Marina Farran


Marina Farran lives in London but spends much of the year in France, where this novel extract is set.

Her novel explores themes of alienation: repressed homosexuality in a rural, traditional village; living as a Muslim in France; the ignominy of grief. Marina has worked in law, publishing, literary agenting and human rights journalism. She read Classics at Oxford, specialising in Ancient Greek and Latin literature. Her favourite writers include Homer, Christopher Logue, Cormac McCarthy and Philip Roth. She is interested in liminality, loneliness, sexuality and conflict in her writing. 


View as PDF: Marina Farran - Jerome



The vegetables here were huge and beautiful.  She bought red, yellow, brown and green tomatoes, their skins plump.  The green were the tastiest.  She ate one right away, bent over the sink, skin bursting under her teeth.

      There was a head of curly-leafed lettuce.  It was so large, and had splayed open so generously, that she could have worn it on her own head like a bonnet.  She washed it slowly, watched with pleasure the water turn black with mud.  On a hook she hung a straw plait of garlic, its heads indecently bulbous.  They shed veined paper over the kitchen surface.

      She was going to make poule au pot for Jerome’s dinner.  Infirmity had made his appetite weak, but his eating habits carried the shadow of a once-greedy man: in spite of himself, his eyes widened when she brought in a plate of something he liked.  He would gobble fast, with relish.  She thought of him as she stood there, surrounded by her vegetables, carefully unsheathing spring onions and slicing celery and scattering peppercorns.  The chicken was huge and still held many of its feathers, which she plucked one by one, with care, thinking of Jerome’s delicate old white flesh.

      She put everything in the pan, put it on to boil.  The silence surrounding the hiss of the gas flames was absolute.  She couldn’t even hear a breeze.


She had started to doze, sitting there in the kitchen as the stock bubbled, when footsteps on the gravel outside startled her.  No one visited the house; without thinking, she rushed to lock the door.  

      But it was Suki’s face that appeared at the window.  Her hijab today was deep, violent magenta, its vivid colour out of place against the silver-greys and greens outside.

      ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ she said, smiling as Marguerite let her in.  ‘I’ve caught you off guard.’  She studied Marguerite’s face for a moment.  ‘You’ve been asleep.’

      ‘No, just – thinking,’ she said, rubbing her face.

      ‘Something smells nice.’  Suki walked past her into the kitchen, approached the stove and peered into the pot.  ‘A casserole?’


      ‘How lovely.’  She turned around to face Marguerite, leaning back against the kitchen worktop and smiling as if she had been there hundreds of times.  Marguerite didn’t know what to say.  She wanted her silent kitchen back.

      ‘Can I get you some water?’

      ‘Oh, please don’t trouble yourself.  Actually, I can’t stay long.’  She took a box of cigarettes out of a little pink bag that she wore strung over one shoulder, so that it hung by her hip, and turned to light it on the gas stove.  ‘I just thought I’d come to say hello and see how you’re getting on.’

      ‘I’m fine.’  She thought of the cigarette smoke floating through into Jerome’s room. 

      Suki cocked her head to one side and smiled again; her smile wasn’t quite friendly. 

      ‘Yes?  Well, anyway, I thought I’d say hello.  And I thought, you’re an outsider, I’m an outsider.’  She gesticulated vaguely.

      ‘Are you new to the village?’

      ‘Well, not anymore.’  She dragged on her cigarette; her fingernails had changed since the library from aubergine to pink.  ‘I’ve been here – oh, seventeen, eighteen years now.  But I’m not from around here.  Guess where I’m from?’  Marguerite sat down.  She didn’t want conversation, didn’t want Jerome to be woken by the noise.  She wanted to go to her room and crawl into bed and sleep.

      ‘To me, you look like you’re from Asia.’

      ‘Yes!’ she cried.  ‘You’re right!  Well, not quite – I’m from Iran, actually.  But the right continent, at least.  You must be the only person who hasn’t guessed Algerian or Tunisian.  Everyone just presumes I’m maghrébine.  Maghrébine!  Shit...’  She rolled her eyes, exhaling a long plume of smoke.  ‘Oh, can I smoke in here?’

      ‘Well –’ But Suki was stubbing it out already, in the sink.

      ‘I have to go, I was just dropping by.  But you must visit me.  I live right next to the doctor’s surgery.’

