Surviving Anna tells the story of Laura Vine as she embarks on the most important journey of her life. Outwardly, Laura is devoted to her career and embraces her independent Sydney lifestyle. But a childhood tragedy has left its mark and Laura has a secret she has never dared to share. Her grief lies buried deep, unexplored and unresolved.
Meeting businessman Adam Moretti disrupts the status quo and shakes Laura's composure, triggering the return of her recurring childhood nightmare.
Adam recognizes Laura's vulnerability, without understanding its cause. Frustrated by her strange inhibitions and, at times, unfathomable behaviour, he persuades her to address her childhood trauma.
Her quest is charged with anger, grief and confusion, but, having started, she becomes obsessed with unravelling the mysteries of the past. Shocked by the story she uncovers, Laura also finds herself confronted with questions about her own capacity to love.
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What people are saying about Surviving Anna…
"A beautifully crafted and enjoyable book. I found it gripping and could not put it down.…This is a novel which both informs and challenges."
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When Adam Moretti first mentioned Laura’s mother, the equanimity of her reaction would surely have astonished her closest friends. Not that Adam knew her well enough to appreciate that at the time. He was merely puzzled by her reticence; which he put down to the quantity of fine wine she had consumed rather rapidly that evening, and a conspicuous reluctance to talk about herself. It was actually an unfamiliar heady sense of well-being that had softened the edge of her reply. In due course, Moretti would come to realize, as anyone who was close to Laura did, that the subject was taboo. As idiosyncrasies go, the irritation this caused her friends was relatively minor. Quite simply, it was something they had to learn to accept. Laura left them no choice. Asked a question regarding her mother, the shutters came down.
On the occasion of Moretti’s unwittingly provocative remark, he and Laura were dining at his favourite Sydney restaurant: Giorgio’s on Circular Quay. It was, by then, several weeks into their acquaintance, and Moretti was well aware that Laura had accepted his latest invitation against her better judgement and only because it would have seemed churlish to refuse. He believed he had got her measure, some three weeks before, when they had met for the first time, at Sei Divino, to discuss a professional development and training plan for his company's employees. Their initial exchange, over lunch at the North Sydney wine bar, had made such an impression on Moretti that he had been tempted, as the meeting was drawing to a close, to ask her to join him that evening for dinner. The confusion he had read in Laura’s eyes at this ill-judged suggestion had compelled him to forestall her reply.
“I’ll take that as a ‘No’,” he had told her, smiling wryly, while offering her his hand. “It’s been a pleasure. Let Penny, my PA, know when you’ve put that proposal together and we’ll take it from there.”
The draft submission that Laura had subsequently prepared for Creative Electronic Solutions had exceeded even Moretti’s expectations. Thereafter, she had paid a number of visits to his premises in Chatswood to meet with his staff and gather more information about the burgeoning company. To Laura’s relief, the final version of her training programme had been warmly accepted by the CES executives.
The Managing Director’s manner throughout this process had been unfalteringly pleasant and courteous. No further reference to a social invitation had been made. And yet, while Moretti remained beyond reproach, Laura had found herself dreading even the simple act of greeting him and shaking his, inevitably outstretched, olive-skinned hand. The tingle of warmth that his palm upon hers never failed to arouse, she fought not to betray. To that end, she had steadfastly refused to meet his eye. But even at home, curled up in a blue squashy armchair in the lounge room of her one-bedroom flat, Laura had failed to dismiss him completely from her mind. Never had her thoughts been so invaded. At the office, she had worked as efficiently as ever, engaging with her colleagues in her usual lighthearted way. Underneath, though, the careful equilibrium she had subconsciously learned to maintain had undeniably been challenged. And all her efforts to pretend otherwise exacted a price. From the day she had first met Moretti, Laura had been plagued by the return of her horrifying dream.
Night after night, she had woken in a sweat to the sound of her father’s harrowing cry; a howl that, despite being the creation of her distraught imagination, never lost its haunting power. Neither did the images she had seen. Far from being diminished by their nightly exposure, they had gained in substance and intensity. Increasingly, as Laura spiralled downwards into sleep-deprivation and depression, she needed only to close her eyes to be reminded of what she had battled so hard to forget.
Such was her condition when Moretti’s desire for them to meet outside of work had finally prevailed.
“No strings,” he had insisted, raising a faint blush in Laura’s cheeks. “But you surely can’t deny me the pleasure of introducing you to Giorgio’s. Consider it a ‘thank you’ for the wonderful work you’ve been doing for CES.”
