Excerpt from P.D. James, The Lighthouse (2005)
Francis Benton-Smith works as a sergeant for New Scotland Yard in London. He is an aspiring young professional, who has recently left his Indian mother and English father to live alone in a very modern, impersonal block of flats. As he looks at the panoramic London view from his balcony, he wonders if he can create a real home for himself.
[…] this carefully chosen anonymity. even the landscape. was what he wanted. He had put down no roots, having no native soil.
He had moved into the flat six months after joining the police and it could not be more different than his parents' home in the leafy street in South Kensington: the white steps
up to the pillared front door, the gleaming paint and immaculate stucco. […] Even to walk through the main door of the house was to know whal it represented: money, privilege. the cultural assurance of the prosperous liberal upper midclle-class. Bur he knew thal his present apparent independence was spurious; the flat and its contents had been paid for by his parents - on his salary he couldn't otherwise have afforded to move. And he had
made himself comfortable. He told himself wryly that only a visitor knowledgeable about modern furniture would have guessed how much the deceptively simple pieces had cost.
Bul there had been no visitors among his colleagues. As a new recruit he had trodden carefully at first, knowing that he was on a probation more rigorous and protracted than any provisional assessment from senior officers. He had hoped, if not for friendship, for
tolerance, respect and acceptance, and to an extent he had earned them. But he was aware that he was still regarded with wary circumspection. He feit himself to be surrounded by a variety of organisations, including thc criminal law, dedicated to protecting his racial sensitivities, as if he could be as easily offended as a Victorian virgin confronted by a flasher. He wished that these racial warriors would leave him alone. Did
they want to stigmatise minorities as over-sensitive, insecure and paranoid? But he accepted that the problem was partly of his making, a reserve that was deeper and less forgivable than shyness and which inhibited intimacy. They didn't know who he was: he didn't know who he was. It wasn't, he thought, only the resut of being mixed-race. The
London world he knew and worked in was peopled with men and women of mixed racial, religious and national backgrounds. They seemed to manage.
His mother was Indian. his father English, she a paediatrician, he the headmaster of a London comprehensive school. They had fallen in love and married when she was seventeen, his father twelve years older. They had been passionately in love and they still
were. […] She had brought money as weil as beauty 10 the marriage. From childhood he had feit an intruder in that private self-sufficient world. They were both over-busy and he hacl learned early that their time together was precious. He knew that he was loved, that his welfare was their concern, but coming quietly and unexpectedly into a room where they were alone, he would see the cloud of disappointment on their faces quickly change
into smiles of welcome - but not quickly enough. Their difference in religious belief seemed never to worry them. His father was an atheist, his mother a Roman Catholic and Francis had been brought up and schooled in that faith. But when in adolescence he gradually let it go as he might relinquish a part of his childhood, neither appeared to notice, or if they did, felt that they were justified in questioning him.
They had taken him with them on their annual visits to Delhi, and there too he had felt an alien.It was as if his legs, painfully stretched across a spinning globe, could find no secure footing in either continent. His father loved to revisit India, was at home thre, was greeted with loud exclamations of delight, laughed, teased and was teased, wore Indian clothes, performed the salaam with more ease than he shook hands at home, left after tearful
goodbyes. As a child and adolescent, Francis was made a great fuss of, exclaimed over, praised for his beauty, his intellegence, but he would stand there ill at ease, politely exchanging compliments, knowing that he didn't belong.
He had hoped that selection to Adam Dalgliesh's Special Investigation Squad would help to make him more at home in his job, perhaps even in his disjointed
world. Perhaps to
some extent it had.
4 South Kensington: posh part of London
5 immaculate: in perfect condition
8 spurious: fake, artifical
10 wryly: with both amusement and disappointment
16 wary circumspection: careful observation
18 Victorian: from Queen Victoria' reign (1837-1901), well known for its strict prudery
19 racial warriors: here: people fighting for racial equality
27 paediatrician: a doctor with a special training in medical childcare
44 salaam: a ceremonial greeting of salutation
48 Adam Dalgliesh: a Detective Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, main character of the novel
From: Phyllis Dorothy James, The Lighthouse, London: Faber & Faber, 2005.