      ‘I can’t leave Jerome.’

      ‘What, you never go into the village?  Not even to the library?’  She raised an eyebrow.

      ‘I’ll have to go in a few days, to get food.’

      ‘Then you can come to my house for a coffee.  Not before 11, I never wake up before 11.’  She walked to the door.  ‘Goodbye –’


      ‘Marguerite.  Of course.  Goodbye, Marguerite.’


She expected him to be asleep when she went into his room to get the book.  It was the hour after his lunch; after eating, he almost always fell asleep immediately, as suddenly as a child pretending, his mouth mordantly slack.  But today he was lying with the sheets right up to his chin and his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling.  His look was one of deep fear.

      It was as if she had walked in on a stranger, naked.  

      ‘Don’t you know how to knock?’ he snapped.  

      ‘I’m sorry to have disturbed you.  I –’ 

      ‘You what?’

      ‘I thought you’d be asleep.’ 

      ‘I see.  And so you just wanted to skulk in here and watch me sleeping?’  

      ‘Of course not.’

      ‘What did you want then?’

      ‘Actually, I wanted to take the book for a few hours.  I wanted to read it.’

      ‘Without me?’

      ‘We would still go back to where we left off.’

      ‘But then you’d be reading it twice?’

      ‘Well, I suppose –’

      ‘Do you think you’re humouring me or something?  Is that what it is you think you’re doing?’

      ‘Of course not.’  She braced herself for his next question but he looked suddenly weary.  He sighed, deeply, and closed his eyes.

      ‘I’m having some pain.’



      ‘I can’t give you any more Tramadol yet.’


      ‘I can’t give you that either.’  He groaned.  ‘Let me give you a massage.’

      ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

      ‘I’m not.’  He opened one eye and looked at her warily, before closing it again.  There was silence, and then:

      ‘Alright then.’

      She approached the bed, pulled the sheet down gently from his chin to his stomach and rubbed her hands together to warm them.  Then she pressed his shoulders down firmly.  She didn’t rub his skin, she pressed it: his shoulders, his slipped pectorals, the large crown of his thorax.

      ‘Your hands are cold,’ he mumbled in a softer voice, his eyes still closed, and she smiled to herself and hummed quietly as she worked.

      ‘You’re always humming,’ he said absently.

      ‘Does it annoy you?’  He didn’t answer for a while.  She moved her hands to his head, pushed and pressed each side slowly and heavily.  And then, so quietly she could barely hear it, he said:

      ‘No.  Not really.’

      She could see the olive trees from his bedroom window, their lighter branches swaying just slightly.  She watched them as she massaged him.  He seemed to doze, stirring when she stopped.

      She lifted his thin left arm, wrapped it in a blood pressure cuff.

      ‘And?’ he asked.

      ‘Fine today.  In fact, a little lower than usual.’

      He seemed satisfied.  

      ‘Perhaps you’re relaxed from the massage.’

      ‘Hmmm,’ he mumbled.  And then, in a casual tone, he said: ‘You’re Parisian, of course.’


      ‘Why did you leave Paris?’  She sighed as she removed his cuff, the tear of the Velcro the only sound in the room.

      ‘Why not?  It is very beautiful here.’

      ‘But boring.  Very boring.  Why would you leave Paris to come here?  At your age?  On your own?’

      ‘Because I wanted to.’

      ‘But why?’

      ‘Why not?  This is my job.  I came here to work.’

      ‘But you didn’t have to work here.’ 

      ‘No.  I can work where I like.’

      ‘So why did you choose here?’

      ‘Why not here?’

      ‘Why not Paris?’

      ‘Because I did,’ she snapped.  The words came out too loud and too fast.  His eyes widened, his shoulders gathered.  He watched her intently and she pretended not to notice his gaze, busying herself by going through the drug chart she’d left at the end of the bed.  She made a few notes, put the pen in her pocket and tucked the blood pressure monitor under her arm.  She made to leave the room.

      ‘I won’t ask again,’ he said, as she reached the doorway.  She turned around.

      ‘You can ask me whatever you want.’

      ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that.’  He closed his eyes, smiling just a little as she turned back around to leave.  ‘Not sure at all about that.’


