Girl From The South

Paperback | May 4, 2010

byJoanna Trollope

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Gillion is from the American South, but she is definitely not a Southern belle. An art historian by trade, she takes a job in London to escape from the demands of her wealthy, conventional, socially superior family in Charleston, South Carolina. Once in London she meets Tilly, a features editor, and her long-term boyfriend and wildlife photographer Henry, who is finding it hard to commit. Before long, Gillion inadvertently offers Henry an escape: the chance to travel to South Carolina and photograph its wildlife. Upon arriving, Henry is wholly seduced by the charms of Charleston, by Gillon's family, and by the old patrician way of life which presents itself. Neither Gillion nor Henry bargains on what they find there, nor the effect his departure will have on Tilly and the world he left behind.

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Gillion is from the American South, but she is definitely not a Southern belle. An art historian by trade, she takes a job in London to escape from the demands of her wealthy, conventional, socially superior family in Charleston, South Carolina. Once in London she meets Tilly, a features editor, and her long-term boyfriend and wildlife...

JOANNA TROLLOPE is the author of fourteen highly-acclaimed bestselling contemporary novels. She has also written a study of women in the British Empire, Britannia's Daughters, and a number of historical novels. Joanna Trollope was born in Gloucestershire, and now lives in London. She was appointed OBE in the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honou...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.8 inPublished:May 4, 2010Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307357716

ISBN - 13:9780307357717

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Chapter One  Gillon lay in bed with her eyes closed. One hand was loosely bunched under her chin, the other lay outside the covers holding the remote control of the TV. She did this every morning, rearing up when the alarm went off and fumbling for the remote control and the on button, all without opening her eyes. It was a mark of defiance, a resistance against the waiting demands of the day. Yes, she’d heard the alarm. Yes, she acknowledged that the outside world, so volubly present on the television, was there. But no, she wouldn’t open her eyes and participate in it all. Not yet, anyway. ‘It’s a high of 68 today,’ the man from Stormteam was saying. Gillon knew what he looked like; a big, solid, brown-haired, unexceptionable man with a voice modulated to bring just a little edge of drama to the duller weather patterns, and reassurance to the more alarming ones. ‘Humidity around the low 60s, 62 out at the airport, tonight maybe a low of 58, some precipitation expected later on, in these southwest winds—’ He would be gesturing behind him at the weather map, at the plumes of blue cloud and rain streaking up the coast from Florida through Georgia. He couldn’t see the map, of course, he just had to gesture with his big, well-kept hands (so many men in public life now had well-kept hands: soon there’d be gender fights for seats in nail parlours) at where he knew things were, the mountains up in North Carolina, the South Carolina low country where Charleston lay, the long, flat shoreline running up towards Washington, towards New York, towards the rocky coasts hundreds of miles north which Gillon could never in her mind disassociate from the need to hunt whales in the wild grey winter seas, months and months away from home fighting weather and water and beasts the size of apartment buildings. Gillon had, at one time, worn out two copies of Moby Dick, reading about whales. But then, she was always reading. Whole summers and Thanksgivings and Christmases had passed, in her childhood, with her just reading. Her father had despaired of her, so had her grandmother. Her grandmother had told her that if reading was all she ever did, she’d never find a husband. And her grandmother was right. Here she was, at nearly thirty, lying alone in a single bed in a garret apartment in a shabby house the wrong end of Queen Street with only a television remote control for company. A husband seemed as faraway a prospect as the moon. She opened one eye. Her bed was in a corner and two sloping sections of ceiling met above it. On one there was a stain (rain probably, lashing