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Truth Games Paperback – 27 Jun 2009
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About the Author
Bobbie Darbyshire lives in Clapham. She won the 2008 fiction prize at the National Academy of Writing in Birmingham, and has been published in their anthology, 'Finding a Voice', and by Mslexia. Her mystery romantic comedy 'The Real McCoy' has been serialised in the print magazine First Edition.
Bobbie has a sociology degree and has worked as barmaid, mushroom picker, film extra, maths coach, cabinet minister's private secretary, and as a care assistant, as well as in social research and government policy. She hosts a writers' group and is a volunteer adult-literacy teacher. Contact her on: bobbie[dot]darbyshire[at]ntlworld[dot]com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Lois sighed, and Hugh drew back hurt into his own warm space in the bed. He would have to say something soon.
He made himself speak, as though it were nothing. `You don't fancy me much lately, petal.'
`I never really did.' She rolled away and lay still.
It had him catching his breath. Insults were standard, she never pulled her punches, but calling her `petal' was cue for her to counter by calling him `prawn', a reference to his sun-shy skin and red hair. `I never really did, prawn' was what she ought to have said.
He stared at her tangle of dark curls. He was being foolish; she was probably hung over. Saturday night with the Goldings was getting to be a habit, and too often they paid for it on Sunday morning. His own head was clear. At forty, he was feeling the need to go slow with the wine, to put a hand over his glass when Jack lurched by on his life mission to top everyone up.
He snuggled close again, kissed Lois's freckled shoulder, breathed in the lazy, sleepy smell of her. `Poor petal. Shall I bring you a cuppa?'
She half-turned her head. `Not even at the start, I didn't. Not properly.' She sounded despairing. `It wasn't really physical. You know?'
It was happening, what he'd dreaded so long. He tried to see her eyes.
`But we had something back then,' he said, `We still do.'
`If you say so.' She shook her head, chewed her lip. `Although sometimes I wonder--was I just showing off?'
She was sliding from his arms, launching herself into the day. She had swung her legs clear of the bed and was reaching to open the curtain. The stream of sunshine dazzled him, bouncing off her naked flesh and revealing the hot dust in the air around her.
Horatio struggled from his basket, wagging and snorting and sneezing. When Hugh leant to fondle his ears, the dog promptly heaved himself onto the bed and covered his face with slobber. `Ugh! No! Get down, you beast! Now I understand how my poor wife feels.'
He looked up, hoping for a smile, but she showed no sign of having heard. She was contemplating her reflection in the long mirror on the wardrobe door, no light in her eyes. And he knew he'd lost her. Ten years, his time up and she'd be gone. He couldn't bear it. No choice, no more time to consider; he must make his offer at once. Hugging the dog to his chest, he took a steadying breath and made himself speak the words.
`I wouldn't mind.' They snagged in his throat. `You know, if you wanted adventures.'
She turned from the mirror.
A second went by.
`If I fuck someone else, you mean?'
He closed his eyes. `Truly, I would the gods had made thee poetical.'
`You won't go all hurt and holier-than-thou?'
Won't, not wouldn't.
`No,' his voice hoarse, `I won't.'
He was off the bed, taking a step towards her, wanting to rewind the ten years and see the starry-eyed student who'd seduced him. `My love, I tried to teach you ethics once and failed. I've learned my lesson.'
She pulled a face and turned back to the mirror. `There you go. Pompous already.'
My god, she was right. In that case, `Lois, listen.' He took another step. `I mean it. I promise. No moralising.'
Her dark-blue eyes observed him from the depths of the mirror. He gathered himself to speak plainly.
`I will not, repeat not, go all hurt and holier-than-thou if you sleep with another man. With a dozen other men. I know I'm not all you need. I love you. You're free. Use your freedom. I'll still love you.'
He paused, then added, `Try not to leave me.'
`Do you mean this?'
At last she was smiling.
`Yes, I do.'
Like a child on Christmas morning.
`You honestly won't mind?'
`Cross my heart.'
He cupped her face in his hands. She had her arms round him now. `Thank you, prawn.'
He swallowed. The transaction was oddly exciting. Come back to bed, he wanted to say, but she was pulling on jeans.
`Yes... time for breakfast.' He backed away, groping for his dressing-gown and the door handle and nearly tripping over Horatio, who lumbered ahead. As he reached the bathroom, he found he was trembling and sweating. He'd promised too much. And what could it buy him but time? She would despise him; she would still leave him. But even if the gamble was futile, what other way was there? Love wasn't a chain.
He stared into the mirror, forcing his hands to manage toothbrush and paste. Why did she marry him? He examined his nondescript, middle-aged features. He'd never understand it. Why did she detach herself from the crowd of wide-eyed eighteen-year-olds and waylay her tutor? And how had he persuaded himself it wasn't lunacy to let himself love her, this impulsive, unsuitable student who put his heartbeat on hold, standing too close, with her eyes on his lips? Who told him she wasn't the lovey-dovey type, but really liked him. Liked the way he explained this ethics nonsense--when did he get pompous?--and knew the best bits from the boring books.
`Shakespeare's not boring.'
`If you say so. Go on then, tell me another.'
`It were all one that I should love a bright particular star and think to wed it, she is so above me.' That was her favourite.
It was impossible, he told her. `I'm your philosophy tutor... your moral tutor.'
She was shameless. `Okay,' she said, `let's get wed, have a party, go public. Sort out all that rubbish.'
`Marriage?' He'd fought vainly to hang on to reality. `You'd regret it in no time. I'd make you unhappy. Then you'd make me unhappy.'
And suddenly that had been his thought as well...
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If you were a young adult female in 1975/6 (those oh-so-hot summers) then this will catch you under the heart. The back cover blurb puts it succinctly. This was after The Pill took the worry out of sex and before HIV put it back in again: the world can never return to that state of irresponsibility again. Bobbie Darbyshire writes about London (in which she lives) but the same thing was happening in Cornwall (where I was living then). Oh happy days so beautifully put on the page. The carefree sex. The drinking. The heat. The boring jobs.
If you weren't in your twenties or thirties in the Seventies, then you could find this a rivetting read as a (can't believe I'm about to say this) historical novel.
Bobbie has created a good mix of characters in this story, Bobbie does a fantastic job of developing personalities throughout and weaving in their relationships with the other characters. As we progress in the book, we find that it's not just all about sex, but about friendship, building relationships and fidelity. There's a lot of focus as well on the era, if you were around for the seventies then I'm certain the descriptions will bring back lots of memories!
This book wasn't my cup of tea because it's not really my preferred genre, though it is a compelling read! If you're looking for something different and refreshing then this is your book!
Bobbie Darbyshire manages to capture the flavour of the time so well. She tackles difficult issues with a full understanding of human relationships and what it takes to trust another even in the darkest moments. And maybe that love conquers all...
The main theme is sex (as the back cover tells you, so no-one should complain) and it gets pretty full on (so no-one need feel sold short). Sex (as the title hints) becomes a game which some of the characters play with their eyes open, others just getting carried along. But the book isn't so much about the game as about the people playing it, and what the game does to them (some inevitably get hurt). As well as being a lot of fun it gives you some food for serious thought about this (which puts it in a long tradition going back at least to "Les Liaisons Dangereuses").
The seventies atmosphere is vividly evoked but the book doesn't really feel dated because no-one has found the answer to these questions yet! The ending is brilliant; I don't want to give it away but I feel the way it hints at resolution (for three lots of characters) but leaves a lingering uncertainty about the outcome is just right. An impressive first novel.
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