23 thoughts on “Written With My Left Hand – Nugent Barker


    “Now and then he looked up at his guest, his grey eyes focused beyond mere externals; and it seemed as though they lodged themselves in Mr Bond’s very bones.”

    A strange story, excelling even Aickman’s hospitality with literary strangeness; this hospitality for the hungry and tired wayfarer from three brothers becomes quite overbearing, starting off delightfully with optimum hospitality but then wearing thin thicker and thicker; they are landlords each with an inn across the locale, and not just as headrests. Not strange, though, that the word brother starts with broth. The brothest broth. A leminscate of a story, triangulated between the loops.
    I think I have just discovered a new literary hero. The only writer in the genre of strange strange stories?


    This is probably one of the most charmingly poignant tales you will ever pull.
    The pungently elided relationship between the man called Bidmead and the pig called Stanley Hutchinson, the serial swallowing of not only their interlocution but also the tale itself, its gold coin from stomach to stomach…

  3. imageTHE SIX

    “…whenever he stretched out an arm, exceedingly calmly and slowly, delicately shaping his fingers, it was always as though he had no need to steady himself, but to steady the thing that he touched.”

    A shocking short short as a grizzled pub drunk wanders the breakwaters at dusk, as he often does, with his shotgun…. Anything more said would be a spoiler for this genuine masterpiece.

    “Groyne after groyne: as far as his sight could reach, there were groynes, closing together with the distance, and he had seen them, clambered over them, stepped over them into white puddles, or skirted the ends of them, all the years of his life.”

  4. I and My Wife Isobel

    “One evening in late September, I and my wife Isobel were walking the six miles from Mullington to Froon, over the Mendip Hills, and my old bones were beginning to tell on me.”

    An apparently happy married couple walk home from a friend’s funeral – but this short short as microcosm turns into a frighteningly violent conflux of eccentric characters fresh and alive from a John Cowper Powys land of Somerset as gratuitous macrocosm!


    “…and he had fled in a high frenzy up the staircase, to fashion the moonbeams of his bedroom into the forms and murmurs of ghosts. The moon left his window, and went her way; but still he sat on, round-eyed, probing shadows of the immediate past.”

    This is a magnificent depiction of a ghost story describing itself. The prose is sumptuous, musical, giving literature one of the classic characters it deserves: WHESSOE.
    If I tell you more, I would utterly turn it into a mere wind’s whistling…and the bit I have quoted from it above is not nearly so good as the rest of it.


    ‘”All things run back into the sea,’ whispered my friend. ‘The sea itself runs back into the sea.’”

    A man turns up in a seaside holiday resort during the winter and sporadically opens his box of sunshine. Wonderful. But with a telling ‘dying fall’ finale.


    A hilarious tale of Bizarro …

    ‘You may call me, if you like, Bizarro: Pedro Alonzo Calleja, the Marqués de Bizarro. In your language, bizarre—what does it mean? Eccentric; fantastic. Well, in the Spanish it means handsome and brave; and in the Basque—a beard.

    In S America, back in Spain, watched by myself as one of the other characters…

    ‘Let me tell you that it is not necessary to see a woman’s eyes, to know that they are looking at you: such attention is observed in the set of the head, in the stillness of a hand. Across the throbbing of the church I felt her lashes against mine.”

    “but, let me tell you, señor, a man is always wiser than a woman.”

    And a study of lovers’ suicide pacts – and the nature of cowardice. Some lovely Quixotic descriptions and plot twists.

    A bit like Rhys Hughes’ works but with the chivalry and manliness taken out.


    “At three o’clock in the morning, a young man stood thumping at Death’s Door. It had been a long climb up the hill; and at the summit he found the door closed against him.”

    A short short where the wind blows but the clouds do not move. And an ending to die for.

  9. Gertie Macnamara

    “and she’d got knockety hands, and clappety feet,”

    “and Timothy told my father years later that folks can never see witches out o’ doors, without they’ve seen ’em fust between walls.”

    “You couldn’t tell door from wall. ’Twas hanging with brushes and eggwhisks and pots and pans, and even the door-handle looked as if it was up for sale.”

    An engaging tale of a boy who meets some witches at the black mill. Full of idiosyncratic prose that absolutely works with its subject-matter of witchery and witchery ploys. Syrupping the pizon, pizonning the syrup, and various permutations, and a love triangle’s ploys between. And myself with a cough, today!


    “‘Den pile um up agäun, Mary! Täake um all down, and push yer bed agäunst de door as you done yasterday, and pile up de farniture on en, säafer and tighter!’”

    A genuinely terrifying vignette of two sisters, one an invalid in bed obsessed with the mountain of furniture and household bric-a-brac that she makes her sister to build, unbuild and rebuild against the bedroom door in seeking the optimum barrier against an intruder…
    A masterpiece.

  11. Out of Leading-Strings

    “The youngest child had lost her doll; but many of the people in the streets had lost their parcels, or their buses, or their heads, or themselves, or their reputations,…”

    A charming story of a family in Mary Poppins type times and social class, without the magic, with three children, two nurses and the parents. Tells of their days outs, their tantrums, their quaint obsessions. It is in four parts, beautifully odd, often implicitly dark, on one occasion explicitly gory, and it is quite the thing.


    “‘Ber-tie? Break-fust!’
    She could hear the voices of her neighbours. The dark morning seemed to invest each one of them with a peculiar detachment: the voice of Mrs Parslow; the voice of Molly Gunn; Lizzy Dixon’s querulous outcry; the measured, mournful tones of Thomas Cooling; Macquisten’s brutal laughter; Nancy Tillit, Arthur Tillit’s widow, calling stridently to Lily and Jack; the united, youthful clamour of the Glydds; Henry Glazer’s mincing, almost gentlemanly accents; the quick, high, frequent giggle of Edie MacKatter.
    ‘Ber-tie? Break-fust!’”

