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Watkins & Co.
Gareth Cadwallader

Voters Rating 1005 / Published

1005

Synopsis

Will Watkins has just left university to start on life’s adventure, when he is called back from his first teaching job in Africa. His father’s death creates turmoil in the Watkins family – and in Will’s inner life, as he struggles to come to terms with a series of discoveries about his loved ones and himself.

Watkins & Co. has echoes of Salinger’s angst-ridden The Catcher In the Rye, suffused with the reticent suffering of Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day. It is an outstanding debut novel.

Extract

This morning I kissed my father for the first time. He would have been furious if he’d known. The undertakers had recovered much of the symmetry of his face. He looked younger, more handsome than he had for months, years. I sensed heads bow behind me as I bent over him and touched his forehead with my lips. I expected to shrink from the contact with his inert flesh, but, if anything, I felt a great weight press me against him. I rested my lips there to give a lifetime of restrained feeling a chance to pass between us, then stepped back to join my mother, Dad’s older brother Tom, who had by some miracle outlived him, as he had outdone him at every turn of their lives, and their younger sister Beth. My mother looked shrivelled and dry after a spring and summer spent weeping. She had become a small, anxious, elderly woman; for some reason, I had never expected to see that.


            The only other time I came close to a kiss with my father was at the end of a momentous summer when the courses of all our lives changed and we headed out on unforeseen tangents from what we had imagined our trajectories to be. When it seemed that we had been brought to the lowest possible point and yet were still on our feet, still, as he would have said, 'throwing punches', there was a moment, in the darkness of his study, with just the desk lamp on, when I had thought to take his head in my hands and kiss him. I lost my nerve. Instead I bowed my head, thinking he might kiss my forehead, but instead I received a blow, a playful slap, across the head, and a grin caught in the corner of my eye. 'It’ll be all the sweeter when we pay the bastards back,' he said. 


***


            That summer, and, in my case, the year that preceded it, were such vivid periods of our lives, rather the way the war years were always painted in bold colours by our grandparents. My mother and I have returned again and again to that summer to tell stories at his bedside during these terrible months of convalescence, therapy, false hope and relapse after each of his strokes.


            That summer - the open, rolling farmland of northern France; low horizons interrupted by inexplicable outcrops; cyclists in berets propped on one leg as they turned to watch the train pass; silos, milk herds motionless in emerald-coloured fields, minutely speckled with the presence of chalk beneath, the cattle black and white with shins the colour of cow-shit, gaping as they chewed; dogs in farm lanes staring without interest at the whooshing train; graffitied agro-chemical plant at the edges of medieval villages, each with its ancient manor house with chickens in the yard; a broadly furrowed field, curving up a hillside like a head of braided hair, beaded with seagulls, a line of red farm vehicles parked at its base - all this constructed out of blurred frames of stillness and expectation flashing past the hurtling train, mesmerising me, after a week of travel back across Africa and Europe.


 

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