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The Taxi Driver’s Daughter

It’s late December and fifteen-year-old Caris is trying to hang an angel on a Christmas tree in a terraced house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She is interrupted by the arrival of the police, who have come to announce that her mother, Louise, has been caught stealing a shoe in a department store in town.

ISBN 0141012617

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Caris’s father, Mac, a taxi driver, struggles to keep the family together as Christmas looks set for disaster, especially when Louise’s drunken, dishevelled mother, Nana Price, moves in. While Mac finds solace talking to his passengers, Caris is drawn into the intriguing darkness of the nearby vale, where she meets George, an unpredictable boy from a very different sort of family. Their relationship leads her away from school and what she has known into a new and unnerving world.

Julia Darling’s acclaimed novel blends the gritty and the everyday with the evocative and the enchanting, to create an original, inventive and often moving portrayal of family ties, suburban life, love and growing up.

Published by Viking Books in 2003 and in paperback by Penguin in 2004, The Taxi Driver’s Daughter drew widespread praise and numerous reviews. It was runner up for the 2004 Encore award and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It was published in Canada as well.

“My mother is a robber, thinks Caris, The robber mother. Other people’s mothers get things like depression and hysterectomies, but my mother’s a thief.”

Extract

Read an extract of chapter 4 →

Jennie’s insistent voice echoes over Mac’s radio. ‘Mr Kawoto, The Willow Hotel, Jesmond. He’s going to Team Valley industrial estate. There’s been an accident on the Tyne Bridge. You’d better go round by the Redheugh, How’s your back?’

Jeannie always asks about Mac’s back, as if it’s a member of his family. She’s got aspirations to leave the taxi business and become an aromatherapist. She’s done an evening course, but she can’t make the break. She sits like a prisoner in the booking office behind the station, with a pock-marked computer, and a grubby telephone, drinking coffee from polystyrene cups, smoking herbal cigarettes. There is a faint smell of lavender, like a memory, behind the smells of body odour, plastic and old carpet. Mac has never even seen Jeannie’s legs.

He doesn’t bother answering.

He drives carefully over sleeping policemen in the suburbs of Newcastle. An eager Japanese businessman crouches behind him, his sharp spectacles glinting, his hair oiled. The taxi smells of Mac’s lunch, a coronation-chicken buttie that he picks up every day from Filler’s snack bar.

‘You got a family?’ says Mac, affably, lifting his eyes to the mirror slowly, as he indicates left. At least, he tries to sound friendly. Lately he finds himself trying to fill the silences, afraid that at any moment he will fall into the morose pit that Louise has dug for him, with its accusing voices and hot rushes of lava-like shame.

‘Excuse me?’ says the businessman, brushing the lapel of his smart suit.

“A family? Children? A wife?’

‘Yes,’ says the businessman.

‘Kids, eh!’ says Mac, tapping the steering wheel, then reaching out to adjust the photographs of his daughters. He wishes the Japanese man would ask him a question. ‘That’s Caris. She’s fifteen. He makes a dog-like expression, which is lost on the businessman, who hears only a series of friendly barks coming from the front seat. ‘It’s a Welsh name, Caris. After my grandmother. She was Welsh, see. And that’s Stella, my eldest. She’s into drama, like. Shakespeare.’

‘Yes,’ says the businessman.

‘Lovely girls, both of them,’ muses Mac. ‘Caris is a bit wild. She just says what she feels. Just like that. Her sister, she’s the clever one.’

He turns into the industrial estate. The grass verges look new, as if they’ve been placed there overnight.

‘Caris is difficult. Don’t get me wrong; I love Caris. Well, you do, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ nods the businessman enthusiastically.

‘You should see her room. Stuff everywhere. Loud music. You can’t ignore her. She stamps about.’ Mac chuckles, although he finds that Caris makes him uncomfortable these days. ‘But her sister,’ he goes on, ‘she’s into that Lady Macbeth, Out damn spot! You know that one?’

‘Lady Macbeth?’ echoes the businessman.

