Playing with the Grown-ups

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-02-10
  • Publisher: Anchor
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Kitty loves living at the isolated Hay House with her doting grandparents, but it cannot provide the adventure and excitement that her restless, bohemian mother Marina craves. When a guru sees Marina's future in New York, Kitty is torn from her home and bounced from place to placefirst a colorless boarding school, then an American ashram, and finally back to an unfamiliar England. But soon, no god, man, or martini can staunch Marina's hunger for a happiness that proves all too elusive. And Kitty, turning fifteen, must choose: whether to play dangerous games with the grown-ups or put herself first. With this witty and poignant debut novel, Sophie Dahl ably carries on the literary legacy of her grandfather, the beloved children's book author Roald Dahl. From the Trade Paperback edition.

Author Biography

Sophie Dahl grew up in England. In 2003 she and the illustrator Anne Morris published a small book, The Man with the Dancing Eyes. Ms. Dahl has written for the The Guardian and Vogue, and is at present a contributing editor at Men's Vogue. She lives in the country in England.



The phone is ringing. In her sleep Kitty hears her own voice on the answering machine, husky, as her husband laughs at the serious tone of her message in the background. Then there is the beep, and another voice, a voice tinged with a panic that is familiar.

"Kitty, it's Violet. I'm sorry to ring you in the middle of the night, but it's Mummy. Something's happened."

She sits up, scrabbles for the phone in the dark.

"Violet?" she says.


She packs methodically, already in a different place, distancing herself from her bedroom, the cartoonish skyline that she has loved from the moment she first saw it as a little girl. The city is sleeping, although it has the reputation of being one that never sleeps.

She looks at her husband's broad back, every inch of which she cherishes.

"Coffee," he says as greeting, disappearing to their kitchen.

She laughs. She has always been able to wake, her brain engaged from the moment she opens her eyes. He needs to be cajoled from sleep, with coffee and tendresse, something she has joked with his mother about. His mother maintains it's a Southern affliction, a by-product of sugary heat, dawns so hot they make the pavement steam.

"The sleepy South," his mother calls it.


They sit next to each other at the round walnut table. He drinks coffee and she drinks tea.

"What time is it?" he says. "I feel like we only just went to bed."

"It's four-thirty," she answers. "The flight's at seven."

"You're sure you don't want me to come? I can figure it out. I hate the thought of you being there on your own."

"I won't be on my own. The others are all there. I'll be fine. It's what I'm good at, remember? Good in a crisis, that's me." She smiles at him.

"I don't think crisis management suits you. You were made for calm. You're my little Buddha." He cups her stomach gently.

"At least her timing was good. Three months more and I couldn't have got on a plane if I'd wanted to." She looks at her belly with rue. "Poor baby. There she was minding her own business in New York, and now look. Let's hope it's character building, and I won't have scarred her for life before she's even out of the womb."


At Kennedy she turns to him.

"Mark?" she says. "About the baby . . . You don't think I'll damage her before she's even left the gate? I wanted it all to be so perfect."

He wraps her in his arms.

"What's perfect, Kitty? Life is flawed. She has to meet her loopy relations sometime. Why not now?
Life is full of imperfect, my old sweetheart. Just say the word and I'll park the car and get on that plane with you."

"I'll be fine. You can't take the time if we want a summer holiday," she says, gathering herself.

As he drives away she looks at him from the kerb like a child with big serious eyes, and he feels his heart lurch.

She steadies herself, places her hand on her stomach as if for luck, and walks into the terminal, her overnight bag hanging from her arm like a charm.

Her grandfather, Bestepapa, had hands that were true as butcher's blocks, and his voice was like the beginnings of a bonfire.

"Will you bequiet, small child?" he roared, his huge hand banging on the wooden table, a full stop to the meandering chat around him. "A hen house; I live in a hen house! All of you women talk too much . . . peck, peck at my poor ears! Men do not like this endless feminine banter. Men like women withmystery, don't you know?"

Starling chatter lulled, the chorus (Kitty's mother, aunts and grandmother) practised looking like enigmatic women with secrets, until someone, likely her Aunt Elsie, spoiled it by laughing.

Excerpted from Playing with the Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl
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.

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