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The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page


 

The Keeper of Stories is fast paced, full of eccentric characters and above all funny. It is an ideal read for those times when you simply want to enjoy a rollicking good story and there’s the added bonus of a very sharp little dog.

 

Janice is a cleaner in Cambridge – the university town in England, not the one in Massachusetts – and she has discovered that a good cleaner can pretty much dictate her days and hours, so why would she take on a job for the mother-in-law of one of her least favourite clients, especially when that mother-in-law makes it quite clear she doesn’t want a cleaner?

 

‘The globule of spit hits the pavement less than an inch from her shoe. It is either a very good shot or Mrs YeahYeahYeah’s mother-in-law has missed. Janice stands looking at the small, elderly woman in the open doorway… Does she really need to be here? And what is this woman wearing? It seems to be some sort of kimono thrown over and pair of men’s cords (rolled up many times at the ankles), and on her head she has a red hat with artificial cherries on. The cherries appear to be covered in what Janice suspects is mould.’

 

Mrs YeahYeahYeah is the only client Janice doesn’t like. She doesn’t like Mrs YeahYeahYeah’s husband either. She calls him Mr NoNoNotNow. The only reason Janice hasn’t walked out in four years of working for them is because of the dog, who’s called Decius.

 

‘“This is Decius, he’s a fox terrier.”

            This was one of the first things Mrs YeahYeahYeah had said to her. Quickly followed by, “I hope you like dogs we’d like you to walk him.”’

            Not, “We hope you like dogs.” Pause, “Would you possibly mind walking him?”

(Polite British requests always involve interspersed ‘would you minds’.)

‘All Janice had been able to say was, “Decius?”

            “Yes, he’s named after a Roman emperor.”

            And that’s when she first noticed it. She looked at Decius. He looked at her and his expression said, as surely as if he had barked it out loud, “Don’t say a word. Not a fucking word.” She didn’t blame him, but after all this time it still amazes her how much he swears. For a fox terrier.’

 

There are other clients, all with their own stories. There is Geordie Bowman, an internationally renowned opera singer with humble roots. And there’s recently widowed Fiona and her son Adam. Fiona is creating a doll’s house. ‘Most of the rooms are complete, perfect in their miniature form. Bedrooms, a drawing room, a nursery, and Janice’s favourite, a beautifully fashioned county-style kitchen with pastry part-rolled on the table alongside a bowl of plums the size of pin heads.’

 

And there’s Carrie-Louise, a nearly-ninety year-old whose greatest entertainment is sparring with her old friend, Mavis, and proving she can make better elegant little cakes for tea than Mavis can. Carrie-Louise actually has Janice bake the cakes, for Janice is a woman of many talents. Janice can handle a soldering iron as easily as she can whip up batter for madeleines. She’s a woman who is severely underestimated by some of her clients. Mavis clearly thinks she’s the sort of woman who buys her cakes. She is also underestimated by her husband.

 

Janice travels to her jobs by bus and likes to listen to music on her headphones while inventing stories about her fellow passengers and the bus driver, whom she is sure must once have been a geography teacher. She hauls her vacuum cleaner and her bag of supplies onto the bus because her husband uses their car to get to work at a college in the centre of Cambridge, a place easily accessible by public transport.

‘“You don’t want to take the car in, Jan, it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth. Parking’s a nightmare in the city.”

This is true, although it is also true that most of her employers have parking for visitors or drives.

“Whatever you say, but I think you’ll find I’m right.” He had beamed good-naturedly at her.’

(Janice’s husband has a nice line in passive-aggressive dominance.)

 ‘She returns to the hall, kicks off her shoes, flexes her toes and heads for the kitchen. She knows the first thing he will say when he wakes is, “What’s for dinner?” He doesn’t ask this in a nagging or demanding voice, but in a jolly tone that suggests they are all in it together. She is no longer fooled.’

 

So there’s the cast of characters, or most of them. What about the plot? It’s a double story: Janice’s, both her past one and her current one, and the story of Mrs. B (as Janice starts to call Mrs YeahYeahYeah’s mother-in-law). It’s a story with suitably villainous machinations, a suitably dark secret and a suitably sweet romance.

 

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