‘Shakespeare.’

‘Ah, Shakespeare!’ The businessman nods and nods, wondering what Shakespeare has to do with anything.

‘Caris, she’s a lovely girl. Very striking. Stella, too, but Caris is really noticeable. You worry about your daughters. D’you have daughters?’

‘No.’

‘Christ, do I worry. You have to put your foot down. To set boundaries, it’s hard, y’know. I mean, it’s a bloody forest out there.’

Mac gestures towards the flat car parks of the industrial estate, and the businessman assumes that the trading estate was once a forest and nods sympathetically.

‘Drugs, sex. You have to have eyes in the back of your head.’

Mac pulls up next to a square clean building with ‘PLASTICS INC. written in large letters above the door. The businessman is uncertain what to do next. He leans nervously over the seat, holding a twenty-pound note.

‘This is I,’ he announces brightly. ‘I am in plastic.’

Mac is still thinking about drugs and sex. He imagines a wolfish stranger beckoning Caris into an alley.

‘I worry, see,” he says to the twenty-pound note. ‘Christ, do I worry, It’s Caris. She gets carried away, y’know, she gets …’ He searches for a word, switching off the engine. ‘Overexcited,’ he says eventually. ‘And then she gets disappointed. How do you deal with your daughters in Japan?’ He turns to look at the businessman, and sees his blank expression.

‘Oh, yes,’ says the businessman.

Mac sighs and rakes the money, then unwraps a plastic bag full of change and begins to count out coins.

‘Nice talking to you,’ he says, ‘I hope your plastics go well today.’ ‘Thank you,’ says the businessman, beginning to open the door.

‘You don’t want your kids to be disappointed,’ says Mac, turning to look at the man who is no longer there.

‘No, you don’t,’ says Mac, feeling the wad of anxiety in his chest tighten.

‘Temple Grove Rest Home!’ squawks Jeannie. ‘Mrs Ernest. She says she’s been waiting for half an hour, and she’s foaming. She’s going to the crematorium.’ There’s a short pause. ‘Again!’ cackles Jeannie, making the radio rattle with her hoarse, herbal laughter.

‘I’m coming,’ says Mac, working out a route in his head, like a well-oiled machine.

‘You working late?’ splutters Jeannie.

‘Yeah, I expect so,’ says Mac, knowing that he would rather be working than sitting at home, with Louise guiltily stirring a pan of soup in the kitchen, and Caris sucking her hair and looking at him as if he’s a wall she’d like to demolish, and Stella frightening him with her long words. Home is complicated, thinks Mac, whereas driving taxis is simple, like doing a jigsaw over and over again.

Promotional video

Julia recorded a short promotional video for the Meet the Author website, which you can view here

Reviews

  • From the first line ("Mac drives like a man in a pot of treacle"), Darling writes with snap and crackle, and holds all these disgruntled characters in the frame. Teenage Caris is the novel's stroppy centre: morose, humiliated and fuming. Darling's dialogue is nicely acrimonious, and if the story zips past, Mac reminds us: "That's the trouble with the nice fares: you have to cut the conversations short."

    —David Jays, The GuardianRead more →
  • "Inventive and quirky, charming and original. A delight."

    —The ObserverRead more →
  • "The irony is that Tyneside has a deep and distinguished literary heritage which long predates its new-found fascination with the visual arts. Darling should be prized for belonging to that tradition, rather than marginalised as a provincial novelist. The Taxi Driver's Daughter proves that Darling is not a talented Newcastle writer, but a bleakly hilarious social commentator who happens to live in Newcastle."

    —Alfred Hickling, The GuardianRead more →
  • "It takes a particularly articulate writer to depict inarticulacy successfully, and Julia Darling's intelligent, sharp prose does just that. She captures the bleak realities of her protagonists' lives without ever losing sight of hopeful possibilities, and those living aspirations make the Taxi Driver's Daughter an uplifting book, in spite of the hard lives it describes."

    —Laura Baggaley, Times Literary Supplement
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