Henri liked most this time of the day, when the day’s work was largely done and he could afford to slow down a little, sit on the ground with his back against a fence or wall, feel the scratch of dried grass prickling through his trousers.  He could close his eyes and enjoy the thinning of the day’s heat.  His hairline was encrusted with sweat; he could rub it and bits of dirt, and desiccated grass, and what he imagined to be his own refined body salt would fly as if startled into the still twilight air.

      The dirt, all of the dirt, was a source of pleasure to him.  Meticulous and clean by instinct, he nonetheless enjoyed the day’s long accumulation of filth.  It may as well build up to as utterly filthy a level as possible before he headed back to the house on weary legs to take his bath.  He dragged the pre-bath moment out as long as possible to build up its eventual pleasure; he would stop at the basin in the kitchen and drank almost an entire beer, often his only drink of the day, in virtually one go.

      Then he climbed slowly into the bathtub that was really too small for his long limbs and crouched there, only then turning on the taps.  He watched with pleasure the water reach the roof of his foot, water that was already swirling brown with dried mud.  It reached his ankles, it tickled his large, slack penis, was absorbed one hair by one into the frazzled pubic mess.  When it reached the base of his back, he started to get to work; he scratched out the hard mud embedded behind his nails, scrubbed his large expanse of back and stomach till they were deep pink, till hairs were loosened and floated at the surface of the water.  Then he emptied the bath, rinsed it out, and started again – as many times as it took for the water to be quite clear.

      This evening’s bath was particularly welcome, partly because today had been hot work.  Spring was coming; the sun was gathering intensity.  Henri imagined vaguely the great star’s rotation, its heat slowly spreading over Earth, from the Sahara to the Maghreb, over the sea, soaking through the Mediterranean mile by fish-filled mile, reaching the French Riviera and moving, an inverted shadow, towards the resilient, winter-bitten land around his farm.  He had always envisaged it this way, as he long as he could remember.

      But the bath held a further charm today: the metallic gurgling of the tap, the clunks and creaks the running water set going through the walls of the house, the lightly hissing hum of the rising water level all worked together to drown out the women’s voices downstairs.  It was one of each week’s two or three unannounced visits from Laure, the village boulangère and Brigitte’s confidante.  He found her not just irritating and exhausting, but actually repellent.  Returning from the fields this evening, he had caught the small woman’s nasal voice just in time to avoid entering the house through the kitchen.  That meant no long draught of water, no beer, but it was worth it.

      ‘Henri’s bath routine,’ he imagined Brigitte saying to Laure in the kitchen below, as she so often did amongst their friends; ‘Henri’s e-lab-o-ratebath routine.’  She always gave special emphasis to words over three syllables long.  ‘There are families without water in India and Africa and here is our Henri, using enough water each day to fill an aquarium!’

      But she also took pride, he knew, in his appearance.  When they married, each straight out of school, no one could believe that Handsome Henri – the village’s nomenclature, he might add, not his own – had chosen Brigitte Marguier. Plain Brigitte, big Brigitte, bossy Brigitte, dumbBrigitte.  Because that was the other thing: Henri was first in the class, had always been.  ‘A way with words and a head for numbers’, his mother had always said, a regular refrain in the Brochon household as he grew up.

      He cupped the warm water in his great, calloused hands and let it trickle out between his palms.  Their courtship and engagement had unfolded so quickly.  He closed his eyes and imagined the tall young man, Handsome Henri, knocking on the Marguiers’ door every evening, his hair combed tidily back.  Every day was the same; he would bow to enter the house through its diminutive doorframe and greet Brigitte’s parents, sit down and find his bride-to-be sitting nervously in the gloom.  He couldn’t imagine now what it was they had talked about, sitting each evening in her parents’ warm salon,drinking milk from her father’s cows.  Her parents were mistrustful; it was as if he were playing some sly trick. His own mother had been the first to voice in his presence the question on everyone’s lips: ‘Henri, for God’s sake, why Brigitte?’  He had not felt cross, or slighted; he had understood her consternation.  It’s not as if he somehow saw beauty in Brigitte’s scant charms – how could he?  When he spoke to the girl her face and neck came out in livid purplish patches, she could not meet his eye.  He had not failed to notice the great width of her feet, nor the fair but not insubstantial whiskers around each corner of her lips – lips that were, incidentally, neither luscious nor delicate.  But there were things about Brigitte that appealed to him that he couldn’t explain to his mother, who was so tidily and precisely her opposite.