    An intense, Joycean, semi-colon textured threnody of Guy Fawkes’ night in the old days and a woman taking her son Bertie’s GUY through the crowded, child-busy streets, seeing a real house fire, and firemen, and a policeman who takes off the mask from her GUY. And who is there? Someone she mourns or someone she carries?


    Arvo Part once wrote some music called ‘Sarah was Ninety Years Old’. Here Sarah approaches one hundred years old as her family gathers around her, including her slightly younger sister, Emma Trustworthy. But some shenanigans with the Zeno’s Paradox of the Mortality Table makes this a very amusing story….

  14. A Passage in the Life of Dr Wilks

    “…and I cannot count the number of journeys that I made to the world, only to be turned away by the flutter of an eye-lid.”

    The dance of death, a declared dead man’s conversation with Mr de Ath regarding his choice between ‘peace at last’ or ‘I am not ready to go’, aided or hindered by a doctor, a nurse and her mirror.
    Engagingly, amusingly eschatological. Poignantly dark. As is this book’s whole gestalt so far.

  15. The Strange Disappearance of Monsieur Charbo

    I wanted to choose a quote from this story, but then I felt I needed to quote the whole story. It is utterly perfect. How have I missed reading this author till now? This story of a French restaurant, told with a Proustian flair, is not about memories reclaimed, but of changes noted, i.e. each person is not a Proustian self but someone that morphs completely into someone else every few years. Which makes descrying the murderer almost impossible, soft or hard Brexit notwithstanding.
    I cannot do justice to this story. It just flowed through me with witty brilliance and culinary tractability, a fashionable mellow nightmare of identities lost and crimes unpunished.


    “But time was short—and so was life itself, with birth, marriage, and death almost on the top of each other—and today she was working roses on to her grand-niece’s wedding trousseau.”

    A perfectly rhapsodic pointlessness of beauty, mortality and immortality. Rose petals returning to the growing gestalt of a rose they once constituted, under the gaze of an old lady who lost her needle, as all seamstresses often do. It is worth reading again and again till it comes back as a story for everyone to read, not just you.

  17. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

    “Then I tried the latch, and found myself at once in a room that seemed to spread over the whole house. For all I knew, it was the house. The endless sagging beams helped to make it look like that, I think.”

    Well, I know this review site is headed with, inter alia, “representing the passion of the moment”, well, here it is – possibly the most frightening ghost story told by someone in front of a roaring fire, later morphing into a nightmare based on the nonsense of a nursery rhyme. It has everything you would hope or dread or expect, a haunted nursery, a fat-womanish pursuer, a secret garden and more. It is as good as all that sounds and should not be missed. Glad I never missed it, by the skin of my teeth!


    “Accompanied by the creaking of stairs, Everingham descended to the ground floor of the Marine Hotel, Shorehampton. Passing through the coffee-room, his thin and languid figure looked as unsubstantial as a ghost.”

    They keep on coming! This story is an Aickman-like GEM. Better! Seriously.
    Should have been in the Hyde Hotel anthology. An end of the season seaside story, a man staying at the Marine Hotel, his consciousness and involuted dreams a möbius section of the horizon. A synaesthesia of hearing, hearing the distant click of the camera of a group photo on the beach. But that can give you no clue. Read it!


    “His mood for whatever book he was reading never lasted for long.”

    A delightful reminder of the time when wandering around a library and staring at the spines was like reading them by means of a 1950s form of osmosis…
    The twist in the tail of this short short was, by comparison, almost incidental.


    “; I, too, joined her, I let myself go, I fairly bellowed;”

    One of those sort of Tales of The Unexpected, a hilariously absurdist one with far more power than any TV drama, where a landlady tells her lodger about the previous tenant of a room: a Sailor with twelve parrots and a penchant for a dark lady he did away with, all told towards a vocally accompanied crescendo. Frighteningly, a *recurrent* crescendo!
    (The man with acute hearing in Aimless Afternoon would have been deafened.)

  21. Life and Death of the Princess Gertrude

    “Her life—her body—was to age naturally, in an actual manner, from that moment when I had brought her into being.”

    “; alas—before I knew where I was, I had contracted an earache, which required that I should have olive oil and laudanum poured everlastingly into the painful cavity; my head was swathed in a bandage from ear to ear; my temperature, too, had strange bouts of rising and falling, and I returned to my bed, where for a long time I lay very deaf to the world.”

    Despite the astonishing quality of some of the previous stories, this substantive one is, in many ways, the best left to last. The only one that could follow a crescendo,
    How long has this masterpiece existed without my reading it so as to bring it into actual being? The truth is surely that it has never existed till now. I expect to hear the literary canons fire tonight from the battlements of Gertrude’s Castle in recognition of its existence. It is a VERY clever work about a writer creating, from his conception on top of a Peckham bus, a fictional character, tantamount to a female version of Sherlock Holmes, a woman starting off in Germany then brought by her author home to him, almost a love story, a poignant tragedy, too, her life in real time lived according to his pen, but that gives no clue how BELIEVABLE she is, despite the disarming humour and blatant artifice used to create her. It is beautifully written, flowing almost unnoticeably into the brain. I am shocked that this story, indeed this whole great book, seems to need to be brought off the page of my review into tangible existence. Ironic that I have read it as kindling…. Shame on me. But in view of the final story, paradoxically appropriate that I did.


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