Despite her reservations, as she alighted from the taxi that delivered her to Circular Quay, Laura could not suppress a tingle of anticipation. Ascending the few shallow steps to the glass-fronted restaurant, she was struck by the high-ceilinged foyer's Mediterranean ambience of airiness and light. A waiter directed her to the bar where Moretti, looking suave in a dark-grey suit and lavender tie, appeared deep in conversation. Catching sight of her as she clicked across the Italian white marble floor, he excused himself and moved to greet her.
“Laura!” He kissed her swiftly on both cheeks. “You look ravishing!”
Again, she felt herself flush under the warmth of his gaze. “Thank you,” she murmured.
“Come and have a seat,” he urged, gesturing to an armchair near the bar. “What can I get you?”
Laura smoothed down the skirt of her short black cocktail dress and glanced around distractedly, while Moretti was fetching their drinks. The lightly textured cream wall on her right was broken only by a Roman pillared archway, which led to the dining room and was ornamented in turn by a huge framed mirror on either side. Behind and to her left, a wide staircase fringed with decorative wrought iron railings swept up to what appeared to be a suite of private function rooms.
“How’s your day been?” asked Moretti, returning and handing her a glass.
“Thank you. Pretty good, I guess. Busy as always,” said Laura. She tasted her vodka and tonic. “How was yours?”
“Quite productive actually. Mostly tying up loose ends. I’m off to the States tomorrow, for a week or so. Depending on how things go.”
He nodded. “I’m looking forward to it. There’s a couple of interesting prospects I’m keen to get on board. The potential over there for CES is enormous if we can just get a foot in the door. It’s exciting. And a little bit nerve-wracking too, if I’m honest.”
“Is it prospective clients you’re going to meet or component manufacturers?”
“Clients. The whole thrust of this trip is to open up a completely new line of design for us. If all goes well, the next week could herald the start of our most ambitious project yet. We’re only talking preliminary discussions at this stage, of course. But I’m convinced this is the right time and the right opportunity for CES to really start building on the solid reputation we’ve achieved… Sorry!” Moretti flashed Laura a smile that crinkled the faintly weathered skin at the corners of his eyes. “I didn’t invite you here tonight to listen to a sales pitch.” He gestured to a hovering waiter, who promptly hurried over. “Our table, please,” said Adam, draining his glass as he stood up. Turning to Laura, he murmured, “Shall we?”
Their table in the waterfront dining room provided a fascinating snapshot of the comings and goings on Sydney Harbour. At dusk, it was chiefly the lights and their sparkling reflections that drew the eye.
“Call me self-indulgent,” said Moretti, with an expansive wave of his hand, “but I’ve long had a weakness for Italian, and this is unquestionably the best Sydney has to offer.”
“It’s such a beautiful setting,” said Laura.
A wine waiter bore down on them, reverently clasping a bottle, and waited for Moretti to taste his selection before pouring for Laura.
“My father’s parents were Italian immigrants,” Moretti continued. “But my mother grew up in England and, since she did the cooking in our house, my exposure to Italian food, as a child, was deplorably limited.”
Laura smiled and swallowed a generous mouthful of wine.
“We didn’t see enough of my father’s family when I was growing up,” Adam reflected. “There must have been some friction there, I think – a bit of a culture clash. My father was encouraged only to speak English as a child and apparently saw no purpose in passing on his own limited Italian to his children. His parents’ English, my grandmother’s in particular, was basic and heavily accented. It made communicating with them difficult.”
He paused as a waiter delivered their entrées.
“Umm, smells good,” he murmured, picking up his knife and fork. Watching Laura use the shell of one mussel to extract the flesh of another, he added, “I see you’re an old hand at those.”
“I first came across them in France, on a high school exchange,” she explained. “The family I stayed with had visitors one night – people they wanted to impress. The father cooked his specialty: Moules à la Marinière. It’s always a risk having them again, in case they don’t measure up.”
“So what’s the verdict? Should we send them back?”
“Certainly not! They’re delicious.”
They ate for a short time in silence.
“I didn’t get over to Italy until after I’d finished Uni,” said Adam, picking up the thread of his story. “It was infuriating, then, that I hadn’t learned Italian as a boy. Still, Italy was an eye-opener for me – the architecture, the history, the culture. I found the people remarkably friendly. And I fell deeply in love with the food. I go back when I can, but that isn’t often, so I’m grateful to Giorgio. I cook sometimes too – especially when Tony’s around. It gets a bit tedious cooking for one.”
