9 thoughts on “A Different City – Tanith Lee

    Act One
    Scene 1

    “And the yellow gown, catching in the mirror a tinge of pink and emerald fire, charmed her back to soft expectant joy.”

    An intriguingly off-kilter Marseilles-type genius loci, it seems so far, called Marcheval. A wedding, with Lucide at 38, older than her husband Guillaume (Billy) by ten of those years, their characters and financial circumstances established in what the reader fears may become an abortive marital consummation night in her close-to-attic chamber…
    The delicately snagged style is like her yellow gown.

  2. Scenes 2 & 3

    “It might still be 1680, and in some of the bleaker holes, it was.”

    From the Avenue of Aviaries to the Avenue of Opened Cages, this is a dire dystopia that only a slant of some past era can contain, worse even than our own future today, an anachronistic Proustian past where its version of Proust is a rat-infested darkness, but there are colours and textures remaining from better eras, alternate, parallel or real-time, despite Billy’s lust for forced defiant spiteful drunken targeted spewing upon such coloured textures, after ranging between resentful lover and his new wife, a wife who knows which of her slices is better buttered, which beast is best, her husband or someone even worse than him.

  3. ACT TWO
    Scene 1

    There is starting to be something disturbingly or structurally aberrant about this work, whether authorially intentional or not. You see, Lucide’s brother’s private narration to her new husband Gui-Billy of his sister’s childhood, is either a fabrication as an excuse for financial strictures or the plot’s truth about girlish bullying etc., where kohl and rouge inexplicably led to Lucide’s indelibly grey complexion. While Lucide’s brother’s own wife – Grete or Gretel – is described as an “atrocious dyed wife.”

  4. Scene 2
    Scene 1

    “…the house had become a syrupy yellow.”

    Mercenary melodrama, not only Queen-In-Yellow, but various other colours from the original kohl and rouge, a monstrous angel-bird evolved from the opened cages to wreak vengeance woman to woman, both women in the shadow of cruelly cynical man. Names liberally used both as diminutive and whole, often together.
    This rich text, sometimes clumsy, is both so strange and so awful, it almost becomes greater than it really is. Something untoward or darkly idiosyncratic transcends this text; it is a question of discovering it.
    The nipper-spectacles, notwithstanding.

  5. Scene 2
    Scene 3
    Final Scene
    Note of Acknowledgement

    “‘Not without your nippers on. Just a minute.’
    Holding the skirt of the yellow gown…”

    As strange and clumsy and lethal as Chambers, chambers with cages (& a whole life’s oblique retribution?)


  6. IDOLL

    Chapters One to Eight

    “I, Dolfi, was brought to the Horrible House, in a covered carriage with two horses (of which I was frightened), when I was six years old.”

    …whence flows the narration of this abandoned orphan girl, thus building the redolent strength — inadvertently perhaps (because why should she care?) — of the genius loci of Marcheval from the previous work, its cathedral, its customs, its ambiance. Of the family, too, of which she is now part. And when she is ten, she is old enough to accompany the rest of them on a ‘pilgrimage’ to the house’s Attic where is met something or someone that would be a spoiler should I divulge it.
    If I say so, against my expectations, I easily made myself, for sake of this review, feel fearful and entranced by the work’s feminal Ligottiana. It holds a promise for more of such in its second half as yet to be read…

  7. Chapters Nine to Sixteen

    Dolfi, our feisty, impetuous, stoical, almost reluctant narrator of her own growing-up does not seem to suffer fools gladly, or to suffer easily curses from her own body or those cousins around her who supposedly had rescued her from the streets. She takes to visiting the Attic on her own, having been able to pick locks from the age of four. When the machinations behind her grown-up fate eventually become clear, she reaches an apotheosis with the Attic or what the Attic holds, one that is intrinsic to the freehold author as well as to the author’s leasehold narrator, whereby Dolfi and I merge…in a coming gestalt greater than death…a different city to the one outside.
    So much more expected to be memorable than ever was expected.


    Prologue, One, Two & Three

    “From our youth our own ghosts already live in us.”

    A story of the painter Alice Pender (aka Alice Pen-Devon) aka M’Alice, and her younger brother Robert Pen-Devon, friar whom in childhood and in adulthood, she seeks to avenge against others their cruelty upon him. This is a story of Aesthetics, together with a soupçon of Dorian Gray, and of Alice’s travels from England to the still accretive genius-loci of Marcheval where Alice defies her legendary beauty of a sitter to see the work-in-progress portrait before it is completed, the sitter who had been proximate cause of Robert’s seeming suicide….
    It is as if I will not see the complete story till it is complete, a clinching of a gestalt in hindsight, like most of my reviews, here ideally suited. But who knows? (I feel sometimes that I doff and don nipper-specs each time I put down or pick up this book.)
    I sense again the blend of Dolfi and what resided in the Attic, as painting and subject? Or Painter and subject?
    This particular text has some tricks and surprises in striking turns of phrase that seem to define or demarcate Tanith Lee herself.

  9. Four, Five & Epilogue

    “One lynx may always detect the darling, dangerous patterns of a fellow lynx.”

    And I sense that with this review, somehow. A shape of Tanith looking from her Attic, an Absence that is a Presence, looking at what I write about those patterns, their gestalt. Most real-time reviews I write are designed not only for the book’s readers past and future but also, and perhaps predominantly, for its author. No less here.

    The close of this masterwork is a Whistler-and-I-shall-come-to-you, a study in grey as well as Gray. Its description of the central painting is probably one of the best I have ever read, and I should have guessed, since its sitter wore grey when sitting for it, subject and painter, story and author, become one, by the end, and reader taken up, too, as part of the print that finally slips off the page like melting ink and into sweet nothingness.
    The painting itself is strikingly both grotesquely avant garde and traditionally representational, a powerful force that comes off the page at you, in more ways than one. The side-issues of the woman painter’s brother and the gay art dealers are spear carriers for that culmination, the power of sibling love, feminal vengeance and the art business, all grist to the mill of ageing, rejuvenation, death and resurrection, not necessarily in that order. With oblique gender concerns that transcend feminism.
    With a sense of something else, something Ligottian, not quite grasped…
    “…like the sinking ship abandoning its single giant rat.”


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