in from the Atlantic through the neglected roof) which, with the addition of a trunk and one more leg, would have made an elephant. On the other, there was a crack. It was about fifteen inches long, and occasionally, out of the wider end, a small spider would emerge and stroll up to the apex where the roof angles met, and begin on the meticulous construction of a web. Once, when Gillon had a sore throat and a fever and had spent the morning in bed, she had watched while a whole two-inch gauze hammock had been constructed. It had given her a sense of the absolute futility of trying to perfect anything, ever, herself. At the far end of the room, a dormer window looked south into Queen Street. There was a cotton shade over the window which had become partly detached from its header leaving a triangle of sky visible. The sky was, this morning, blue. Clear, clean, strong spring blue, blue as it only was when the humidity wasn’t too high, when veils of soft steaming air didn’t fall over the city like pudding cloths. ‘Hospital weather’, Gillon’s grandmother called the summers and early falls in Charleston. She remembered air-conditioners coming in. Before that, she said, she and her brothers were sent to Martha’s Vineyard for the summers. She insisted she’d hated those northern exiles, longed only to get back to Charleston. Grandmama, Gillon thought, had to be the most obsessed person about Charleston in the entire history of the world. Gillon sat up. A polished girl from NBC in New York, with perfect hair and make-up and completely dead eyes, was reciting the current international stock market prices. Gillon pressed the mute button and watched for a while as the girl mouthed out at her from the screen. She could hear traffic below in the street now and the man in the apartment immediately beneath hers had turned on his washing machine. He kept it right against the wall that rose up beside Gillon’s bed, and, when the spin cycle started, the irregular thumping could sometimes shake a book out of Gillon’s hands. She’d asked him about it. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘I mean, could you just move it, maybe, a couple of inches out?’ ‘Sure,’ he said. But the thumping continued. Gillon sat on the edge of her bed, and watched her pillow jerk as if a small animal underneath it was having hiccups. Then she stood up and stretched. The bed bumped softly and rhythmically against her calves. She pulled her nightshirt T-shirt over her head and dropped it on the floor. It had been a gift from her sister, Ashley. It was pale grey, printed with pink hearts, and across the front it said, ‘Don’t die not knowing.’ Well, Ashley knew. Some things at least. Ashley was twenty-five years old and she had a husband and very nearly a chef ’s kitchen and belonged to the Junior League. Ashley knew, if her clothes and her hair and her manner were anything to go by, what being a woman was all about. Gillon put on the faded indigo-dyed cotton kimono she’d found in a thrift shop for seven dollars, and padded out to the shower on the landing. Nobody used the shower but her, but as it wasn’t integral to the apartment, Gillon had been able to argue successfully for a considerable reduction in her rental. Reductions in everything, at the moment, were central, crucial, to Gillon’s life. Daddy and Mother were always offering help, always, but Gillon wouldn’t take it. Couldn’t. Someone of nearly thirty who had left home as often as Gillon had could not possibly contemplate a handout. When she’d got her internship at the Pinckney Museum of Art, Daddy’d tried to make her take an allowance. ‘No one, Gill, can live on six thousand dollars a year.’ ‘Maybe I can—’ ‘Not possible. Categorically, not possible.’ ‘I’m going to try.’ ‘No,’ Daddy said. He smiled at her. His smile had all the quiet, affectionate confidence of the man – the male – who knows best. She hadn’t smiled back. ‘Watch me,’ she said. She got an evening job in a bar on Market Street and a Saturday job in a lunch place on King Street. She did the Southern bit for big, pale tourists from the Midwest, persuading them to try fried oysters, put pecan butter on their sweet-potato pancakes. Her father never came near the bar, nor the lunch place, nor did her brother, Cooper. But Ashley came, occasion ally – with a girlfriend, never her husband – and Gillon’s mother Martha came, sometimes alone and sometimes with a patient from her private practice. She had a private psychiatry practice out at Mount