“Tony?” queried Laura.
“My son. Tony’s twenty. He lives with his mother in Perth. He was at University for a while… How about you? Do you have anyone at home to cook for?”
Surprised by the intensity in his voice, Laura glanced up but did not catch Adam’s eye. Ostensibly, he was engrossed in scraping the last morsels of baby octopus from his plate. She took a gulp of cool white wine and studied his straight, patrician nose and square, lean jaw. She noticed by his ear a sprinkling of grey in the otherwise thick black hair. That he had chosen not to disguise it unaccountably pleased her.
“No,” she said, with a tiny shake of her head when he lifted his gaze. “I live alone.”
Laura was the first to look away. As she fiddled with a flower in the little vase in front of her, her attention was captured by Moretti’s long fingers curling around his glass. Closing her eyes, she found herself picturing them stroking her face, lingering on her lips, caressing her hair. When her eyelids flickered open, she found him still regarding her, with a slightly perplexed expression in his dark brown eyes.
“Are you cold?” he asked. “I thought I saw you shiver.”
“I’m fine.” Smiling serenely, Laura pondered how it would feel to kiss the full-lipped mouth across from her. She felt pleasantly relaxed, if a little dizzy. Around her, the tempo of activity had slowed. She nodded when Adam offered her some water.
The main courses arrived. Laura ate slowly, savouring the moment as much as the delectable salmon that melted in her mouth. At her prompting, Moretti told her more about his family, particularly his three older sisters, before abruptly breaking off.
“Your turn,” he declared. “Tell me something about you.”
“Well, what do you do when you’re not creating training plans for boring company executives?”
“I read a lot. I love books. I always have.” She reached for her glass and drank deeply.
Moretti watched her, leaning back in his chair.
“I swim or run most weekends. And catch up with friends. Sometimes I run in the evenings too, but commuting takes up quite a bit of time – and I often work late. I should probably move, I guess. But I’m very attached to my flat.”
“Whereabouts is that?”
“In Coogee, opposite the beach. Overlooking the bay.”
Adam nodded thoughtfully. Talking about herself was clearly not Laura’s forte. “How about your family? Do you see much of them?”
“They’re mostly in England.”
“Right. So – do you get over there often?”
“Every couple of years or so, I guess. Jess, my sister, has been out a few times, but she and Ian have got school-aged kids so it’s not that easy.”
“How about your parents?”
“Oh, Dad’s not really well enough to travel.”
“I see. That’s a shame. And your mother?”
Laura put her knife and fork together and pressed a serviette to her lips. Placing the crumpled cloth next to her plate, she stated bluntly, “She’s dead.”
“Mine too,” Adam confided softly. “Breast cancer, five years ago. It’s hard, isn’t it, losing a parent?”
“I hardly remember. I was seven, Jess was only four.”
“How very sad.” Recalling his own mother’s pain-filled struggle, Adam asked, “Was your mother sick for long?”
“I think she must have been,” Laura mused, staring at the wineglass turning slowly in her hands.
His gentle questioning had a curious effect upon Laura in her wine-mellowed state, prompting a memory, which, exploiting her lack of resistance, slipped under her guard. Despite the efforts of her subconscious mind, the nightmare, from which she had woken in a lather yet again, had left its mark – a bruise impairing her psyche. Now, the long-detested vision accosted her again: the blurry image of her father and, beside it, the face she saw in the mirror, distorted grotesquely. The face of her torment. With a supreme exertion of will, she thrust it aside.
Looking up, she gave a smile that seemed to mock the deep hurt in her eyes. “At the end it was quick,” she replied, setting her glass on the table. “That was a beautiful meal, Adam. Thank you.”
Furrowing his brow at the sudden change of tack, Moretti said merely, “You’re welcome… How about dessert?”
They settled for coffee. Laura sipped her tiny espresso, grateful for the sobering effect it would have. When she had finished and declined the offer of another, Adam signalled to their waiter.
“Sorry,” he told Laura, “but I ought to be making tracks. I’ve got an early start in the morning and some work to do tonight. My car’s just outside – I’ll run you home.”
“That’s very kind, but there’s really no need. I’d planned to get a taxi.”
“I’ll drive you.”