I will miss primary school drop-off when it ceases to be part of my day-to-day. The harried leave-taking of the house, the nodding to acquaintances as we walk up the hill, and then the lingering in the playground for a catch-up with other parents until the janitor moves us on.

Working from home, sometimes it is the only non-family social interaction I have on a weekday.

Lesley Kara’s recently published page-turner, The Rumour, already a bestselling ebook, begins in just such a setting.

‘I haven’t got time to stand around in a gossipy huddle with this lot,’ thinks single mother Joanna, as she leaves her little boy, Alfie, at school. ‘But then I catch sight of Debbie Barton’s face — the way her jaw’s just dropped — and my curiosity gets the better of me.’

The rumour that is being dripped into her fellow parent’s ears is that Sally McGowan, a notorious Sixties child killer (think Mary Bell), who stabbed a little boy when she was 10, is living under a false identity in their seaside town.

Joanna casually mentions the rumour to her book group and to Alfie’s father, an investigative journalist. Then the rumour takes on a relentless momentum of its own.

Speculations swirl, blameless reputations are besmirched, distrust simmers then erupts in nasty incidents. Joanna begins to worry for her and Alfie’s safety.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 17th-century-set American classic The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is forced by her Puritan neighbours to wear an ‘A’ for adulteress because she has borne a child out of wedlock. Rumours abound as to who the father might be, but Hester refuses to give up his identity.

Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock is set in an 18th-century London where gossip pages flourish. Here, reputation is a currency and a rumour of a sudden loss of income, a sexual impropriety or an unforeseen debt can ruin a person within hours.

So let’s hesitate a moment before indulging in speculation, to consider not just the ramifications of muckspreading, but also our capacity for reinvention and rehabilitation.

 

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