From the Heart by Susan Hill

Do we take our freedoms for granted? Read the first chapter from From The Heart, the new novel from Susan Hill that follows a young woman's coming of age

From the Heart

She looked across at her father in profile, sitting in his wing chair, and had not the least idea what he was feeling

Evelyn Piper died suddenly when Olive was seventeen and preparing for her A levels.
An unexpectedly large number of people came to the funeral, most of whom Olive did not know, though some she recognised – neighbours, a cousin. But others, all women, came from the Townswomen’s Guild, to which Evelyn had belonged. She had led an active social life during lunch hours and in the afternoons, though had said little to her family about it, and in the evenings had rarely ventured out except to the local repertory theatre, two or three times a year, with her husband Ralph – she had despised the cinema – and twice a year to Ladies’ Night at the Masonic Lodge.

‘I’m glad we decided to do the tea,’ Olive said to her father that evening. They were sitting in the small back room overlooking the garden. Her father called it his study, though he only read the paper there, or listened to Light Music programmes, such as the ‘Palm Court Orchestra’ on the radio. It had been the room his own father had occupied as a study, for this was the house in which he had grown up, and which he had inherited. He had moved back in the year after he had married Evelyn.

The windows were open onto the May garden, and always afterwards the smell of wallflowers brought back that evening of the funeral.

‘There was never any question of not giving tea, was there?’

There had been. Twice he had said that he was sure it wouldn’t be necessary, that few people would come, so that Olive had almost given up on the idea herself. As it turned out, there had not been enough to eat and too few teacups. She had had to rush about collecting empty ones and washing and replacing them and cutting small cakes up to make smaller ones.

‘I’m glad we did it, anyway. People were very appreciative.’

She looked across at her father in profile, sitting in his wing chair, and had not the least idea what he was feeling. She had never known what either of her parents felt, though she had gathered this and that about what they thought.

It was disconcerting. She loved him. He loved her, she knew. Once he had said, with a small smile, that he was very relieved her mother had not got her wish for three sons. But she did not know him.

Of course he had been badly shaken, and deeply upset when it had happened, in such a frighteningly sudden way. Evelyn had been walking in through the garden door, carrying two pots of seedlings, and saying ‘I’m still worried about late frosts, you know’, and on the ‘you know’ she had fallen to the ground. Olive had been immediately behind her, Ralph had just come in through the front door, from work, and was hanging his hat on its peg. There had been a soft thud as she had gone down, and then she had simply lain, crumpled and utterly still. Olive had not realised that people could die in that way, walking, talking – dead.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more