Excerpt from The Laments by George Hagen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Laments

A Novel

by George Hagen

The Laments
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2004, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2005, 384 pages

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The last thing Julia wanted was to disturb the volatile relationship between her parents. Her father, Adam Clare, a bureaucrat at the Electricity Supply Commission in Johannesburg, had never made enough money to please his wife, and couldn’t wait for the weekends to go hunting or fishing. Her mother, aptly named Rose, was strikingly beautiful, prickly to the touch, a woman who had criticism for everyone, especially her daughter. The only thing worse than the disharmony at home was the prospect of being sent home to be the source of it.

In the next month, Julia behaved herself while Mrs. Urquhart blamed Desdemona for Othello’s bad end and Juliet for tempting Romeo. Julia, to her credit, resisted the thrashing Mrs. Urquhart gave her beloved Beatrice until almost the very end. She remembered the warnings of her headmistress, and perhaps in the disapproval of Mrs. Urquhart she heard a more primal voice, the voice of Rose, who found her daughter’s presence so unsatisfactory that she had bundled her off to boarding school at the age of seven. The classics teacher observed her young foe’s reticence—hands buried under her knees, mouth zipped shut—so when it seemed clear that her gadfly wouldn’t sting, she ended her lecture with this final remark: "You’ll notice how often Beatrice seeks the last word in any scene—clearly an insecure and weak young woman."

A weak woman? Beatrice?

The girls turned for the volley. Julia wiped the beads of sweat along her upper lip—another quality her mother disliked. "She’s assuredly your child, Adam. See how she sweats from the most masculine parts of her body!"

Mrs. Urquhart folded her arms—gauntlet dropped. Waiting. Julia bit her lip so hard she could feel the blood on her tongue; her mind was fixed on Mrs. Bunsen’s warning. Still, the faces of the girls were trained on her while the hirsute harpy gloated in triumph.

Julia then, without realizing it, fixed one eye on the puckered face of her teacher and raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Madam, if what you say about Shakespeare reflects life, then all men are the dupes of women, and all women are the mistresses of their destruction. What would Mr. Urquhart say to that, I wonder?"

Heads were lowered to desks, as if to avoid the return fire from this verbal torpedo.

Mrs. Urquhart squinted, regarding the mock innocence of her assailant with a bobbing craw.

"Miss Clare—you’ll nae sit in my class e’er again!" she sputtered.

Julia was found by her father at the train station, in her uniform, a blue-and-gray tartan, a wide straw hat, and white kneesocks. Perched on a large trunk, she cradled her dog-eared copy of Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare.

"Well, missy," he said. "What a mess we’re in now."

He was a striking man, tall, with blue-black hair cropped short, thick eyebrows, and strong cheekbones. She liked to imagine a more savage version of him slaughtering Hadrian’s legions in the heather.

"I’m so sorry, Papa," she replied.

He deflected her apology with a soft shrug.

"How’s Mummy? Tell me all the news. Do I look taller?"

Her father hesitated.

"Yes, missy, I think you might be as tall as your mother."

"You must measure us together. Where is she?"

Adam Clare dug into his jacket pockets, nervously looking for his pipe, then, sighing, he dropped his shoulders and looked at Julia with an abashed smile.

"The thing is, missy, your mother and I are divorced."

The sun broke through the fever trees, and Julia tried to shield the harsh light from her eyes with both hands.

"What?" she said, hoping she had misheard, and yet knowing she hadn’t.

"Our marriage is over."

"When?"

"Oh, last Christmas, actually." Her father swallowed. "We were going to tell you this next summer, I suppose, but . . . well, here you are."

Excerpted from The Laments by George Hagen Copyright© 2004 by George Hagen. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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