“Look Up There!” by H. Russell Wakefield

My review of ‘The Red Lodge’: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/17/the-red-lodge-by-h-russell-wakefield/

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“Look Up There!”

“For whom do you lodge the responsibility for the somewhat less palatable spectacles provided by bull-fights and battle-fields?”

God or the Devil, or Dualism, or simply Nothing? This story, intentionally or not, presents the flag of surrender waved to none of these perhaps, but simply to the storms the earth naturally brings upon us. But now, since the times of HRW, not so much natural as man-made? Man is the only God, I wonder? But we continue figuratively to look up with increasing fright at the unknown, the indefinite, the ambiguous…

This is well-told, beautifully couched in prose, a story of a civil servant, Mr Packard,  on sick leave from the Home Office because of pressure of work (or the pressure of his own overlords or ladies  there!) and he recurrently spots a couple of unusual folk…and this is one helluva opening paragraph to this story… just savour it endlessly…

“Why DID he always stare up? And why did he so worry Mr Packard by doing it? The latter had come to Brioni to read and to rest, and to take the bare minimum of notice of his fellow-men. Doctor’s orders! And here he was preoccupied, almost obsessed, by the garish idiosyncrasy of this tiny, hen-eyed fellow. He was not a taking specimen of humanity, for his forehead was high and receding, his nose beaked fantastically and the skin stretched so tightly across it that it seemed as if it might be ripped apart at any moment. Then, he had a long, thin-lipped mouth always slightly open, and a pointed beard which, like his hair, was fussy and unkempt. He was for ever in the company of a stalwart yokel — a south-country enlisted Guardsman to the life; a slow-moving, massive, red-faced plebeian who seemed a master of the desirable art of aphasia, for no word ever seemed to pass his lips. But, good heavens! how he ploughed and furrowed the menu!”

And the tiny man eventually tells at storytelling length to Packard outside on the Adriatic coast, telling it during an encroaching real-time storm, of his visit to Gauntry Hall, and the tradition of never stepping foot in it on New Year’s Eve ….until, with some parvenus called Relf, he did just that thing! It would spoil it for me (or even for HRW via the tiny man!) to describe what then had induced him, ever since, to  be looking up (at an angle of 35 degrees, happening to be the temperature today in my own real time near Frinton), looking up at or for something fearful… The “Bogey Man”,  some outcome of the “Feudal System”, the ‘parvenus’ called Relf who once owned Gauntry Hall, or something “I had to breast my way through [it] as through a hostile tide” towards whatever God or Devil or Nothing that resides on the other side? A page of white blankness or something writ upon?

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Above image by Tony Lovell for The HA of HA (2011)

My reviews of separate older horror stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/13/separate-horror-stories-from-many-years-ago/

BETTER NOT by Elizabeth Taylor

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“Another day gone. A sense of achievement in this. Going cheerfully towards the grave.”

The male POV is amid the wondrously ET-drifty garden and house, children, mother, he a bachelor who is a family friend and done many duties to the whole family, now thinking of telling the mother in the family how he loves her before he himself leaving off his “last leave” for that wet wartime tent, I guess. And he decides better not.

“Begin to hum, then you find you are singing and all the knots in your throat are untied …” he had earlier told the child in the family, and then he thought of his reading matter only connected to the station he was leaving from… “King’s Cross. That station suggests Infinity, Forster says. Do you remember?”
And to ironically match with some strange power of coincidence yesterday’s L.P. Hartley butterfly-cull in a killing bottle HERE… (better fly not?)

“About being a butterfly and not having very long to live.”

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Full context of this review: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/elizabeth-taylor-stories-2/

Above image found beneath the dustjacket of a Tartarus Press publication.

