Cover image for Ferney
Long, James.
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Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 1999.

Physical Description:
339 pages ; 25 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"It was an accidental detour inspired by one of Gally's frequent panic attacks that sent her husband Mike down a twisting lane to the abandoned cottage. Yet from the moment she saw it, Gally felt a peace she hadn't known in years and the inexplicable sense that she had finally come home." "And so she had." "For as Mike worries and fusses over their new home's restoration, it is Gally who seems to know exactly how it should look. Indeed, Gally seems to flourish in the tiny village of Penselwood, deep in the Somerset countryside. But the greatest mystery of all is her growing and unexpectedly intimate relationship with an irascible eighty-three-year-old countryman named Ferney." "Not even Gally herself can explain the bond between themor how Ferney seems to know her better than she knows herself. Yet through Ferney's old stories Gally finds herself transported down hazy pathways to a past unrecorded in any history book: a magnificent sweep of time and events when the woods were alive with thundering hooves, peasants and soldiers, bloodshed and bravery, and two tragic young lovers who made a vow even death could not break." "And as this short, bittersweet rendezvous draws to a close, she must face a life-and-death dilemma that has followed them down the centuries to one moment of unbearable suspense. For Gally must make a decision that will forever change not only their lives, but the lives of all they touch."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

James Long is the author of Ferney & of four acclaimed thrillers published in England. A former BBC correspondent, he lives in Devon, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Ferney knows who killed his wife, but without a body, there is no proof, and his search for her remains spans almost 60 years. He does finally find her, but she is alive and young again, and caught in a traffic jam of his making. Gally Martin and her husband, Mike, take a detour, and she discovers an old, crumbling house that calls out to her to save it. Somehow, this little house outside of Penselwood feels familiar and safe, and Gally's nightmares stop while she's there. Mike indulges Gally's every whim, but he objects to her odd friendship with Ferney, whose wife was also called Gally. As Ferney and Gally grow closer, bits and pieces of her past lives open up to her, and she recognizes the love they once shared. Ferney gently leads Gally to understand the full dimension of their connection, and guides her, as she grows larger with Mike's child, to a diabolical life-or-death decision. British writer Long spins a lyrical and passionate tale about reincarnation and the mutable nature of history. --Melanie Duncan

Publisher's Weekly Review

The nature of the self, the ownership of history, the endurance of loveÄthese are some of the themes touched upon in Long's engrossing if somewhat disturbing tale of lovers separated by history. Mike Martin, a lecturer in history in London, and his young wife, Gabriela (Gally), are searching for the English country cottage that Mike hopes will assuage both his wife's sorrow from her miscarriage and the midnight terrors she suffers, nightmares apparently brought on by witnessing her father's death when she was a child. The intuitive and sometimes impulsive Gally is unaccountably attracted to a stone house in complete disrepair, and her rational and deductive husband buys it for her, despite his reservations. Mike and Gally move into an old trailer and begin renovating the cottage, and they conceive a child the first night they spend on their property. The cottage is in Penselwood, a village at a crossroads in British history, and Mike's ideas about historical facts are challenged immediately when he and his wife meet Ferney Miller, an 83-year-old man who insists that the people of Penselwood retain "folk memories" that are truer than written documentation. When Mike decides to write a book about the changes wrought by innovations in farm implements, Ferney persuasively argues that the real innovation was the domestication of the horse, but he can't offer Mike any proof to confirm the notion. As it turns out, Ferney and Gally have other reasons to believe they understand history better than Mike, and despite the vast differences in Gally's and Ferney's ages, their deepening friendship threatens the Martins' marriage. Just how Ferney and Gally are related becomes clear midway through the book, but the puzzle of Gally's recurring nightmares and the mysteries of Ferney's lifeÄthe unexplained disappearance of his wife 57 years earlier and the motive behind the murder of a blacksmithÄare not revealed until the final surprising pages. The highlights of the novel are Long's forays into history, as he makes imaginative use of time travel to bring his characters to life in different eras of British history. While the ending is somewhat disquieting, and Long's prose is merely workaday, the unfolding mystery and the clever handling of the complex plot make for a provocative tale. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



