen. My obsession with sin and punishment, laid to rest so imperfectly so long ago, is returning. I find myself wondering what right I had to judge Sarah, and how much more harshly I will be judged for having judged her too; judged her and punished her in a way I have never been judged or punished myself.
It might not have come to this; I might never have known. But Sarah’s inexorable sense of wifely duty exposed her. If only she’d been slightly less considerate, slightly less conscientious, she might not be dead now. She was organizing a surprise party for my seventieth birthday, you see; not that the arrangements for it could have remained secret for long on this island. Nor did they. I’ve known that something was afoot for a month or more. And I was touched. But I’m particular about parties. I don’t like the tenants invited; and I don’t like some of Sarah’s more fawningly agreeable friends. So it was understandable that I should want to consult a guest list so that by hinting at least I could have made my wishes known.
I chose last Monday afternoon to search her desk because my wife was out, supervising the extension to the ticket office. And quite by chance I found the drawer she has kept it in all these years.
Even now, with her dead and nearly buried, the arrogance of it chills me.
AM IN THE LITTLE SITTING ROOM
(in days gone by a dressing room) which connects my bedroom to Sarah’s. It is the warmest room in this icy house because it is the smallest. With both doors closed and a fire blazing and the radiators on under its pointed Gothic windows, it is almost cozy. There is no desk in here, only a sofa and two chairs and a small table covered with books. Old books; my favorite books; their inscriptions faded, their givers dead. They have sat on that table for more than forty years, I should think: a Bible, calf-bound, from my mother; my grandfather’s
Donne’s love poetry, an old edition of Ella’s borrowed long ago. There is a music stand in the corner too, hardly used now; a graduation gift from my parents. From where I sit I can see my initials engraved on its base: “For J.H.F. June 1994.” June 1994; almost fifty years ago. That stand was mine before I ever knew her.