THE PENGUIN BOOKS OF BRITISH SHORT STORIES

Edited by Philip Hensher

My serial real-time reviews of every single story in these three mighty anthologies, in this order…

  1. https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/12/penguin-books-of-british-short-stories/
  2. https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/2022/04/26/penguin-books-of-british-short-stories-2/
  3. https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/26609-2/
  4. https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/915-2/
  5. https://etepsed.wordpress.com/1207-2/
  6. https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/kingsley-amis-masons-life/
  7. https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/35138-2/
  8. https://weirdtongue.wordpress.com/the-penguin-books-of-the-british-short-story/
  9. https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/the-penguin-books-of-the-british-short-story/
  10. https://cernzoo.wordpress.com/the-penguin-books-of-the-british-short-story/

Also…

The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story
Edited by Philip Hensher

  1. https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/26/the-penguin-book-of-the-contemporary-british-short-story/
  2. https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/2022/04/14/the-penguin-book-of-the-contemporary-british-short-story-part-two/

Dorothy Edwards: A Country House

“Night does not round things off. Night is a distorter.”

This story is a major short story discovery for me, especially after reading, by chance, a similar discovery: THE ISLAND by L.P. Hartley HERE a day or so ago, about a supposed electrician and emotional matters between two men and a woman, involving Hugo Wolf music! There the Hartley story’s own metaphorical equivalent to the flagstaff of meaning also flew, as it were, “senselessly”, at the end… (Aickman echoes, too.)
Here it is a man as narrator dwelling on his wife…
“It takes many years to close up all the doors to your soul. And then a woman comes along, and at the first sight of her you push them all open, and you become a child again.”
And he wants to care for her, and put electricity into the country house, where no drought, as here today in my own real-time, would prevent a stream in the grounds fulfilling the power for an electric substation…
“‘There is enough water,’ he said, ‘and I suppose it is fuller than this sometimes?’
‘Yes, when it rains,’ said my wife.”
The electrician is a musical man and matches the musical tastes of the wife, and the narrator feels the electrician is spiritually outside the plain utility work that he oversees, the work with the substation…”forming a sort of triangle with the hypotenuse underground.” – “Nothing but a yellow brick hut with steps to go down, and an opening like the mouth of a letter-box in the wall nearest the stream.”
Doubling such work with a holiday when staying at the country house; it is not on an island but is a place with deceptive lake in the distance that the electrician thinks is the sea…
“What can anyone do with a strange man in the drawing-room but play the piano to him? She played a Chopin nocturne.” That night distorter.
“…he later sung Brahms” and discussed Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. And one particular Hugo Wolf song emblemises the conflicting emotions involved… and he stood to attention like a flagstaff with elbow as flag?

“She played for him, and he stood up at attention, except that, with his right arm bent stiffly at the elbow… […] People do not change their lives suddenly. That is, they don’t except in literature. And now I feel at peace about it.”

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Full context of this review: https://cernzoo.wordpress.com/the-penguin-books-of-the-british-short-story/

NIGHT FEARS by L.P. Hartley

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“Now he scarcely noticed its blankness. His thoughts were few but pleasant to dwell on, and in the solitude they had the intensity of sensations. He arranged them in cycles, the rotation coming at the end of ten paces or so when he turned to go back over his tracks. He enjoyed the thought that held his mind for the moment,…”

A short but thoughtful anecdote as an atmospheric and theatrical theme-and-variations on The Thought. A nightwatchman with his brazier who is looking after an area marked by seemingly random poles. An anxious soliloquy about his wife and how he sometimes pulled the wool over her eyes about the exciting stories he told about being a nightwatchman in wartime and now turned on its head as to what she might be doing while he is doing this job — or a dream of meeting a stranger or, indeed, an actual meeting with a stranger as a confession / fulfilment of fears while his friend the coke brazier runs out of coke. His own stream of thought halted by a change in point of view of narrative omniscience towards possible lethal consequence.
I noted, as random areas of my own thought, the red hankie around his neck that once served to carry his supper and the thought of blue air-raid blinds being used to wrap parcels as an aid to his thrift for wife and kids…

“As the stranger took no notice, but continued to sit wrapped in thought,…”

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Full context of above review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/08/04/the-travelling-grave-and-other-stories-by-l-p-hartley/

Advice Needed

I have just retrieved these four books (owned for many years) from a back-burner bookshelf…
What I am interested in, if anyone can give me any advice, are the stories by these authors (not the more famous stories!) to which I should give my attention with regard to gestalt real-time reviewing….