      At eighteen, when he had just left school, he chose Brigitte because she made him feel safe from scrutiny.  He liked the silence and reverence she reserved for him, she who was otherwise the loudest and most domineering of girls.  He liked her simple way of speaking, her literal reading of everything, her lack of coquetry.  And her broad bosom – although exceptionally large even at the age of seventeen – did not scare him, unlike the budding breasts, both big and small, of the other girls in his class.  

      With Brigitte he had sensed refuge, a life unscrutinised and undisclosed.  And, hearing her flat, loud voice now rise and fall below the din of the pipes and the water, he had to acknowledge that he had that.  In spite of the small-minded prurience with which she had grown to view the rest of the world, despite her endlessly repetitive chiding, he still lived in a home devoid of judgment and enquiry.  

      After their first abortive attempts at love-making – he twisted his face involuntarily at the memory of her large pink thighs straddling his hips, the fumbling of her hand around his retracted penis – she had barely grumbled or complained about the largely sexless partnership they maintained.  There was the odd time, still, perhaps three or four times a year: in the total dark of night, thankfully free from foreplay or words, when he was driven by privation to indiscriminate urgency.  But physical intimacy beyond the most purely anatomical was something poor Brigitte had learnt to do without, and for her acceptance he had grown to love her, in his way.

      He heard one of Laure’s whinnying laughs from downstairs, and turned the tap on more fully to drown it out.  He leant back against the cool tub, his legs bent at their extreme right angle in the bath that was too small.  He closed his eyes again and rubbed his hands over them, down his cheeks to his mouth; he could taste his salt.  Letting his mind drift away from Brigitte, away from Laure, he ran his hands slowly down his torso and felt himself swell and stiffen. 

      Brigitte cracked an egg into a bowl and tilted it to show Laure.

      ‘Do you see the colour of that yolk?’

      ‘There’s nothing like your eggs, I always say that.’

      ‘That is the yellowest yolk you can find.’

      ‘You’d have to be crazy to get your eggs from Intermarché when there are ones like these around.’  Out of habit, Brigitte snorted at the word ‘Intermarché’.

      ‘You know I’m not one to brag, Laure, but our eggs really do make such bright omelettes.  You can tell from an omelette alone how fresh your eggs are.’ She continued to crack a further three. ‘You know, the secret to a really excellent quiche lorraine is whisking the eggs as long as you can.  Whisk them to hell and gone.’  Laure nodded and watched Brigitte start whisking with a force that was almost alarming.

      ‘So Jerome’s latest girl was in the shop again today,’ said Laure, ‘buying his usuals.  Two Ancienne loaves and one aux céréales to help things get going downstairs...’ She poked her stomach suggestively.

      ‘Laure, you’re disgusting,’ chided Brigitte, though she loved a good bowel joke as much as the next woman.  Then she grew serious. ‘I’m surprised she hasn’t been chased away yet, to be perfectly honest.’

      ‘Well apparently not.  Though I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t last much longer.  She doesn’t look like she’s cut out for the job.’

      ‘Don’t I know it.’  Brigitte wiped her hands on her apron and settled her bottom on the edge of one of the stools.  Her ankles ached; she rolled them from side to side.  ‘She needs a good meal and a stint on the farm.  That would sort her out in no time at all.’

      ‘Perhaps I’ll throw in a few brioches with her next order – she could do with the extra butter.’

      ‘Do that, then send her my way.  I’ll show her how we work over here.  There’s no room for airs and graces when you’re having to clear out Vanille’s latest blockage.’  Vanille, their eldest cow, had to be ‘rectally excavated’ – as Henri put it – on a regular basis.

      ‘Forget Vanille’s blockages – you’d frighten her away with your egg-whisking alone, Brigitte.’

      ‘You bet I would!’ cried Brigitte, brandishing the gloopy whisk as if to hit someone with it.  A little egg ran down her strong forearm; she wiped it over her stomach.

      Laure was silent for a moment, and then said, more quietly, ‘I heard she received a visit from our local mystic.’  Brigitte looked up.

      ‘Not LaChaise?’

      ‘None other.’  They both pursed their lips at the thought of Suki.

      ‘I told you how that woman used to turn her eyes at Henri?’

