11 thoughts on “Death Makes Strangers Of Us All – R.B. Russell


    “Marianne found it impossible to get back to her Henning Mankell book. It suddenly grated on her that the novel was set in Sweden during a heat-wave, while in Britain it was snowing. She was also annoyed to discover that she had previously been reading the Mankell books ‘out of sequence’. But the cause of her discontentment wasn’t really the book.”

    This is Marianne’s attempt at finding a job, and finds one as night porter in a hotel whereby she can also read her books, being a big reader, but things happen in the night that keep her busy and away from her books. (She also declines into drinking at night clubs when not on duty.) There is a well-dressed woman who turns up recurrently in the small hours needing a room each time for a different young worse-for-wear male escort to sleep it off in. If I tell you more, I would be telling you this plainspoken yet genuinely cloying story myself! In fact I might even be in it! Not sure I have read it tidily enough, though, in order to say that. But, it is worth reading, to see for yourself. The more the merrier for whom to clear things up.


    “I remember that Pagham was the dullest, most boring place in the whole world. Miserable beaches, artificial ‘Mr. Whippy’ ice cream and faded deck-chairs…”

    A bit like some of the places in the area where I was born in 1948 and where I have now lived again for the last twenty odd years. I call it, personally, the Last Balcony… one due to collapse when the shadow at last reaches its goal, the goal that is me. This story is about someone’s brother, who has had an adventurous life, a chequered, worldwide, semi-criminal, somewhat blighted life, and he has resorted to a converted railway carriage on one such beach. The narrator is his brother who happens to be staying with him when the shadow, in the shape of a storm, finally claims him. I loved the atmosphere. But I would, wouldn’t I? Hated it, too.

    (My own End of the World: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com where the photos scroll down forever, if you dare.)

  3. I read and reviewed the next story in January 2014 (now fitting into the comments I made about the previous story) and below is what I wrote about it in the context of the ‘Terror Tales of the Seaside’…


    “…and I felt that some kind of milestone had been passed.”
    A story of a seaside boarding house, a young boy with his recently widowed mother. The boy’s emotions are believably and poignantly painted as he plays amusements on the pier while his mother plays bingo. [I, too, when I was 5 to 7 years old in the 1950s, was often in this situation, my mother, father and myself living at that time in the seaside resort of Walton-on-the-Naze: imageand my Mum met me from school each afternoon and we quite regularly went on the pier and I played the now old-fashioned amusements whilst she played bottle-top bingo and won the odd trashy prize from the bingo-caller. Incredible that this story should evoke such memories.]
    However, this story turns its own milestone, with a vivid ‘Brighton Rock’ scenario of criminality upon the boy and effectively upon his mother and her set of lotions and unguents back in the boarding-house. The ending is a perfect ‘dying fall’, in its musical sense as well as its literal one.
    “Under the pier it stank of rotting stuff, but on the pier it was more enjoyable.”


    “They were like ghosts who refused to fulfil their duty to haunt.”

    Now, this is one of those stories. You know what I mean. One where you are aware almost straightaway that it is a landmark read. One of those stories that in about twenty years’ time would have been reviewed by me for my list of reviews on this site of Older or Classic Books. It is about a woman who seems to find herself living in an inscrutable European town, akin to Ishiguro’s scenario in The Unconsoled (possibly my favourite novel) but not so akin as to make me feel comfortable within the scenario here. It is yet somehow comfortable to be as uncomfortable as this novel makes me feel. The sense of building a gestalt from dreams and memories to establish one’s unknown identity and backstory, coupled with a precarious threat of subsidence, deceptive streets, poignant yearning for a particular scene in a recurrent dream, transgression of the city’s rules by yourself with impending authorities about to bring you to book. Brought to book in more ways than one, with an attenuated population of other characters, but believable ones when they do appear. Dust and greyness. And if I told you the ending that would be the ultimate spoiler. And perhaps it is.


    “From a distance he didn’t appear to be seventy,”

    Another story bordering on potential landmark memories of reading it. Here, a bird’s eye view of the sixties and that decade’s beautiful people, at parties across Europe, amid nuclear threats of the Cold War and illicit sex or drugs, or both. This septuagenarian takes a new such view away from his dreary existence in a bookstore, and the big opportunity he missed, that party to end all parties in the Austrian mountains, that extremely weird or deadpan real event, a ‘dying fall’ towards a trepanning for the brain or the open arms of the optimum erstwhile self. But who is that bearded catalyst? Well, that was possibly me again, when I had a darker beard, still tidying up behind stories.

