People go missing every day. They walk out of their front doors and out of their lives into the silence of cold statistics. For those left behind it is the cruelest of long good-byes.Anna, a self-sufficient and reliable single mother, packs her bags one day for a short vacation to Italy. She leaves her beloved six-year-old daughter, Lily, at home in London with good friends.
What happened to Anna Franklin That's the question posed in Dunant's latest novel, detailing five days in the life of those close to an English journalist who heads off on a short holiday and doesn't return when she is expected. Waiting anxiously at home are Anna's six-year-old daughter, Lily; Lily's part-time surrogate father, Paul; and Estella, Anna's best friend and Lily's godmother, who has flown in from Amsterdam. Caught in a whirlwind of uncertainty, Anna's makeshift family lives from moment to moment, waiting for the phone to ring, the door to openDhoping beyond hope for a simple explanation of Anna's absence. Two parallel "what if" stories run the course of the novel, tangling the reader in a web of suspense and confusion. Is Anna depressed by Lily's growing independence and feeling a need to reconnect with the woman she used to be before she became a mother Or is she the victim of a tragic obsession gone awry, kidnapped by a psychopath with no feelings of remorse While either story could accurately explain Anna's disappearance, each version shows a different side of the missing woman and the motivations behind her sudden trip. The suspense is good enough to keep the pages turning and the secondary characters' reactions lend credibility to the plot line; however, the ambiguous conclusion reads more like a cop-out than a subtle send-off. Most interesting is the convincing portrayal of Anna's alternative family and their quietly unconventional 21st-century living arrangements. Though she is known as a writer of sophisticated thrillers (Transgressions; Under My Skin), Dunant here leans gracefully toward straight literary fiction. Agent, Claire Alexander at Aitken & Stone. (Feb. 23) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Random House Trade Paperbacks
December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from Mapping the Edge by Sarah Dunant
Departure lounge, South Terminal, Gatwick Airport. A shopper's paradise: two floors of superior retail space connected by gliding glass lifts and peopled by an endless stream of travelers, processed to have time on their hands and a permanent discount at the wave of a boarding card. If you are smart you come here with an empty case and do your packing as you walk: cosmetics, toiletries, clothes, shoes, books, perfumes, booze, cameras, films. For many the holiday starts here. You can see it in their faces. People shop differently, none of that suburban mall madness. Instead they stroll and browse, couples with their arms around each other, the beach saunter already in their stride, children dancing behind their parents in the hermetic safety of a controlled environment. When did you last read a horror story about a child abducted in a departure lounge?
Second floor, a cappuccino bar with tables out on the concourse, next to the Body Shop and Accessorize. A woman is sitting alone at a table, a small holdall by her side, her boarding card lying near to a plastic cup in front of her. She has no carrier bags, no duty free. She is not interested in shopping. Instead she is watching others and thinking about how it was twenty years before when she came to this airport as a teenager, on her first solo flight to Europe. None of this existed then. Before the invention of niche marketing, air travel had been a serious, more reverent affair. People wore their best clothes for flying then, and duty free meant two hundred Rothmans and a bottle of Elizabeth Arden perfume. It seems as far away as black-and-white photography. At that time her flight had been delayed for three hours. Too young for cheap booze and too poor for perfume, she had sat in a row of red bucket chairs nailed to the ground and read her guidebooks, mapping a city she had only ever visited in her mind, trying to quieten the tumbling adrenaline inside her. The rest of her life had been waiting on the other side of Gate 3 and she had been aching to walk into it.
It is not the same now. Now, though there is adrenaline it has no playfulness within it. Instead it burns the insides of her stomach, feeding off apprehension and caffeine. There are moments when she wishes she hadn't come. Or that she had brought Lily with her. Lily would have loved the circus of it all; her chatter would have filled up the silence, her curiosity would have nudged the cynicism toward wonder. But this is not Lily's journey. Her absence is part of the point.
She pushes the coffee cup away from her and slips the boarding card back into her pocket. When she last looked at the monitor the Pisa flight was still waiting to board. Now it is flashing last call. Gate 37. She gets up and walks toward the glass lift.
Twenty years ago as she made this last walk there had been a Beatles track playing in her head. "She's Leaving Home." It was dated by then, already ironic. It had made her smile. Maybe that was her problem. She was no longer comforted by irony.