An excerpt from A Brief History of Montmaray

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

Usually Henry would be down at the village too, but I think she went back to bed after breakfast (she did go out fishing last night, the horrible child). Henry is meant to do three hours of lessons every morning now that Toby is back at school, but she's managed to avoid them so far. Not that Veronica or I have pushed too hard for lessons to resume, because we're the ones who are supposed to teach her. When we were her age, we had a governess and tutors, but there was more money then and besides, there was Toby to consider (it would have been quite embarrassing if he'd turned up at Eton unable to read). After Toby went away to school, Veronica and I mostly taught ourselves out of the library. Veronica, of course, proved to be much better at improving her mind than I was. (One could argue that this was because she had a better mind to begin with. However, one could also point out that I've squandered countless hours reading romantic novels, planning my future trousseau and daydreaming about Simon, hours that could have been far better employed learning French grammar or reading Plato.)

Aunt Charlotte did continue to dispatch tutors to us at irregular intervals for a while, but they didn't tend to last long. Often it turned out that their agency had neglected to mention that we live on a small island in the middle of the Bay of Biscay, and they didn't cope very well when they ran out of cigarettes or face powder and realised that the nearest shop was two hundred miles away.

Or worse, we were sent the sort of girl who thought that living in a castle would be madly poetic, who pictured herself drifting along the wall-walk in a flowing gown whilst reciting Keats, or trailing her fingertips in the moat as swans glided by. We don't have a moat, just a rickety drawbridge that connects the castle to the rest of the island. There is water at the bottom of the Chasm, beneath the drawbridge, but it contains sharks rather than swans. Furthermore, climbing the ladder to the top of the curtain wall while wearing a flowing gown would look very undignified, especially in howling gales and torrential rain, which is our usual weather for a great deal of the year. Even when one of these girls managed to last more than a fortnight in the absence of hot baths and electric lights, something always happened – Henry would accidentally-on-purpose lock her in the Blue Room with the ghost, or Uncle John tip his soup over her, or Veronica catch her mixing up her ablative and her accusative during Latin translation and be very scathing. It always ended in tears, and the tears were rarely ours...

Excerpted from A Brief History of Montmaray © Michelle Cooper
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.