Away From You
Ursula sat at her dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror. She brushed her hair – which she wore in a smooth, jaw-length bob- and applied a little moisturiser. She had eschewed cosmetics long ago. She fastened the strap of her watch and ran her fingertips along the length of her cheekbones. They remained resolutely high, even though the flesh around her jaw, her mouth, had softened a little. Her face, she felt, reflected an air of surprise. Perhaps, more accurately, one of unexpected ambush. Her grey eyes looked dark; some days, darker. The skin beneath them retained a bruised, blue quality. She rubbed a little Carmex into her pale lips, and pressed them softly together.
This would be only the third job interview she had ever attended. Was that ridiculous, aged forty nine, to have only three times presented herself for selection?
The second interview had been with Rose, who had interviewed her, characteristically, in the garden, early in July. There had been a riffling breeze, and the petals of the almost-spent iceberg roses were caught on its breath so that she and Rose talked in a soft drizzle of white petals like two slightly stiff, recalcitrant brides.Rose had made scones, and rhubarb jam, and Geoffrey, in navy blue corduroys, waved cheerily from the herbaceous border, soil ridged to his knees.
Her first interview had been altogether different, many years earlier. It has been for a secretarial job at an advertising agency. How young she had been. How untested. She’d stood by the water fountain in reception, wearing a navy blue dress. Her shoes were making themselves felt on her smallest toes. Ursula Condot. She disliked repeating her name to people; it felt like it ended too abruptly. Two generations previously she would have been Ursula Condotti. That had more swing. Her paternal grandfather had lopped off the last two letters in an effort to anglicise himself when he migrated after the war. It was, Ursula felt, emblematic of a kind of self-willed, timid shrinking.
Her mother had called her Ursula because she’d read Women In Love when she was pregnant. ‘Ursula and Gudrun,’ she’d said, ‘I thought both names so elegant. And they wore red and blue coloured tights. I saw you as a lovely young woman in beautiful coloured tights.’
Now, at her dressing table, Ursula smoothed her fingers along her slightly stout calves. Another maternal expectation unfulfilled. At least she hadn’t christened her Gudrun. It was always important to count saving graces.
Ursula would prefer not to work with children, but when she is offered a job as a housekeeper which involves childcare, she reluctantly accepts. Kind, attentive, and perceptive, she quickly brings routine and security to Ruby’s and Luca’s lives. But what is the secret that she is hiding, and why does she choose to make herself as unobtrusive and invisible as possible?
A novel about a particular, contemporary anguish, and about a past too terrible from which to ever fully emerge, Away From You is about one woman’s desire to remain true to those she loves, and to live her life as a means of bearing witness to theirs.
Langdale’s psychological intelligence informs every angle of a thoroughly contemporary tragedy.The Times