January 7, 2016
Spring Books Preview: Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss
by Taylor Sperry
Over the next few days, we’ll be offering a peek at the titles we have lined up for Spring. Lynne Truss’s novel Cat Out of Hell will be available in paperback on March 8th.
Alec Charlesworth is a retired librarian whose beloved wife has just died. Bereft, he takes a lonely holiday, where he becomes intrigued by a series of files concerning the mysterious disappearance of a woman artist—files that include not only documents and images, but also audio interview between a man called Wiggy and a certain Roger. And, oh, Roger is a cat.
Below are the opening pages of the novel The Sunday Times said was “impossible not to read in one sitting,” from New York Times–bestselling author Lynne Truss.
The following story, which is absolutely true, was brought to my attention when I was holidaying recently on the coast of North Norfolk. The month was January. I was in search of silence and tranquillity. I had rented a cottage which provided a fine view of the deserted nearby sea-shore, on which my small brown dog could run in safety. Having recently suffered the loss of my dear wife, I chose the location with care—isolation was precisely what I required, for I was liable to sudden bouts of uncontrollable emotion, and wished not to be the cause of distress or discomfort in others. For a week or two, I was glad to be alone here: to make the fire, cook simple meals, watch the dog running in happy circles at the far-off water’s edge, and weep freely in private whenever the need inexorably overcame me.
But I forgot that I would need mental stimulus. At the end of Michaelmas term I had bade farewell to my position at the library in Cambridge with few real regrets; the work had been mechanical for quite some time, and I had assumed I would not miss it. I remember debating whether to pack my laptop. This is strange to think of now. Had I not brought it with me, perhaps the following story would never have been told. But pack it I did. And one stormy evening, when the wind was moaning in the chimney, and I was craving intellectual occupation, I suddenly remembered that, around the close of the year, a library member of small acquaintance had sent to me by email the following folder of documents and other files, under the general title “Roger.” I opened it gratefully, and for several hours afterwards, I was transported by its contents. By turns I was confused, suspicious, impatient and even cynical. The story therein conveyed was outlandish, not to say preposterous. And yet, as I continued to study the material over the ensuing days, I felt increasingly inclined to believe it. Sad to say, I think what finally convinced me of the files’ veracity was the staggering stupidity of the man named throughout as “Wiggy,” through whose pitifully inadequate understanding these events are mainly delivered to us. As my wife would have said (I can hear her now), you couldn’t make him up.
Naturally, I wondered on occasion what lay behind Dr Winterton’s decision to send this material to me. But being unable to make contact with him (no wi-fi here), I was bound to accept the most likely explanation. I had rented a lonely cottage on the seaside; Winterton had somehow heard tell of it; he knew that this story unfolded in a similarly lonely cottage beside the sea. Though I often tried to picture Dr Winterton, I found that I could capture only, in my mind’s eye, a fleeting impression of a snaggletooth and a hollow, unshaven cheek, and possibly (oddly) the smell of cloves. In former times, I would have asked Mary, of course. She had been my colleague at the library for the past twenty years; even though her position was part-time, she had paid lively attention to the members in a way that I would sometimes find bewildering. I remember how she would, on occasion, attempt to discuss the members with me at dinner, and grow incredulous (but amused) when I was able to call to mind not one of the persons concerned. I believe she did once mention Winterton to me in particular, but she would be unsurprised to learn that I could now recollect nothing of the circumstances of her dealings with him. For several years she was in charge of allocating the carrels in the great reading room, so perhaps it was related to that. She was the most wonderful, practical, and rational woman, my dear Mary. She would never have taken this simple cottage! She would have been instantly alive to all its frustrating inconveniences. But she would have laughed with sheer pleasure to see our dog running so happily on the deserted shore. Every time he does it, I feel her loss most dreadfully.
After long consideration, I have decided to present this material exactly in the order I encountered it myself. Who is Roger? Wait and see. I hope this is not confusing, but at the same time, I have come to believe that I should editorialise as little as possible. I will merely make clear, to begin with, that the “written” files—including the rather pointless and silly dramatic efforts—are by the man calling himself Wiggy. Descriptions of photographs and transcripts of the audio files are by me.
Contents of ROGER folder
ROGER NOTES (119KB)
ROGER THOUGHTS (66KB)
MORE STUFF (33KB)
ROGER DREAM (40KB)
Files in FINAL DRAFT (screenwriting software):
Roger Screenplay 1 (25KB)
Roger Screenplay 2 (18KB)
ROGER SCREENPLAY 1
The kitchen of a coastal cottage on a gusty night. Scary stuff! Windows rattle. A kettle steams, having just been boiled. There is a sense of awkwardness, reflected in the MUSIC. Under a pool of yellow light at the kitchen table, a digital audio recorder is glinting. Facing each other at the table, their backs in shadow, are WIGGY and ROGER.
Close-up on the recorder: it is recording.
Close-up on wall clock. It is 11:45. Close-up on window: it’s VERY DARK.
WIGGY shudders. He is a handsome man in his mid-thirties; attractive and serious. ROGER stares, breathes. Music now suggestive of heartbeats. WIGGY speaks first.
Shall we start?
Whenever you like.
Can I get you anything?
(trying to lighten the tone)
Saucer of milk?
Ball of string?
ROGER gives him a pained look. He is a cat, of course. In fact, I probably should have mentioned this at the top of the scene – NB: remember to go back and do that. ROGER is a cat. Otherwise, if not clear ROGER is a talking cat, the scene might be somewhat less interesting.
WIGGY attempts an encouraging smile, but ROGER is stone-faced. As well as being a cat, he is a bit of a bastard, to say the least. NB: Is this the right place to start the story? Yes, surely. Or possibly no. Oh God, I have no idea.
Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss
ON SALE: March 8, 2016
Taylor Sperry is an editor at Melville House.