  6. IT’S OVER

    “Unlucky at cards…”

    A telling story in Toledo of a man’s abandonment by a loved one for another man and then getting on with his life, including playing cards with other men, including that other man. A tenuous link of misreading from one to the other, clouded by drinking and dubious smoking, or in dreams. Not only the lonely are running scared of others but also they are of themselves and what they might do to others…or have already done, without knowing? How long must I dream, for death makes strangers of us all?

  7. I read and reviewed the next story in September 2016, and below is what I wrote about it in that context…



    An impulsive journey by Tonya on a train to the half-hour seaside. While Michael goes to see someone in Warrigg about buying a stamp collection, collecting stamps on a one-in one-out basis (for budget housekeeping purposes).
    It’s not a long story, but it is a delightfully full plot. But to cut a full plot thin, she gets mixed up on a special private journey – a slow motion last train journey, even as slow as Zeno’s Paradox, by the well-respected, now deceased Mr Godbolt, owner of the railway with its railway smuts and stamps, not a bolt for God but more like a dawdle to death!image
    A trackside landscape impermanent as a forsaken caravan, with a blockish, vaguely industrial building on the horizon; she needs to abort her trip by jumping and then walk back along the track to Warrigg to find Michael where, apparently, Godbolt’s journey was so slow it had not even started!
    All sounds daft when told back to you. But when actually reading it, it makes more and more delightful sense.
    (As an irrelevant aside, Cyprus was noted for its railway stamps and the above otherwise plot-assonant image is from PF Jeffery.)


    “‘Why don’t you suggest he turns it off?’ he suggested to Henry from across the room.”

    Now, this is one of those stories. You know what I mean. One where you are aware almost straightaway that it is a landmark read. One of those stories that in about twenty years’ time would have been reviewed by me for my list of reviews on this site of Older or Classic Books. Sorry about that déjà vu, but I genuinely have such a similar sentiment about ‘One Man’s Wisdom’ as I did above about this book’s earlier title story, and perhaps even more so! The story itself also has a sense of déjà vu for me, and I somehow feel that, as a much younger person, I used to have dozing or waking dreams inspired by this story. I simply know that is impossible, but it is what I truly feel about it. And it is utterly haunting, beyond measure. It tells of Henry returned to the place where he lived as a boy, and where his father still runs an ironmonger’s shop, and surly old Kingsley the only employee left. The engineering works which Henry’s old bedroom once overlooked has now been demolished. They are awaiting planning permission to also knock down a mysterious building that Henry knew as the Green Store, and to cut a longer story short, he now enters it for the first time. There are many pent up repercussions of this between the characters and much skilful readerly suspense that I will not spoil here. I beg all other reviewers to respect this story’s latter unfolding. All I will say that, inexplicably, I was reminded of the recent film ‘The Shape of Water’ and wondered if this Kingsley represents the one who created the Water Babies? And, rest assured, that gives you no clue as to the real circumstances, folly or not, and, what is more, these are wild speculations of mine.


    “Toby’s dreams were also full of people, but he said that he had forgotten who they might once have been.”

    A quiet, almost pointless post-holocaust story in north east England, a population near emptied by an inscrutable virus, it seems. One man in his high castle survives and a few others come and go with dubious intent. A world of sparse survival. He meets a fifteen year old called Toby. They share company in the castle for a while till Toby leaves. I sense the real story takes place afterwards, a story that can be spun out in one’s mind. Yet, I sensed more. As in Edith Wharton’s story with a similar title, there were views from a high building of distant comings and goings. But who was the ghost? Toby, to be or not to be. To remember or not to remember the people themselves if not their names. Death makes strangers of us all, or just the few that are left?


    “No spoilers!”

    This is an intriguing ghost story, I will say at least that. Another building , now a hotel, with views outside from on high. But the ghosts, if they are ghosts, are mainly inside. A woman travels to this area near the Norfolk Broads. She has youthful backstory concerned with this building and she notes the changes from when she was last there. Possibly herself as a teenage girl an influence on its poltergeists? There is a sense of undependability of some of that backstory, the implication of her father’s interests, leading to a book about the supposed ghosts. And her male school friend who lived there at the time. Were they more than just friends? What was the exact timeline? And what do we learn about the possible root cause of those ghostly phenomena? Well. She is here today to address the Ghost Hunters Society about her father and the hauntings of the old building that is now a hotel. Of course, I do not believe her, but what is it that I do not believe about her? Is it her ground of memory as a granularising undertow or the steady certainty she holds? Everything shifting, even when it isn’t. What is definite, meanwhile, is that her mother used to work as a laboratory assistant at ICI.

    I do not hesitate to call this an important book, itself shifting beneath you like an invisible fairground ride through ghosts, dreams and uncertain human situations that tutor you obliquely of hidden significances. All plainly and deceptively spoken. You have definitely not heard the last of some of these stories.


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