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The Residence at Whitminster by M.R. James

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“On the table near the doctor’s elbow was a green cloth, and upon it what he would have called a silver standish—a tray with inkstands—“

I absorbed, at first, the backstory as its own frontstory (of two youths, one called Saul, meddling with some ‘game’ of ‘second sight’ in the residence’s garden), leading to the main story involving Dr Oldys and his niece Mary, and all this is achieved by dint of the naively instinctive  narrator somehow real-time reviewing for me an eventual gestalt of evil. And I do not use the word ‘evil’ lightly there, as I have received  from this work more of a sense of pervasive evil than in any other M.R. James story. Not just an experience of frissons from a ghost story nor even a rollercoaster of a horror story, but an experience of sheer evil. And this is not lightened by the otherwise amusing stream-of-consciousness monologues of Mrs Maple (outbursts that she uses as a series of off-the-point  tripswitches for her confused memory) but she nevertheless conveys some of this evil. I surely need not describe to you in detail, myself, with my own tricksy memory, the well-evoked nature of the eponymous residence and the characters themselves over generations because these evocations are readily available in the story itself. I will just finish with a hint of some of its ingredients, such as the ‘sawflies’, the ‘talisman’ and the ‘black cockerel’, and more hints below as example quotations from the text, quotations that (beware!) may be spoilers or worse!  — ingredients that build and build and build towards  an eventual bathetic, yes, bathetic ending, but an ending  that was therefore of some relief to me from the evil!  — despite the promise of a later “Jack-in the-box” that might spring out at me one day! (But who is Miss Bates?)

 “…and say on my authority that he is to stop the clock chimes at sunset:”

“Her husband had told her often enough that it would make a suitable sacrifice to Æsculapius;”

“…ichneumon fly (Ophion obscurum), and not the true sawfly, is meant.”

“….constantly turning a pale face to look behind him, as if he feared a pursuer: and, indeed, pursuers were following hard after him. Their shapes were but dimly seen, their number—three or four, perhaps, only guessed. I suppose they were on the whole more like dogs than anything else, but dogs such as we have seen they assuredly were not.”

“…a mass of linen neatly folded: upon which, as I looked with curiosity that began to be tinged with horror, I perceived a movement in it, and a pink hand was thrust out of the folds and began to grope feebly in the air.”

“‘What I call a sawfly,’ I said very patiently, ‘is a red animal, like a daddy-longlegs, but not so big, perhaps an inch long, perhaps less. It is very hard in the body, and to me’— […] ‘…an insect’s leg, by the shape of it: but, Lord, what a size! Why the beast must have been as tall as I am. And now you tell me sawflies are an inch long or less.’”

“Only to come near the door and you’d hear them pattering up against it, and once you opened it, dash at you, they would, as if they’d eat you. […] …and them that was with him, why they were such as would strip the skin from the child in its grave; and a withered heart makes an ugly thin ghost, says Mr. Simpkins. But they turned on him at the last, he says, and there’s the mark still to be seen on the minster door where they run him down.”

“Mr. Simpkins’s grandfather to see him out of his window of a dark night going about from one grave to another in the yard with a candle, and them that was with him following through the grass at his heels: and one night him to come right up to old Mr. Simpkins’s window that gives on the yard and press his face up against it to find out if there was any one in the room that could see him:”

“Safe bind, safe find,…”

(Miss Bates is a character in Jane Austen.)

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My other reviews of M.R. James: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/my-ongoing-reviews-of-m-r-james-stories/

Above image is by Tony Lovell for The HA of HA (2011)

I SPY A STRANGER (1966) by Jean Rhys

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This is a remarkable monologue by a woman couched within a dialogue with her visiting sister during the second world war when blackout curtains featured at night. She describes vividly a cousin called Laura who had arrived to live with her as a refugee from central Europe, with strange behaviour that started virulent gossip and threats about her in the area as if she is one of the enemy, and she has now been hived off to some sort of ‘sanatorium’. Above are some of Laura’s handwritten notes that form an intrinsic backdrop to the monologue. And the garden roses ironically and tellingly as some sort of recurrent objective-correlative of obsession. And we have powerfully evoked for us our own world today where a “nasty spirit” is about. “Something has gone terribly wrong. I believe we are all possessed by the Devil . . .”

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Full context of this review: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/1366-2/