Pleasant where she took clinics three days a week. The other two days, she worked at the Medical University of South Carolina, all the way up Ashley Avenue. It was well known in the family that Grandmama was proud of her daughter, the psychiatrist, but bewil dered. There’d been terrible battles when Martha had wanted to go to graduate school in New York – anything north of Virginia was anathema to Grandmama. But Martha had won. Martha had gone to New York and gained her Ph.D. and come back to Charleston and married Boone Shewell Stokes, Gillon’s realtor father, whose own father Grandmama had danced with long ago at the St Cecilia’s Ball. And now Martha dealt in damage, human damage, in the wounds inflicted by submission or dissidence or perceived failure. Many of her patients were women. ‘My model prisoners’, Martha called them. She’d bring some of them to the lunch place where Gillon worked and Gillon would notice – you couldn’t help noticing, however much you loved Mother and it was hard to do other than love her – how easily the relationship with patients came to her, how comfortable she was with them, outgoing, almost demonstrative. It was a different Mother from the one at home in Gillon’s childhood, Gillon’s adolescence. That one was kind, certainly, but cool and distracted and always, always busy. ‘You have to find your own way,’ Martha said to Gillon, over and over. ‘No one can find it for you.’ Gillon turned the shower on. It sprang across the tiny tiled cell, hitting the far wall with a hiss. She dropped her robe on the landing floor – she liked its being dyed with indigo: Charleston had exported barrels and barrels of indigo in its prosperous past – and stepped into the water. Her image shimmered faintly on the shiny cream-tiled wall, small and pale with this mop of fairish, gingery hair, wild hair, unsleek hair, hair that rose up in humid weather to dwarf her head in a tangle of intractable curls. No one knew where that hair had come from. No Alton (Great-Grandpapa) or Cutworth (Grandmama) or Stokes (Daddy) had hair like that, hair like some mad angel. They had proper hair, manageable, smooth, biddable hair, the kind of hair that Ashley could wear well below her shoulders, shaking it with little practised movements so that it shivered into satiny place. Gillon closed her eyes and poured shampoo into her cupped palm. Asking a person what they wanted out of life, who they wanted to be with, how they saw themselves in terms of personal identity, was one thing. But asking a person, day in, day out, to put up with this kind of hair was quite another.  Outside the Pinckney Museum of Art, a group of tourists on a walking tour of Charleston’s architectural treasures were having the circular church across the street explained to them. The explainer was a tall bespectacled man with a goatee beard – a familiar sight to Gillon – who had fallen in love with Charleston on a trip from Portland, Oregon, ten years before and was now a fanatically enthusiastic tour guide. The tourists themselves were looking dazed. They had paid fifteen dollars each for ninety minutes’ worth of intense archi tectural and historical information and were now in need of restrooms and coffee. There was, Gillon noticed, the usual handful of men on the edge of the group obscured by their video cameras. A video camera meant that you didn’t have to take anything in because the camera would take it in for you. You could take the whole of Charleston back to your family room in Ipsilanti, Michigan, at no mental cost to yourself whatsoever, and just screen it on your TV. Gillon dodged past the group, up the steps and through the double swing doors. The volunteer on reception – a sweet-faced woman who answered the telephone as if always speaking tenderly to a member of her own family – looked at the clock, glanced at Gillon and shook her head. ‘I’m not late—’ ‘Seven minutes.’ ‘You shouldn’t check up on me—’ ‘I want you to be on time,’ the volunteer said sweetly. ‘I want Paul to be pleased with you.’ Gillon leaned briefly against the reception desk. ‘He’s pleased with my work.’ ‘I’m sure he is.’ Gillon went on down the corridor past reception and into the lower gallery. It was lined with quilts, an ex hibition of African-American quilts, brilliant against the dark walls. Gillon had been round the exhibition alone one evening, after the gallery closed, and found herself disturbed and moved. Quilts were not, it seemed, folksy and domestic and cosy. Quilts were, instead, a voice, and not a comfortable voice at that. She’d spent ages in front of one, particularly. It had been made by a woman in Savannah: ‘Ja. A. Johannes of Savannah,’ said the information card. It was a poem, a quilted poem. Hand me down my mother’s workIn the bright patterns that she madeFor she did keep a dream or twoFrom before she was a slave. It had made Gillon feel angry and excited. She’d learned the whole poem by heart, standing there in front of the quilt. There was something about the quietness of the poem, the rhythm, that stuck in her mind like a drumbeat. Every day, on her way to the offices at the top of the building, she stopped to say good morning to Ja. A. Johannes of Savannah. She made a little genuflection, not caring if anyone else was in the gallery or not. And then she went up the modern granite-coloured staircase, past the double doors open to the great salon and the rotunda, and up again to the small white offices where the Director of the Gallery and the Curator of Collections worked, in the Director’s case, with precision and order and, in the Curator’s case, in considerable chaos. Paul Landers could not, by his own admission, have kept a deck of cards in order. He worked, daily, in a mounting confusion of paper, producing from it schemes and projects of perfect coherence. When Gillon came to be interviewed as a Pinckney intern, she had expected to be asked to sort him out to some degree, but it became rapidly plain that if he were ever to be sorted out, his meticulous grasp on what went on inside the undoubted punctiliousness of his head might be fatally loosened. No, that was not what he wanted her for. With her major in fine arts, the studio courses she had done in various painting techniques, and the Ph.D. she had started (and abandoned) at the University of North Carolina, he wanted her for catalogue research, biographical information, some public relations groundwork, school projects, even developmental ideas. He wanted her to talk at, to bounce ideas off. He was a hugely zealous creature battling with the confines of a small, close-knit provincial gallery and he needed another human being to blot up these surpluses of energy. He had made a pass at her once, too, whipping off his spectacles and involving her in a violent embrace almost before she was conscious he’d risen from his chair. ‘Butt out!’ Gillon had yelled, ducking her face away from his mouth. ‘Get away from me!’ ‘Couldn’t help it,’ he said. He was slightly breathless and his hair stood on end. ‘Kind of had to.’ He was perfectly normal afterwards. He asked her to have coffee with him. She refused. ‘I probably wouldn’t have coffee with me either,’ he said equably. ‘You’re married,’ Gillon said. He nodded. ‘Sure I am.’ Gillon went out to the ladies’ room and ran a sink of cold water and put her face into it. Bad kissing was so very, very different from good kissing. Bad kissing was so bad it was in danger of putting you off any kind of kissing whatsoever, for all time. Two days later, he’d offered her the miniatures’ project. He said he didn’t want her just to research the catalogue, he wanted her to write it. If it was good enough, it could actually be published in her name, with maybe just a foreword by himself, or by the Director. The miniatures were one of the treasures of the Pinckney, miniatures of the successful citizens of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Charleston by Peale and Malbone and Fraser, miniatures which flourished until the daguerreotype came along and superseded them. ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’ Gillon asked. He sucked his teeth. Then he tapped them with the stylus from his laptop. ‘Because I don’t like miniatures.’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘I don’t like,’ Paul Landers said, ‘the – as it seems to me – supreme complacency of miniatures.’ That had been three months ago. It was perhaps the first three months since Gillon’s formal education had ceased – or, to be more truthful, been abruptly cut off – that she had worked at anything consistently, conscientiously, sequentially. It suited her. She came out of the building in the evening in a state of mild astonishment that Meeting Street should still be there, going about its daily business, while she had been caught up in such another world, a world of detail but also a world of adventure and escapade. Charleston had been wealthy, sure, hugely wealthy on account of rice and indigo and cotton and slaves, but that wealth was so fragile, so perilously balanced. One Atlantic storm, the loss of a mere handful of laden ships, and down went the house of cards, leaving those perfect tiny faces she studied all day, in their ovals of pearls and gold, staring into the abyss. When the catalogue was done – which it almost was – Gillon was not sure what would happen. Most interns only stayed three months, very rarely six. She had been there, because of Paul, because of the catalogue, for nine. Paul had not mentioned any further projects, had not in fact talked about the future either with regard to her, or to the gallery. He was thinking about an exhibition of the Charleston portrait painter Henry Benbridge, but he hadn’t discussed it with her, only with the Director. Gillon didn’t think he was going to, either. And if he didn’t, then she was going to have to make her own plans, the kind of plans she seemed to have been making for at least ten years, plans that allowed her to escape from Charleston, and then brought her back, time after time, to yet another rundown little apartment, deliberately shunning her old bedroom in her parents’ house which was always waiting, door ajar, pillows piled on the bed, lamp on . . . ‘Find your own path,’ Mother said. But that was the trouble, the finding. She felt she’d looked and looked, that she’d been looking ever since she went to high school and that nothing she’d seen so far was what she’d been hoping for. There’d been flashes of illumination when her heart had leaped, but they’d only been flashes. There’d been nothing she wanted, nothing that lasted, nothing that she really recognized. Paul’s door was open. He had pushed his glasses up on top of his head and was squinting at a slide in a tiny cardboard frame against the light. His shirt had the air of having spent the previous night on the bedroom floor, but then, his clothes always looked like that. Maybe Adèle, his wife, whom Gillon had once met and found intimidating, took a view of marriage which did not include ironing or, indeed, taking physical care of another adult who could perfectly well take care of himself. Adèle was a musician, a modern, serious, atonal composer and violinist. Come to think of it, Adèle didn’t look very ironed either. But then – Gillon glanced down at herself – nor did she, by her mother and sister’s standards. ‘You’re late,’ Paul said. ‘Seven minutes.’ ‘Nine. Why are you late?’ Gillon gazed out of the window. ‘I – kind of couldn’t get going.’ He put the slide down on the mess of papers on his desk. Then he pushed his glasses back down to his nose. ‘You aren’t a student any more.’ ‘You know,’ she said, ‘I sort of am.’ ‘Only because you persist.’ ‘Persist?’ ‘In thinking of yourself as one.’ ‘Well,’ she said. She stood on one leg and rubbed a sneakered foot up the back of the opposite one. ‘I don’t have any money. I never do anything for more than a few months. I get on planes and then I come back. I think I’m getting away, I think I’m moving on, but what I’m really doing is going round in circles.’ ‘Are you dating?’ Gillon stopped rubbing her foot. ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘You sound just like my grandmother. What business is it of yours, anyhow?’ Paul leaned back in his chair. ‘I’ve got used to you.’ ‘So?’ ‘You have – well – you have charm. You have originality. You aren’t the kind of girl that guys could dismiss as just another pretty girl—’ ‘Well, thanks.’ ‘Is that what you want?’ ‘What?’ ‘A guy.’ Gillon put her foot on the floor. ‘Why, exactly, are we having this conversation?’ ‘Because I was thinking about your future.’ ‘Were you?’ ‘It’s time you went,’ Paul said. ‘You’ve outgrown anything I can offer you here.’ Gillon turned to face him. ‘I was sort of trying not to think about it.’ ‘That’s what happens here. In fact, as an outsider, born in brash New Jersey, I’d say that that’s what happens to people in Charleston.’ ‘I haven’t even been looking at the ads,’ Gillon said. ‘Some nights, I just lie there and wait for a big foot to come through the ceiling and squash me flat and decide things that way.’ ‘Melodramatic.’ ‘Sure. But kind of easy.’ ‘Do you want easy?’ Gillon looked at him. ‘No,’ she said. ‘What do you want, then?’ ‘I want to know,’ she said. ‘I want to find something or someone that my mind just looks at and says, “Yes.” No messing.’ ‘Ah.’ Gillon put her hands flat on the nearest margin of his desk that wasn’t entirely obscured by papers. ‘Books used to do it. I thought I’d found the Holy Grail with almost anything I read. But it doesn’t seem to work now. I question too much.’ ‘You know too much,’ Paul said. ‘That’s what happens when you get older.’ Gillon straightened up. ‘Enough buddy stuff. You’re, well, you’re very kind. But I’m going to get to work now.’ ‘In a minute,’ Paul said. Gillon felt a small clutch of apprehension. She fixed her eyes on him to see if he was going to spring on her again. ‘I’ve been on the Internet,’ Paul said. ‘More than I have—’ ‘I know. I could see. Gillon—’ ‘Yes?’ ‘There’s a job on offer in London.’ Her shoulders sank. ‘London—’ ‘Yes. London, England. Don’t look so horrified. London, England, Europe. Not Fruitland, Utah.’ ‘Paul, I—’ ‘It’s a research job.’ She looked at him. She put her hands in her jeans pockets; very few people in Charleston wore jeans unless they were tourists. ‘It sounds interesting,’ Paul said. ‘A small conservation company. They specialize in easel work, mostly Italian Renaissance. They want someone who’s done a studio course in fine-art painting techniques.’ ‘I’m not sure. I can’t even quite think about it—’ ‘Because of London, England?’ ‘I’ve never been to London.’ ‘Then it’s time you did.’ Gillon kicked at one foot with the other. ‘I don’t want to run away again.’ ‘Run away from what?’ ‘All the things I can’t seem to come to terms with and can’t leave behind either. Here, family, what I’d hoped for, what I seem to be instead—’ Paul grunted. Gillon looked at him. ‘Thank you. Really thank you.’ He shrugged. ‘Sure.’ ‘I’m going to work now,’ Gillon said. ‘I’ll think about it.’ ‘No, you won’t,’ he said. His voice rose a little. ‘You’ll put it in the box marked “Can’t face,” like everything else.’ She was startled. ‘Thank you—’ ‘Go away,’ Paul said tiredly. ‘Go away and dig yourself another pit.’ Gillon went out of his office and into the tiny one next to it which housed her computer and her files and a poster of La Soupe from Picasso’s Blue Period which had always seemed to her almost a holy painting. She sat down and looked at her computer screen. Her slightly distorted face looked back at her from the dark curved glass. She’d had a row, the week before, with her brother Cooper, who worked for an IT company. She’d accused him of being stuck in a rat race. ‘So?’ he’d said, smiling and maddening. She’d taken a deep breath. ‘So, even if you win the rat race, you’ll still be a rat.’ He’d laughed. He’d loved it. He couldn’t see how emotional she was feeling, how much in earnest she was, how important she thought personal validity was. Now, she just felt empty of anything, spinning slowly in a big dusty void. The phone rang. She picked it up. ‘Gillon Stokes.’ ‘Dear—’ ‘Mother—’ ‘I want you to come for supper tonight.’ ‘Mother, I—’ ‘I want a family supper,’ Martha said. ‘There’s a reason. Ashley and Merrill are coming. So is Cooper.’ ‘A reason?’ ‘You’ll know tonight—’ ‘Mama, I’m supposed to be at the bar—’ ‘Get someone to cover,’ Martha said. ‘Change shifts.’ She paused and then she said the kind of thing that Gillon expected from Grandmama, not her. ‘It’s family time.’ ‘OK,’ Gillon said. She reached out her right hand and turned her computer on. ‘I’m glad,’ Martha said. ‘I’ll see you, dear.’ She must have been at the clinic, between patients. She’d have her bifocal glasses on and her hair pulled back into a black velvet band. Tortoiseshell-framed glasses, black velvet band, dark pants suit. Professional, reassuring, committed. Gillon sighed. ‘Bye, Mama,’ she said.

Editorial Reviews

"A novel about the modern affairs of the heart. It explores the dilemmas of men who won't commit themselves and women who yearn for sublime romantic love"— The Daily Mail"Trollope does an excellent job of showing the bewilderment of the offspring of 60s swingers . . . the story is her usual page-turner."— Toronto Star"Joanna Trollope is a wonderful novelist of domestic detail . . . Girl From the South is, like all her books, a really good read, spiked with insight" — Observer"Every Trollope has its fascinating moral wrinkle. She has a glorious instinct for sensing which emotional conundrums her readers will find most palatably perplexing. And then she writes so beautifully."— Evening Standard"An insightful novel from a writer at the height of her powers."— Women's Journal"Joanna has held up a mirror to millions of women around the world, and they've seen themselves, their lives, their relationships and their desires staring back."— Good Housekeeping