33 thoughts on “The Dummy & Other Uncanny Stories – Nicholas Royle


    “When Graeme came back down, Sarah had finished in the bathroom, and he could hear her voice in the bedroom.”

    A rigorous routine, an incantatory refrain of routine, indeed, as the inferred three storey abode becomes a four storey one at the end, I imagined. And it would be only too easy for me, by overview, to spoil one for the other? We all have our own soft treads to match each of our hard ones, I guess. A haunting story that continues its own incantation even after finishing it. I guess, too, the relatively unusual version of the name Graham was used because it ended with ‘me’.


    “I unscrewed a bell-push.”

    A bus seat’s stubber screw-on, too? Or the ‘no spitting’ sign? The porthole periscope in the top right hand corner of the top deck, would be more difficult to unscrew, I guess. And even more difficult for me to unscrew the poignancy of this bus-geek’s story as a relatively brief collage of memories about a dysfunctional family — certainly difficult for me to be able to unscrew it from this book without spoiling it. Suffice to say, it is also about detachable bus-destination signs on roller-blinds, shop lifting and a mother off her trolley.


    “You’re turning into your father.”

    An accusation of behaviour or of something else? This story — about a family of husband, wife and two children looking to get out of their rental property into a suitable house purchase and get their furniture out of storage — has the same Altrincham bus as the previous story. If I told you anything about what I know about this clipped Pan Horror, it would be tantamount to telling you this story without the need for you to read it. All I will ask is whether the wife’s name as an unusual version of the name Eleanor is what it is because it has LINE as its first four jumbled letters? No, the reason is because it very closely approximates ELSINORE? Think about it.

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    There’s something dated about this further Pannish Horror, one about a man taking his girl friend to meet his parents, with a specific need to tell us that his particular work office was designated non-smoking, then the old-fashioned nature of the radio in the car, the need to use a road map, getting lost without a GPS, not using a safety belt at the front of the car, calling the dishes pots, and the seeming existence of a proper road leading into a proper community that is actually considered scary by more than just one over-imaginative character in the story because of the way its trees made it seem more like a tunnel, so scary it causes risk to a romantic relationship as well as an urge to make the driving trip down that road in the first place. All of this seems in some inscrutable past. But the narrator does work, he seems to tell us, in the modern gig economy and he thinks that age is relative.
    As a final thought, what does eventually appear in his rear-view mirror: a blue flashing light?

    And is that some dummy’s signature above?


    “Almost. There’s always that almost.”

    A father as narrator explains the pleasures and challenges in having children (not kids, a derogatory word). I completely resonate with this, from my own experience. Which makes the suspense — of the Hide and Seek he arranges for his two toddlers and their friend, the small girl from down the road — very effective, and seriously page-turning, especially when it is in a book like this one, hidden by a creepy dust-jacket. In fact, the suspense is unbearable. Almost.


    A hilarious caricature of political correctness with the shrug at the end as a brilliant twist. If I let slip any more, I’d be killed for spoiling it. The worst spoilers are often reflex ones from the hindsight of real-time. As swift as “contactless”. And expensive wine.


    “The empty flat remains empty.”

    In many ways, the above eponymity describes itself.
    Reading it was like, when touring an art gallery, giving more initial importance to the reflections off a painting than to the painting itself. (As I often do, as a means of opening up to it.)


    “I ordered an Orval because it appeared to be the only beer they had. I detest Orval, so I drank it quickly and ordered another. And then another.”

    Another story in the GraeME Other school of literature. This time a road emergency worker in Hi Viz, part dummy, part real. In Belgium as an alternate world to that of England across the water. He even visits there a cheap memorial museum like Fort Paull skirting Hull. Also an alternate world with beers I have never heard of. A marriage cheated on, at two removes of temptation and regret. And then re-embodiment as a greenfinch or ring-necked parakeet. It is throwaway and deadpan. But it’s more than this, too. Or even less than. A story that is its own dummy.

    “It was a long text.”

  9. Grenfell Tower: “Occupants of 23 of 129 flats died and 223 people escaped.”


    “…a fine haze envelops the sheathed structure.”

    One or none or Nina escapes this tower, from amid millions of other sperm?
    Can’t do justice to this relatively short short in a review…but if I did, the retelling of it would be longer than itself. Even shorter by the time I finished reading this telling, spilling tale. Blink and you’d miss it?

  10. DEAD END
    “–it depends on the type of glass.”
    A methodical report on probability A, a deadpan holiday in a French gîte, foreign environs to this easily sex-triggered British couple of pre-Brexit vintage, I guess, and his worrying how different broken glass should be recycled. And bee in the bonnet about a bee in a bottle or inside a car as you drive it. Donkey sausage and sweat. And much else. A dead end until you reach probability B? I could honestly go on forever about this story. Method reviewing….

  11. 35BE35F5-6481-495F-9354-D9BB6A32C84CTHE CELLAR

    “He wonders if the guy from the downstairs flat is one of those who puts the wrong things in the wrong bins.”