They were at the village by ten-thirty and, following an instinct that all Mike needed to put him right was something with a touch of age about it, she persuaded him to drive straight to the church, certain it would work some magic on him. It was small and stout, just a nave, a chancel and a low, square tower. They walked up the path to the porch, Mike slightly ahead as Gally lingered over the gravestones. "Look at the carving," he said as she joined him outside the door. "The lamb and the lions," she said without thinking as she obediently looked up. He laughed. "Not from where I'm standing. Why do you say that?" She blinked and the stone panel swam into her view like an intruder, a Virgin and two kneeling figures. Abrupt dislocation assaulted her. Mike went into the porch. "Here's your lamb," he said. "What a doorway! Look at these." The columns at each side of the door had Norman zig-zags flanking them. Capping the top corners of the door were two fine stone heads, a king and a queen, staring inwards towards each other. 'Til Christmas falls on Candlemas, the King shall never kiss his lass. The words came into her head from nowhere in particular. She said them out loud, a hook for Mike to bite on, hoping he would know and explain but he just looked at her. "You've been reading up about this place, haven't you?" he asked. "I wish you'd told me." There was a tiny note of peevishness in his voice. He'd never accused her of secrecy before. "No," she replied, stung by his tone but confused by that same dislocating sense of déjà vu. She paused and played a deliberate game with herself as she followed Mike into the church, setting an image of the interior in her mind before they opened the door, just to see if there was a reliable memory lurking from her childhood subconscious, but she was disappointed. The dark oak pews in her mind's eye were lower, paler and more intricately carved in real life. The walls were plastered where they should have been whitewashed stone. She'd expected a gallery to her left and there was none. The whole interior of the nave seemed too high, too wide. She sighed, then took Mike's hand to lead him over to admire the Norman font, a square fluted bowl on a round pedestal, knowing he'd like it, seeking to repair the tiny gap between them. Ferney saw them go inside the church as he came through the churchyard gate. His right hip and ankle were aching that morning, a painful reminder of his encounter with the truck. Down the lane beyond the gate he saw Barbara Nicholls walking back to her house, artificial hip joints swinging away. The Day of Judgement wouldn't be quite so dreadful if the skeletons came crawling up through the mouldering earth to the squeak of pivoting plastic. The idea of Judgement Day had always made him laugh, to the fury of endless teachers and parsons. Religion in that form held no sway over Ferney, hadn't for goodness knows how long. His purpose today had nothing to do with God. Today he was after information and the churchyard was one of his sources. He walked carefully across the grass, found the stone he was after, knelt and began to rub at the lichen in the indentations to make the date he sought stand out more clearly. It was in that position a few minutes later, lost in far-off thought, that he was brought back to himself by a man's voice. Him, the husband, out of the church now, standing by the tree, giving his opinions at the top of his voice to her, to Gally. Ferney levered himself up on the old gravestone, feeling it wobble under his hand like a loose tooth. "Well, that too," the man was saying, looking up into the branches of the great tree, "but yews were always holy trees. Early Christians worshipped under them. They were thought to give immortality. People used to think the yews drew off the harmful vapours that came out of graves." Ferney snorted to himself, louder than he meant, and the man turned, startled. "What's all that, then?" Ferney said, "what you were saying?" "Oh, hello," the man said stiffly. "I didn't see you. I was just telling Gally why yew trees were usually grown in churchyards." "I heard," said Ferney. "But it's not right, what you said, not the main reason anyway." The man let a smile slip out before he could catch it. "Oh no?" he said in a tone that irritated Ferney. "Why not?" "They had to grow yews," Ferney answered. "Needed the wood to make bows. But yew berries, see, they're poisonous. Couldn't grow them just anywhere or the cows would eat them and die. Churchyard was the safest place. No cows in a churchyard." "I've never heard that one before," said the man. "You've heard it now," said Ferney, turning his head abruptly to Gally and fixing his eyes on her, his face softening. "We're moving in today," she said. "Come and see us." Ferney nodded. "I've got something for you. House-warming gift." The caravan was on its last legs and an hour late, hauled in slowly by a tractor that sent most of its diesel fuel straight up to spatter the sky with a burnt black cloud. Gally thrilled to the sight of it, the guarantee that this night would really be their first within the boundaries of the space that was now theirs. The farmer took Mike's money with the air of one who'd lost an eyesore and gained an unexpected bonus and looked around with an expression that spoke volumes about the unfathomable ways of town folk in the country. "You'll have your work cut out here, then," he commented. "We don't mind," said Gally. "I've got diggers and all that if you need them," he said, thinking of the wad of Mike's notes in his pocket. "We might," said Mike. "There's some drainage to sort