Read an extract from the WHSmith fiction book of the month Q

Q Chapter 1

It’s impossible to know what you would do to escape a shitty marriage and give your daughters a fair shot at success. Would you pay money? Trade the comfort of house and home? Lie, cheat, or steal? I’ve asked myself these questions; I suppose many mothers do. One question I haven’t asked, mostly because I don’t like the answer. Not a bit. I have too strong a survival instinct. Always have.

Last night, I spoke to Malcolm again after the girls had gone to bed. I tried to put a light spin on things, to not turn him from phlegmatic to angry with my words.

“I’ve had enough of this, Malc,” I said. “Freddie’s had enough of it.”

He looked up from his paperwork long enough to meet my eyes. “Had enough of what?”

“Of the numbers. Of the pressure. Of all of it.”

“Noted,” he said and buried himself again in pages of reports and memos. I think I heard a relieved sigh when I left to go to bed.

Things haven’t been good here for a long time.

I almost can’t remember how it felt before we all started carrying the Q numbers around with us, like an extra and unnatural print on the tips of our fingers, a badge of honor for some, a mark of shame for others. I suppose, after more than a decade, you can get used to anything. Like cell phones. Remember not having the entire universe in your back pocket? Remember sitting on the floor, talking to your best friend about nothing, unwinding a curly cord only to watch it kink up again? Remember all that? I do and I don’t. Blockbuster two- day video rentals and bookstores the size of an airplane hangar are distant memories, faded impressions of life before stream­ing and same- day delivery.

It’s the same way with the Q numbers, although we’ve carried numeric strings with us in one form or another for most of our lives: our social security numbers for tax returns; our home telephone numbers in case an emergency call to Mom became necessary; our grade point averages that would fill boxes in dozens of college application forms. Men, in a clothing store, became thirty- four long or sixteen- and‑a‑half, thirty- three. Women became dress sizes: six, eight, fourteen. In the more upscale shops, we were our measurements. In doctors’ offices, we were our height and weight, watching one number creep down while the other number crept up.

We’ve always been our numbers. DOB. GPA. SSN. BP (systolic and diastolic). BMI. SAT and GRE and GMAT and LSAT; 35‑22‑35 (Marilyn, damn her); 3 (the Babe). PINs and CSCs and expiration dates. Jenny’s phone number from that old song. And, for the extreme among us, the entire sixteen- digit sequence on our Visa cards. Our ages. Our net worths. Our IQs.

Q, the explosive new dystopian thriller from the bestselling author of VOX is out in paperback now, and has been chosen as a WHSmith fiction book of the month. You can order a copy here: hyperurl.co/QWHSmith

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