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Drove House has always loomed large over village life. Boarded-up for years, it is reputed to be brimming with ghosts, and is shunned by the locals - all except Billy, for whom it has been the site of childhood dens and secret adolescent adventures. When the captivating Muriel moves in with her bohemian mother, they sweep out the ghosts and breathe new life into both the house and Billy's quiet rural existence. After an idyllic summer, though, Muriel returns to her life in London, and the newly empty Drove House becomes the backdrop for Billy's struggle to reconcile the vanishing agricultural lifestyle he has inherited with the glimpses of a baffling new way of life Muriel seemed to offer. Charting the conflict between these two competing worlds, Peter Benson's award-winning first novel is at once a lyrical portrait of the landscape of the Somerset Levels and a touching evocation of first love.
a close resemblance to father. Slocombe made one mistake; he faced her as she spoke, and she hit him so hard, with her hand, that he bled from the nose for hours, and dripped all the way home to Kingsbury. Old Man Out. The Farthings were the first people to put work his way, once he was on his own; there was a plague of rabbits in Devon, and he made hundreds of rectangular baskets, 28 x 18 x 18, with pole holes, for the bunny butchers in London. It didn’t take Slocombe long to come round to the
the car park. I looked back in the hall. I asked a few people if they’d seen him. Someone thought he was behind the stage. I looked; he wasn’t. I sat down on a canvas chair while last orders were called. A few people drifted away, but the disco carried on. I went out and looked round the bank, again, along the bank, calling ‘Dick! Dick!’ I thought he’d fallen in the river, drunk, sluiced down the steep, muddy bank into the torrent. By the light of the stars and a vague moon, I scanned the water,
of rain never hurt anyone.’ ‘Don’t be so sure,’ I said. ‘Chicken.’ She said it. I’d sit on the hill if I froze to death, to show her. City girl didn’t know what it was like at three hundred feet. I had looked on a map. I knew. Exposed to wind from every direction, huddled beneath a scorched scar the locals had made. I parked in the track above Bottom Farm, and we walked the quarter mile to the summit in drizzle, the first sign of cleaner weather behind us. ‘That’s amazing!’ she said, when
began to sink, Muriel swam off, upstream. She kicked little sprouts of water, this Isle had never seen anything like it. I kicked after her, my feet feeling the mud on the bottom, imagining sharp teeth. An adult pike could take a leg off, a vicious beast, best served by the fillet, baked. She trod water, I met her where the current was strongest, it pushed me onto her, and we fell back to kiss. It did not get warmer. Her arms and neck were covered in goose-bumps. I got mud in my mouth. ‘You
air. I remember the night came from evening so quickly, the door stopped on its hinges, like it knew I was watching. This room stood guard over my life. Muriel, murmuring in her sleep, her face turned to the window, I ran my hand up her spine, over where her back blended with her shoulders, I took my other hand and stroked her hair. She moved a little, tucked her knees in, sighed, Bang! The piece of tin in the lean-to, banging years ago, the sound echoed to me, sniff; apricots, stewing in the