Ophelia in Pieces

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The first 100 Mumsnetters to email clemmie@shortbooks.co.uk with 'Mumsnet - Ophelia in Pieces' in the subject line will get a free copy. STOP PRESS - All copies have now gone.

On the eve of her 39th birthday, top barrister Ophelia Dormandy decides she is going to make amends. Tonight, after months of late nights at her desk, she's going to return home early, cook a special supper - maybe even wear that red dress Patrick once said he liked.

But Ophelia is in for a shock. After 20 years together, her husband announces he's been having an affair, and leaves. Her home life implodes, and work soon follows suit - before long, she's broke, drinking too much and falling for a client of questionable innocence.

And then she is faced with the most serious trial of her life, when a disgruntled defendant comes back to haunt her, threatening everything that she holds dear...

Ophelia in Pieces excerpt

It had started over a jar of capers. She'd bought skate for dinner specially to go with the capers, capers she'd been given by a grateful deli-owning client some years ago. It was true that they'd sat untouched in the cupboard ever since and were probably long past their best-before date. But she hadn't thought of that as she had stood in the slush in the fishmonger's. She'd told herself that at last she was going to cook: she would stake a claim to a normal existence with a skate and caper dinner and she'd wear that red dress he said suited her. Or used to say suited her. So far it had all gone well. Her idea had been cemented by the fishmonger.
'Skate, madam? Lovely with capers…' He had given the fish an extra toss in the air to express the joy of it. She'd bought a bottle of the driest Chablis, and some raspberries so fat you could fit a finger inside. They had seemed miraculous, these perfect plump fruits waiting for her to pluck them from the dirty astroturf display on Camberwell Church Street.
Ophelia stopped at the pub window to apply a fresh coat of lipstick, checking its outline and checking for something else too: that composed but open expression that she wanted to carry away with her. The air was warm, sustaining, and the late June sun would make it pleasant
to eat supper in the backyard. Alex would be tired after his rugby, happy to go to bed and let his parents dine and talk properly for once. It was going to be a lovely evening. 
But when she came in Alex and Patrick were eating ice cream together in the kitchen and scarcely raised their heads. Alex presented a mop of upstanding hair as he peered into the depths of his bowl. His arms had traces of mud. Patrick nodded but didn't raise his eyes. A frown-line bisected his forehead. Both Alex and Patrick wore jumpers with sleeves pulled out of shape. Neither said 'Hi!' or 'You're back!'
She put her shopping down noisily. 'I hope you aren't spoiling your appetite, Patrick. I'm cooking skate with Corvino's capers for dinner.' 
Patrick looked up at her uncomprehendingly. 
'You know, dinner? At least you'll remember Corvino, the murdering deli-guy who promised me a whole ham if he got off but just sent me a jar of capers?' 
This wasn't how she'd meant it to be. Patrick was far away and her reiteration was bringing him no nearer. Alex was staring into his bowl. She thought of the stupid thing her client had said earlier: 'Venus isn't in the ascendant for you today.' 
Patrick shrugged, as though he'd caught her line of thought and didn't particularly care for it. 'I'm not sure we've still got those capers. I had a clear-out to make room for my curries.' His voice was so cold it sounded like dislike.
She felt the floor lurch under her, felt he'd thrown her out with the capers and she didn't belong here any more, with her bony wing of a fish and her crisp black suit. The months of late nights in chambers, the struggling home to find Alex asleep and Patrick deep in his computer, the weekends spent at her desk while Alex and Patrick giggled in the kitchen or played ball games in the churchyard, the snatched meals and perfunctory conversations all seemed to gather in a great growing wave which crashed over her, leaving her clinging to a chair back, full of despair.

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AuthorAbout the author

Clare Jacob was brought up in London and New York. She read English at Oxford and became a barrister because she loved John Donne. After years of defending clients accused variously of bomb-making, hiding cocaine in coconuts and stealing under-pants, she decided to capture the lunacy and mystery of it all in a novel. She is married with three children.

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Last updated: over 1 year ago