    More rubbish recycling worries, more deadpan, deadend probability-reports, Topor or Beckett or Aldiss or Polanski, as we follow a permutation of probabilities with Stephen finding where to put his bike downstairs up in his flat the bathroom another house a cellar a painting a woman a head gashing that I could feel not on but in my own head, and the look of the print itself as the gash-mitigating patterns of mainly simple words that could be assessed on paper without reading them first. And it is probably the only work of fiction where we were made to feel part of it, as one of the people preparing Stephen’s probability-reports as well as simultaneously reading them in real time. Very disorientating for us.
    Uncanny? Depends into which bin you’re supposed to put them, I say.


    “The rules are different here.”

    Another tantalising example of the GraeME school of literature, here as a less far-fetched version of the Nicholas Royle and Nicholas Royle dummy syndrome. This time it is a medical school reunion in a sprawlingly deceptive hotel complex worthy or even unworthy of many hotels including the unconsoled one in Ishiguro. A maze-like panoply of lifts, corridors, one’s own thoughts, a mirror’s reflection as a self set free, various angsts of hypochondria and ageing, the forwarding of the marital backstory, and how to use a keycard in a hotel room door. We are each to become a folded Independent, I guess.

    “…what was the point of a life like this, a life lived in constant fear of its ending.”


    “It always puzzled me why she liked masks when she was easily frightened by faces.”

    There is something dated about this bald account of her collusive escape from Jokey Nick to an East Coast town, but also something contemporary, too. Echoes from the future, like a wifely wifi (my expression). The story is utterly this book’s essence in every way. Its gestalt. Need I say more? If I told you in what way this was so, I would spoil it. Or send you mad. As mad as it has made me. Any crossed stares in a lift, notwithstanding.

    “, the choke full out,”


    As well as reading this brief haunting expression of the Nicholas Royle / Nicholas Royle syndrome, I just now looked up details on-line about the eponymous, where it states, inter alia, that she toured around meeting people that became intrinsic to her fiction “with its focus on lonely, lost souls and struggling survivors.” (From Wikipedia on Jayne Anne Phillips)

    NB: here: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/r/nicholas-royle/ is where the NR/ NR syndrome blends into one person. The material at this link has been like this for many years.


    “That’s what the family room’s for. So customers can drink in peace and quiet.”

    So much going on here. So much not going on here. The story of these stories.
    A story, this time, fraught with tragic implications and a dilemma while driving, always a split second before the fire goes out. A story fraught with a pub’s history as dummy of itself, pub talk likewise, the duties of parenthood, but no antlers outside this time in the rear view mirror, just a dear one inside. This author is skilled in such poignantly smouldering embers of fraughtness as well as in the sudden cusps of once slow motion fright.

  16. CUCKOO

    “It was coincidence.”

    A story with a writer visiting the town for a reading, a small town where they filmed this very brief encounter with self on death’s wing. Atmospheric Royle, Railway and Rachmaninov, visits toyshop, bookshop, this freehold author’s own spine no doubt amongst those self-owned books on show, revisits his own backstory where he’d been tantamount to kicked out from the marital nest, then seeing his past as a panoply of people attending his public reading as well as the reading of this story, this day, my edition of the book. Highly haunting. Highly poignant. Highly by Royle. High as the writer’s name, a swift asleep on the wing. The deepest of all sleeps, I guess. The eponymous bird was no coincidence, but a decoy.


    “The Manchester skies are grey at the rear of the house as well.”

    You know, I look forward each day to my Dummy fix, and rather sad that soon I will have finished these. This one was a comparatively extended fix, as if it knows this, too. Manchester skies, sadly, have been greyer than they should have been, I guess. Another Video to put alongside those of Jihadi John, in some obliquely sad way. This is a bald tale of a Manchester University academic, pining after his earlier days in London, waking one morning “light headed”, in a certain way that only this book could disarmingly have brought off. More recycled rubbish angsts, too. With academic meetings and personal student advice sessions as context. Tantalising double entendres of intentional fallacy. With Magritte paintings, books and DVD/CDs: props as stage sets (LPs in forgotten cupboard) in his home with his sense of wifely wifi. Almost that earlier empty flat and video blink, empty- as well as light-headed. “…coming up empty handed.” Like a typical remote control.

  18. *I originally mistook the front cover as standing in a fiery meadow.*



    “‘You can see Blackpool Tower on a good day.’
    It wasn’t a good day.”

    A story of two families with children having met in a park, meet up again in Lancashire to talk stained glass and The Cure. A house reached by the A666 with William Blake references. One family is grooming the other, it seems. With Lancashire hotpot. No knowledge of a cure or car here. Just that car’s rear-view mirror again. That utter deadpan hindsight, And where Burnley, Accrington and Blackburn are seen as clots in a green lung. Clots or blots or doubles for the new Satanic Mills?
    A perfect coda to this disarmingly perfect book. I have said it all already. A fiction dummy for reality itself. Perhaps ironically inducing that elusive cure for ills. And for a gang of other literary dopples.


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