out." "You know where to find me. I can send someone down," the farmer said, and soon the tractor's hubbub was fading down the lane. They weren't left alone for long. Gally was pulling the musty cushions out of the truck to air them in the sun when a white pickup bounced in through the gate and rocked to a halt. "Mr. and Mrs. Martin? Don Cotton. You phoned me, right?" The builder. Standing there, adding up the evidence to feed into his estimate. Mike opened his mouth to speak in a deliberately roughened and slurred accent. It wouldn't have fooled the builder for a second, but in any case Gally's educated vowels cut the air before him and he swore to himself. "Great," she said. "I'm so glad you're here. When can you start?" The builder was a short man who addressed everything sideways; his body never faced the way he spoke. He had a big jaw and a flattened nose, the face of a man who would fight over imagined insults in his cups. "In a hurry, are you?" he said. "Yes," said Gally. "No, not really," said Mike. The builder looked first at the cracked and broken gable end of the house, making expensive sucking noises and shaking his head a lot. He picked an unnecessary amount of loose stone and mortar out of the biggest crack in the outer wall, then turned and went inside. "You've got your own private river," he reported when he'd looked below the floorboards. "What's the best thing to do?" said Mike. "Put a pump in. Get it dried out and we'll see what we've got." "Need more'n a pump," said a voice from the doorway. They looked up and Ferney, a brown felt hat in his hand, was standing there. His white hair was neatly brushed and there was a primrose in the buttonhole of his old tweed jacket. "Well, you do keep popping up," said Mike, a shade sourly, thinking Ferney should have knocked until he remembered there was no knocker. "Where else would I be?" said Ferney with a note of surprise. "Now you're here, can we help you?" "I can maybe help you," replied Ferney. "If you want. I came with my present." Gally walked over to him. "That's lovely," she said. "Come and sit outside with me. It was nice of you to take the trouble." Mike stayed with the builder as the man went on scratching and fiddling his way through the decay, noting large figures in his book which could have been lengths but were probably money, then curiosity got the better of him and he went to join them outside. As he walked into the dark hall, they were framed by the doorway, outside in the sun, warm and bright together. He paused as he realized they were unaware of him there. Gally had sat Ferney on a folding chair on the grass beyond the door and he was handing her a brown paper bag. The object she drew from it was obscure, a mottled ring of horn perhaps, or some sort of soapstone. Mike couldn't tell. It seemed to have holes around its circumference and areas of latticework. From his position next to her, Ferney watched Gally closely. Mike watched them both from inside, excluded and puzzled. Gally held it in her hands and looked at it, very still, then turned it slowly. She lifted her eyes and she and Ferney stared at each other. Then she rose slowly to her feet, walked a few steps to the tangled grass inside the hedge and began to pick flowers, threading them one at a time into the holes in the ring. Ferney clasped his hands together, then reached each arm right round and hugged himself as if holding something in. Gally picked faster and faster, laughing out loud, then twirled round and, lifting the ring, a garland now, set it on her head where it nestled, perfectly accenting her hair like a flower fairy in a children's book. "There," she said, "is that right?" Ferney nodded silently. Mike felt an oddly bitter pang of annoyance. Gally was always buying hats and hair bands and scarves to wind through her hair but she'd wear them once and put them aside in disappointment. He'd bought many of them himself and always somehow missed satisfying whatever itch drove her after them. Now someone else was basking in the reaction he had never had. He stepped into the sunlight which seemed suddenly less radiantly yellow now and looked closely at the flowers. "Gally!" he said. "They're cowslips, for God's sake. You're not supposed to pick cowslips. They're endangered. You must have known that, surely?" She stared at him, affronted, as if she didn't recognize him, and put a hand slowly to her head. He wished he could open his mouth and draw the words and their sting back in from the echoing air, then she looked at Ferney and Mike saw her eyes widen. With two quick steps, she crossed the space to where Ferney sat and Mike moved forward too, struck by the alarm on her face. Tears were rolling down Ferney's cheeks. "You knew, you knew," the old man said in a rusty, cracked voice full of acutely painful joy, then before they could do anything he was up and away through the gate as if it was all too much to bear. "You didn't have to say that," Gally cried, turning to Mike in pain, and neither of them recognized her voice. Ferney's hip was hurting again as he sat down, but none of it mattered, not one bit. The sun came bursting out from behind a cloud, painting the hill bright green, a mirror of the exultant joy roaring and bubbling up through his chest. Everything had changed, years of loneliness--the longest years he could ever remember--swept away. Hope had been restored. There was work ahead, it was true, and it might not be easy, but the house was