A black wind was blowing outside the bow window. All afternoon it had been playing its tricks: scooping up handfuls of leaves and flinging them over the lawn, spinning Old Man Thompson's weather vane this way and that, seizing rapaciously at Bel's ruby leather coat as she battled down the driveway to her audition. Now and then, from the rear of the house, I would hear it shriek through the bones of the Folly, and I'd look up from the TV with a start. If this were Kansas--I remember thinking--it might have been the beginnings of a terrible Twister; but this wasn't Kansas, and what the wind blew in was worse than witches or winged monkeys. For today was the day that Frank arrived at Amaurot.
It was after four but I was still in my dressing gown, recuperating on the chaise longue in front of an old black-and-white movie that starred Mary Astor in an array of hats. I'd been out the night before with Pongo McGurks and possibly overdone it a little, insofar as I'd woken up on the billiard table with a splitting headache and wearing someone else's sarong. By now, though, I was feeling much better. In fact, I was feeling particularly at one with the world, supping at a bowl of special medicinal consommé that Mrs. P. had made for me, thinking that no one wore a hat quite like Mary Astor--and then I caught my first sight of him, it: a large, vaguely humanoid shape shifting about behind the glass frieze that looked onto the hallway. It didn't fit any of the shapes that should by rights have been there--not Bel's slender figure, nor Mrs. P.'s squat domestic trapezium: This shape was bulky and distended, grotesquely so, like one of those self-assembly IKEA wardrobes I'd seen advertised on TV. I raised myself up on my elbows and called out: "Who's there!"
There was no reply; and suddenly the figure was gone from the glass. I put down my consommé with a little sigh. I am not so vain as to think myself, in the general run of things, any more heroic than the next fellow; still, a man's home is his castle, and when Swedish furniture decides to have a wander through it, one must take the appropriate measures. Tying the belt of my dressing gown and picking up the poker, I stole over to the drawing room door. The hallway was empty. I cupped a hand to my ear but heard only the sound of the house itself, like an endless exhalation of air echoing between the high ceilings and wood floors.
I was beginning to think I must have imagined it; but I seemed to remember someone telling me about a rash of break-ins recently, so just to be certain, I continued down the hall. There were plenty of nooks in which a miscreant could hide. Holding my poker at the ready in case he tried an ambush, I checked the library and the recital room--slowly twisting the knob, then swiftly thrusting open the door--to find nothing. Nothing lurked behind the Brancusi Janus; no one loomed beneath Mother's sprawling poinsettia. On an impulse I tried the double doors of the ballroom; they were locked, of course, as they always were.
Relieved, I was on my way to the kitchen to have a cursory look around and also to see if there was anything by way of biscuits to follow the consommé, when a noise came from behind me. I spun round just as the door of the cloakroom burst open--and there, lumbering toward me, was the hideous Shape! Without the benefit of frosted glass between us, it was even more gruesome--my nerve quite failed me, the poker freezing midswing--
"Charles!" cried my sister, ghosting up suddenly at the Thing's shoulder.
"Haugh," the Thing snarled, before I recovered my wits and caught it...
Author: Paul Murray
PAUL MURRAY was born in 1975. He studied English literature it Trinity College, Dublin, and took a master's degree in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. A former bookseller, Murray lives in Dublin. An Evening of Long Goodbyes, his first novel, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize, and earned Murray a nomination for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award.
"Paul Murray manages to fit a brilliant social novel in the small spaces of a farce, without ever losing his lightness of touch or his sense of humor. The result is something absolutely unique. Murray starts with Wodehouse (and does him proud), but ends somewhere entirely his own--somewhere very, very funny and surprisingly touching. I really love this book." - Arthur Phillips, bestselling author of Prague
"A lyrical, satirical tour de force, a huge, hilarious elegy. A surreal and very funny festival of truths, fictions, luck, and love. How can this be a first novel? A triumph." - Ali Smith, Booker Prize finalist and author of Hotel World
"One of the most entertaining and laugh-out-loud Irish yarns of recent years." - Irish Independent
"The plot scuttles along with Wodehouse-like delirium. . . . Murray's clearly having fun, but beneath the bouncy tone he manages to weave real depth into the characters' relationships." - Time Out (London)
"A hilarious, rich and satisfying novel." - The Times Literary Supplement
"[A] comedy of the highest caliber." - The Sunday Tribune (Ireland)