Can you ever truly wash away your past? Read an excerpt from John Boyne’s haunting new novel Water
 More about the book!

Penguin Random House has shared an excerpt from Water by internationally bestselling author John Boyne.

Water is a masterfully reflective story about one woman coming to terms with the demons of her past and finding a new path forward.

About the book

The first thing Vanessa Carvin does when she arrives on the island is change her name. To the locals, she is Willow Hale, a solitary outsider escaping Dublin to live a hermetic existence in a small cottage, not a notorious woman on the run from her past.

But scandals follow like hunting dogs. And she has some questions of her own to answer. If her ex-husband is really the monster everyone says he is, then how complicit was she in his crimes?

Escaping her old life might seem like a good idea but the choices she has made throughout her marriage have consequences. Here, on the island, Vanessa must reflect on what she did – and did not do. Only then can she discover whether she is worthy of finding peace at all.

Read an excerpt:



The first thing I do when I arrive on the island is change my name.

I’ve been Vanessa Carvin for a long time, twenty-eight years, but I was Vanessa Hale for twenty-four years before that and there’s an unexpected comfort in reclaiming my birthright, which sometimes feels as if it was stolen from me, even though I was complicit in the crime.

A few minutes later, I change it again, this time to Willow Hale. Willow is my middle name, and it seems prudent to take a further step in separating the woman I am now from the woman I once was, lest anyone here makes the connection. My parents were unremarkable, middle-class people – a teacher and a shop assistant – and there were some who thought them presumptuous in calling their daughter Vanessa Willow, which summons images of a Bloomsbury writer or a painter’s wan muse, but I was always rather pleased with it. I had notions about myself back then, I suppose. I don’t have them any longer.

My next task is to shave my head. I’ve kept my hair shoulder length and blonde for as long as I can remember but I purchased an electric razor before leaving Dublin and plug the device in to charge for half an hour before easing it around my skull, experiencing a feverish delight in watching the clumps tumble into the sink or fall on the floor around my feet. Standing in the cascading tendrils of my femininity, I decide not to make myself entirely bald for that would draw too much attention, and I don’t have the head for it anyway, unlike the famous singer who looked like one of God’s angels when she first appeared on our television screens. Instead, I shear myself down to the uncomplicated blunt crop of a hard-working country woman, someone far too busy to concern herself with indulging the physical.

The blonde is gone now, replaced by a darkish grey that must have been lurking inside me all the time, like a benign cancer. I wonder how I will look when it starts to grow out again and rather hope that it won’t. The truth is, it would be more convenient if it just gave up the ghost with the cruel efficiency it inflicts on men.

I explore the cottage and find it suitable to my needs. The photographs I saw online did not lie about its austerity. The front door opens on to a living room that houses a kitchen. Or, perhaps, a kitchen that houses a living room. There’s a single bedroom with a single bed – how strange it will feel to sleep like a child again – and a small bathroom with no shower. An unappealing rubber attachment is squeezed plumply around the tap spouts, and I pull it away, relocating it to a cupboard beneath the sink. The roof must be sound for there are no damp spots on the stone floor that have fallen from above. The simplicity, the monastic nature of all of this, pleases me. It is so far from what I am accustomed to.

When I first made enquiries of the owner, a man named Peadar Dooley, I asked about the Wi-Fi, and he told me a pub on the island offered it but that very few of the houses had access yet and his was not one of them.

‘I suppose that’ll rule the place out for you?’ he asked, disappointment in his tone, for this was not the type of cottage to draw many offers, and certainly not for an open-ended lease.

‘On the contrary,’ I told him. ‘If anything, it makes it more appealing.’


Extracted from Water by John Boyne, out now.

Categories Fiction International

Tags Book excerpts Book extracts John Boyne New books New releases Penguin Random House SA Water

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