      ‘I could never forget it,’ affirmed Laure, who had been there at the time of that great scandal, some fifteen years ago.  Nothing had happened, but Brigitte had never forgotten Suki’s repeated visits to the farm, the stubbed cigarette ends she found in a little pile outside the house, the swish of exotic colours and jangling of metal in her kitchen, and the woman’s wretched laugh, false as anything.  

      ‘Well let’s be hoping she doesn’t get Jerome’s nurse under her wing.’  She poured cream and milk into the bowl of eggs.  

      ‘Look at that cream,’ Laure muttered approvingly.  

      ‘Mind you, his nurse won’t have time for new friendships.  Jerome’s getting worse and worse.  He can’t move himself anymore.’

      ‘And still no sign of his children?’

      ‘None.  They asked me to get hold of this replacement when the last nurse couldn’t hack it anymore, and so I did, and that’s the last I’ve heard from them.  Not that I’m surprised.  I did tell them a few months back now that he wasn’t doing too well and they’d be well advised to come and see him at some point, but they weren’t having any of it.  They were rather rude, if I’m honest.  Told me to get on with my job, and that I was theguardienne and not their counsellor.’

      ‘They did not,’ said Laure in a shocked tone, though she had heard this story before.  

      ‘They did!’  She was beating the cream and eggs now.  ‘I said to the eldest boy on the phone, I said, “he is your father, you know,” and he told me it was none of my business and that I wasn’t his counsellor.’  She let the whisk rest for a moment and wiped her forehead.  ‘And he’s a lawyer!  A lawyer, but so rude!  He’s obviously got too big for his boots.’

      ‘Well, I’m not surprised really.  I suppose he takes after Jerome.  They’ve always thought they’re too good for this village.’

      ‘Still, it’s dreadfully sad.  Their father at death’s door and they won’t even come and see him.’

      A rare silence fell between them for a moment. Brigitte stirred the chopped bacon into her quiche mixture, and Laure leant over to inspect it.

      ‘Your pigs?’

      ‘That’s right.’

      They heard water gurgle in the bathroom upstairs; Brigitte rolled her eyes knowingly and sighed.  But her mind was elsewhere; she realised she had barely thought about the girl she’d left with Jerome, and that she must check in on them.  She hadn’t been in touch other than a few phone calls to give instructions about things like the fuse box’s location and how to open the jammed shutter at the back of the house.  But she trusted her gut, and her gut had said: this girl is flimsy.  She won’t last long.  She’d reminded Brigitte of a doll she was given by her uncle when young, which had broken too quickly.  She’d been washing its hair and the head just came clean off, with a pop.  


This was surely a particularly beautiful evening.  As Henri towelled himself, absently, one leg up on the side of the tub, he surveyed his land through the bathroom window.  The view was so drenched in familiarity that he barely noticed it – no more than the small portrait of Brigitte’s mother hanging in the dark corner at the top of the stairs, or the cup above the sink that held their toothbrushes.  But today he couldn’t help but notice: all was a dark golden, the sun falling but still far from gone, and he could see Marc and Jean-Paul, the two latest ‘farm-boys’ – he and Brigitte called them that, even though they were in their early twenties – still working on the perennially crumbling walls of the olive groves, although their shifts were over.  In this light, only at this point of the day, the silver of the olive leaves was a dark grey – just as only at the searing heat of midday could they appear quite white.  The sky was clear and cicadas whirred and one of his goats let out a shout like a deep hiccup.

      He strode over to the window, tucking the towel neatly around his waist, and called out:

      ‘What are you two doing still at work?’  Marc and Jean-Paul looked up immediately, scanning the garden, the porch, trying to find the source of the shout.  They were smiling in anticipation.  He waved and leaned out, feeling with some satisfaction the breadth of his shoulders fill the slim window frame: ‘Over here!’  They frowned against the falling light, holding their hands up over their eyes.

      ‘We’re just too damn hard-working, sir!’  

      ‘We can’t get enough!’  

      Henri laughed theatrically.  ‘Oh, you can’t fool me!’  The boys laughed and turned back to the wall with some awkwardness, as if uncertain whether to end this dialogue or not.  He turned too and sighed deeply.  As he combed his hair in the mirror above the sink, he noticed how deep the creases by his eyes looked in the slanting light.