Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction
A group of schoolgirls set off on a field trip to the English countryside. They soon discover that the nearby town offers alcohol, drugs and sex, at once tempting and terrifying. It is not the unfamiliar countryside but the untried emotional landscape these girls must negotiate which heads inexorably to a shattering conclusion. This is a spellbinding, haunting novel by a brilliant young writer.
‘Exhilarating to read … vigorously entertaining … contemporary and fresh. It explores, with great sensitivity, the discovery of personal identity, and marks a fine beginning as a novelist for Bella Bathurst.’ Spectator
‘A work of brilliance and insight … Bathurst has pulled off the often difficult transition from nonfiction to fiction with panache … sharpened by acute observation and artful characterisation.’ Telegraph
‘This authentic, stingingly accurate novel … has captured something important; shocking, yet familiar and real.’ Scotland on Sunday
‘Special is unlike anythging I have read about the contemporary plight of being an adolescent girl. More than any sociological tracts, it gives us an inside look at hte cruel stratagems, fierce sexual pressures and budding romantic longings that mark this group. By turns wise, funny and horrifying, it describes their tribal customs with casual but dedly accuracy. Part Lord of the Flies, part The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, this inexorably unfolding drama will haunt you long after you put the book down.’ Daphne Merkin
‘What? Oh my God! You didn’t do it with him?’
Jules was silent for a long, complicated minute, tangled between truth and untruth. She started plucking at the duvet cover, gathering it up between her fingers in little pleats.
Caz bent over and peered through her hair. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Go on,’ said Mel. ‘Please. What was it like?’
‘It was nice,’ Jules said eventually.
Her lips worked, but nothing came out.
‘Don’t be so unfair. I’ve told you about it when I’ve done it,’ said Caz.
‘Did he have a hard body?’
Izzy, sitting on the next-door bed, giggled. ‘Was he special? Was he tender? Was he creamy?’
Mel’s voice got louder, more mannered. ‘Did he gaze deep into your eyes and say he’d be yours forever? How long did it last? What was his cock like?’ When she said ‘cock’ it sounded so absurd she had to say it in a deep, mock-husky sort of voice. ‘He have a big cock? You suck him off?’
‘It was nice,’ said Jules suddenly. The words came rushing out as if she couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. ‘Just nice. Kissedmeandthenwewereoutsideandwejustsortofdiditandthen-Icamebackhere.’ She stopped. ‘He was nice.’
Caz prodded her. ‘Stop saying he’s so fucking nice. Nice is nothing.’
‘What sort of did-it?’
Jules looked down again. ‘Just did it. You know. Got his thingy out …’
‘Omigod! What was it like?’
‘It was just … just a thingy,’ said Jules desperately. ‘It was just a normal, average sort of thingy.’
‘Yes, but what sort of thingy? Was it big? Small? Did it hurt?’ Mel paused, and then whispered, ‘Was he moist?’
‘You were out there for ages,’ said Caz.
‘Pub was making me feel sick.’
‘Did it last long?’ asked Mel.
‘Dunno. Wasn’t timing him, was I?’
‘You must have noticed. Was he one of those ferry types?’
‘Roll on, roll off. Like those ferries.’
‘I don’t know.’ Jules looked cross. ‘I haven’t slept with a ferry, have I?’
‘Noooo. Not that, retard. I mean like he’s too quick, just bang on and bang off. Was he too quick?’
‘I don’t know. Told you. I wasn’t timing him.’
‘How long did you spend snogging?’
‘You go down on him?’
Jules began plucking at the bedclothes again. ‘N-no.’
‘Did he do any foreplay stuff?’
‘Did he get out his long throbbing nob and twirl it like a lasso in the moonlight? Did he cover you in chocolate and lick it all off? Did he stick live goldfishes up your giblets? Did he make you dress up like a policewoman and play nurses and doctors? That kind of thing.’
Jules laughed uneasily. ‘No.’
‘So no foreplay.’
‘Not like that.’
‘So he just stuck his thing up you?’
‘Did it hurt?’
‘No. Not at all.’
‘What did it feel like?’
Jules left the bedclothes alone and started fiddling with a strand of hair instead. ‘It felt normal,’ she said. ‘Just sort of … nice.’
‘D’you think he’s done it lots?’
‘Did he make noises?’
‘What sort of noises?’
‘I don’t know. Noises. Like men are supposed to make when they’re doing it.’
Jules looked at her and then looked away again.
‘He did, didn’t he?’ said Mel triumphantly. ‘What sort of noises? Did he … Did he shout? Did he call you darling? Did he … did he gurgle? He moaned, didn’t he? He moaned. Moaned like passionately.’
‘Not really. He just sort of did it.’
‘Was it big?’
‘Show us. Was it like this?’ Mel put up her hands like a fisherman showing the size of his salmon. ‘Or like this?’ She spread her hands wide apart. Jules stared at her long pale nails. ‘Go on. Go on. Tell.’