The bestselling author is back with a novel about an unlikely romance in the time of Brexit – and we have an exclusive extract.
There was a conversation about Brexit. Joseph imagined that there would always be a conversation about Brexit until it was all sorted out. There was a general agreement that it was a mess and a disaster and the country would be paying for its mistake for years; Joseph had heard all this. But then Fiona asked Joseph how he’d voted.
‘Whoa,’ said Pete. ‘You can’t ask that.’
‘He knows how we all voted,’ Fiona said. ‘Anyway, if he tells us he’d rather not say, that would be the end of it.’
‘And we’d all know anyway,’ said Nina.
This was the first time during the evening that he’d felt different from them. There were the five of them, and then there was him, and just the presumption that he might not belong to their gang, that he might have voted the other way, was enough to separate him.
Joseph looked at Lucy’s face and her expression made him smile. She was trying to work out whether there was anything to be offended by.
‘It’s fine,’ Joseph said to her.
‘Yes. So, I had a problem. My dad voted to leave. He campaigned to leave.’
‘Because he thinks he’ll be better off.’
‘What does he do?’
‘He’s a scaffolder.’
‘And my mum – she voted to leave, because she works in the N.H.S., and she believed the bus and all that.’
There were weary sighs around the table.
‘But Lucy is a passionate remainer.’
‘Am I passionate?’ she asked Joseph.
There was laughter.
‘Yes, tell us, Joseph. Is she passionate?’
‘A passionate remainer, I meant,’ said Lucy.
There was more laughter, at the obviousness and feebleness of the answer.
‘So… Well, I came to a logical decision.’
Joseph shrugged. ‘I voted both ways.’
‘How?’ said Lucy.
‘Oh, I didn’t cheat. I just put a cross in both boxes.’
Nina and Andy laughed and applauded. Fiona, Pete and Lucy were trying not to look scandalized.
‘I didn’t know you’d done that,’ said Lucy.
‘I didn’t tell you.’
‘Quite a silly thing to do,’ said Fiona.
Joseph felt a little sting. He could see that Lucy felt it too, or had at least recognized the danger.
‘What if he hadn’t bothered?’ Lucy said. ‘What’s the difference?’
‘There’s no difference,’ he said.
‘No,’ said Fiona. ‘If those are the choices. Apathy or I don’t know what you’d call it. Pointless bloody juvenile rebellion.’
‘You’re right,’ said Joseph. ‘I should have just voted out. I was like fifty-one per cent Brexit, forty-nine per cent remain.’
‘Oh, well that’s even worse,’ said Fiona.
‘So his only choice was voting remain,’ said Lucy.
‘In my opinion,’ said Fiona. She didn’t seem to be joking.
‘Trouble is, it was my vote,’ said Joseph.
‘And you literally wasted it,’ said Fiona.
‘And how do you feel about it now?’ said Pete.
‘Well, it’s over, isn’t it? We’ve just got to get on with it.’
That seemed to bring the conversation to a close, and Joseph thought he detected a collective relief.
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’I’d watch your step though,’ said Nina. She was talking to Fiona.
’You started off by saying you wanted to listen. And then you told him you weren’t interested in anything he had to say.’
’When did I do that?’
’You just told him he’d made the wrong choice. And then you told him his second choice would have been wrong too.’
’What am I supposed to do? I think he’s wrong about everything.’
’”MIDDLE-CLASS NORTH LONDONER LISTENS TO THE PEOPLE, DECIDES THEY’RE WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING.” There’s the way forward.’
’Like you’re not a middle-class North Londoner.’
’Which is why I wouldn’t dream of telling Joseph he did the wrong thing.’
’What if he’d just voted in favour of hanging?’
’I didn’t,’ said Joseph. ‘And I wouldn’t. Two different things.’
He got a laugh, then, and this time they did take the change in mood as a cue to move on – to food, schools, more football.
Extracted from Just Like You by Nick Hornby, £16.99 (Viking)