going to live again and so was he. There'd been an agreement made. Sitting on his stone right at the top of the hill, he looked out over a familiar landscape, south across all the flat lands to the old fortress hill of high Shaftesbury far away. A trace of mist rose from the fields below, thickest along the course of the river. From the main road, invisible down there, modern noise intruded in a drone of engines, rising and falling. He let his gaze wander across the landscape, changing, tuning as it went. The pylons in the valley flicked out and the cluster of new houses beyond them melted like butter. Ferney had a firm hold now and the road's noise no longer reached him. The woods writhed, grew ragged and stretched their boundaries; the fields divided themselves with old, forgotten walls and a hard, brash metal shed shrivelled back into a barn of sagging tile and stone. He heard a girl's voice in his mind, conjured her singing a scrap of a favourite song, holding it there, using it to bleach out the upstart stains of the present and to paint in the true colours of the past. He slowly turned his head and there she was next to him on the bench, leaning weightless against him, her blond hair cascading over his neck, both arms round his shoulders. Sixty years slipped from him and he heard her voice properly, talking, not singing. "We can do it," she said. "We can if we set our minds to it. No more of this hit-and-miss." He'd needed no persuading. "It will be so much better," he told her. "There's never been joy with anyone else. It's only worth it when you're here." "Are we agreed, then?" She'd lifted her head as her ghost, her memory, now did again, staring at him with a great, wide, joyful smile. "Shall we swear to it, swear we'll always, always do it whatever?" "Yes." Then the problem struck him. "What if one of us forgets?" "Then the other one has some reminding to do, that's all." She'd laughed as though that were the easiest thing in the world, laughed and tousled his hair. "And if both of us forget?" She stopped laughing then. "Well, maybe that will just have to be that if both of us forget." Then with renewed vigour, "But we won't, we mustn't. Other folks have God. We've only got us." Ferney shook his head, amused at the old argument. "You don't know they've got God. You can't be sure. Could be we're luckier than them. They just stop, maybe." They'd finished with talking then. He'd held her at arm's length, loving her, admiring her, drinking in the garland on her head set in the old hoop, feasting on the rich emotion of six decades earlier, a time when cowslips were plentiful, his dry old soul soaking it up like a parched plant under the watering can. He held the garland in the centre of his mind, thinking of today, of Gally now. Gally who, if she knew nothing else for sure, knew it for what it was and wove her garland without a questioning word. The scene fluttered, shifted. Unthinking until it was too late, Ferney had kept the image of the garland on a dark head. The dark head was still there, a dark, loved head but not the same one. It was the first time he'd given the garland hoop, the very first time, after he'd dug it from the pits. Just for confirmation he looked hard at the edge of the woodland, the straight, neatly trimmed edge--a landscape assaulted by geometry. From below the crest of the hill, old shouts crawled back to him across four long lifetimes. In his memory he walked down to them and saw a red, sweating zealot in a stained smock. Parson Mowbray, egging on his axe-men with crazed shouts as he peered down the line of his sighting sticks, glorying in the crash of timber. "Not that one, damn you! Foil me with imperfections, would you? Hurry up down there. This is a race that we are running, Jonah, and unless you swing your axe the trees will beat us. They're growing faster than you can cut. That branch there, man, that and the one above it. They're spoiling my line. This is God's work, Jonah. The turmoil of nature is an insult to Him. We neglect the great gift He has given us if we let nature sprawl rampant across our inheritance." All around, the landscape had taken on the geometric shapes that marked the silly fad of that temporary landscape. Queen Anne was dead and the foul-tempered German George had come from Hanover with his two mistresses. Every country conversation about the new king started with "He doesn't even speak English" and ended with "Well at least he's no Catholic." Some great daftness seized the country and raw nature became a threat to man's God-given right to dominate. The flailing Church, confusing nature with debauchery, saw threatening sexuality in every burgeoning hedge and went to work with sharpened steel to hack it back. Straight lines cut the countryside wherever you looked--fields, hedges, orchards, woods, all penned back to fantastic regularity in pursuit of some ideal of human domination, buttoned up into safe chastity. Ferney smiled at the memory as he let it fade away--mad Mowbray, the trees planted in intersecting rows, the squares, triangles and diamonds of woodland, a giant, hopeless, frightened child's picture of the way the world should be. In the end he was left as he wanted to be in the deep loving circle of this girl, whose face he could not quite bring back, and a love which, even when diluted by memory, still had the power to shake him. Excerpted from Ferney by James Long All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.