Published in August 2017
when you invite
an outsider in?
Two weeks in White Villa, under the scorching Ibiza sun, is the last chance for a group of university friends to cut loose before they embark on their adult lives. But when Jennifer invites an outsider, the aloof and beautiful Natasha, tensions begin to simmer.
The days pass amid the sweltering rays, fading into wild, humid nights. Natasha, reckless after the recent death of her beloved father, seems bent upon a path of destruction, leading her to Jennifer's boyfriend, Todd - while Jennifer and the rest of the group look on.
Then, one hot afternoon, paradise is shattered . . .
Ten years later, the friends reunite. Will the secrets between them still have the power to hurt?
“The Privileged was a compelling, cleverly-constructed page-turner… White Villa is every bit as good, with such well-drawn characters you just have to find out what happens to them… the perfect holiday read.”
- The Gloss
“A gripping, page-turner about an incident that tears friends apart.”
- Irish Country Magazine
“Hourican displays an acute insight into women who consider themselves better than other women, and men who use them for any gain; a litany of jealousy, suspicion and underhand competition marks this novel as a psychological review of pathological characters.”
- The Sunday Independent
“Currently reading White Villa by @EmilyH71 and it's reminding me what a pleasure that well written, thoughtful commercial fiction can be.”
- Louise O’Neill, Twitter
4.6 stars on Good Reads
The house felt emptier of more than the people who had passed through in the days around the funeral, as if they had taken their good wishes away with them, along with their subdued voices and chilly hands.
It didn’t matter where Natasha went because all the rooms were the same. For all their lofty ceilings and deliberately sparse furnishings, they felt mean; crouched, dispirited, like dogs waiting for the master’s voice. Natasha, who knew that voice would never come again, pitied them. She wondered would the house ever respond to her, then decided it wouldn’t.
She knew how the house felt, as she wandered through its rooms, looking for something that wasn’t there. Someone who would never, now, be there. All that was left was the knowledge that there would never be anyone else for whom she was the most important person in the world.
As much as she looked for him, she also looked for the loss of him. Her own feelings of grief and pain, so raw in the few days after his death, were distanced from her now, a distance she couldn’t bridge, so that even though she could see her grief, could have spelled it out, she couldn’t feel it.
There was a thick layer of something heavy and congealed between her and it, something that subdued the edges not just of grief, but of everything. And so Natasha went in search of something that would trigger the storm of weeping that rose up inside her but would not break, except in dreams.
Since his death, she had dreamed, night after night, of being able to cry. In sleep, she found a release that was denied to her awake. She dreamed of a storm of weeping, great tearing sobs that came, one hard upon the other, until she was, at last, thrown up, beached upon the shore of her own distress, brought through the storm and now calm, emptied, if only temporarily, of the pain of his loss.
But that was only in dreams. Waking, she had a split-second where her mind searched itself, feeling gently, the way she had often felt a bruised leg or ankle, to find out how bad the hurt was. Then it found the bruise, the break, and memory came rushing back – he was gone – and with it came the same feeling of cold lard settling upon her.
Having toured the house – in search of what she did not know … perhaps nothing more than the proof of its emptiness – Natasha went looking for some kind of sharpened stick, something to goad her beyond the place she was, where she felt as stuck as an insect in amber.
The sitting room at the back was the least cheerless spot she could find, although rain spat at its windows, and the garden, beyond, was huddled into a wet heap beneath the blanket of soggy grass and flattened flowers. It had been raining steadily since the death, over a week ago, and Natasha felt a savage satisfaction in nature’s recognition of an abomination.
The fire was lit, and Natasha momentarily admired her mother’s instinct towards comfort, her attempts to hold back the abyss that trailed at their feet with soup and freshly made pastries and warm fires. She, Natasha, had a similar instinct, the opposite to Nancy, who was more likely to tear off her clothes and run into the storm than she was to make herself a seawall of comfort.
Natasha went to the bookshelf with the photo albums – the work of one long summer when she was a teenager, but still a child too; beset by the confusions and uncertainties of her age, she had looked for order here, and imposed it as she saw fit: carefully cataloguing the jumbled mess of family holidays, memories, changing haircuts and seasons, by name, by date, by place. Imposing order on chaos. Nancy, gnawed at by the same uncertainties and confusions, had turned her need for order inwards, divorcing herself from her body and accepting food under some peculiar system known only to her.
Natasha looked at photos of herself on a white-sand beach, skin coloured golden by the sun, her long, dark hair lit up with reddish strands beneath a yellow sun hat. Behind her, the sky was blue velvet. ‘Nerja 1996’ was written in careful letters at the bottom of the page, which would mean Natasha was about ten years old. Beneath were more photos – of her in the water, Nancy in a hole dug up to her neck, both of them on a blanket eating slices of watermelon. In the first photo, her father sat beside Natasha in a khaki green T-shirt with a newspaper folded across his knees. It said El Pais in assured letters.
Natasha looked hard at the photo, trying, not to recapture the moment, which was gone from her entirely, so much as to feel again in her imagination the warmth of his arm close to hers, the solid reassurance of his body beside her. She stared hard, without blinking, as if the intensity of her effort could melt the barriers in her mind. Light from the fire flickered across the photo behind its plastic sheet, so that it seemed as if the sun of that day burned still.
She couldn’t see who she was behind the wide grin, and wondered did the man beside her know, or did he only see what he had wanted to see – a child he believed to be in his own image: bright and fearless.
Her mother came in then, looked at Natasha curled up on a high-backed leather armchair with the photo album on her lap, and came over to her.
Natasha turned the pages. Together they watched as the past flickered by in a series of bright images, no more real than advertising posters. Any one of them could have been used to sell washing powder, Natasha thought. Or cheese, or breakfast cereal. They spoke of effort and contrivance, posed photos tending all towards the same result: perfection. Where are the out-takes, Natasha thought? The bloopers. Anything to give a dose of reality to the sterile images in front of her. Were all family photos like that, she wondered. Lies. Or was it just theirs?
‘Look.’ Her mother stopped the flick of pages, the stop-motion animation of time passing, bringing a finger down heavily on a picture of Natasha and her father in a convertible sports car. The car was lean and camel-coloured, like the filter of a cigarette, Natasha remembered thinking. She was older in this photo, maybe fourteen, hair piled on top of her head in an obvious bid for sophistication, wearing a pink cardigan over a white summer dress. Her mother’s finger with its carmine nail rested in the space between Natasha and her father.