16 thoughts on “Figurehead – Carly Holmes


    “Through the gloom it was a struggle to even make out which house I had lived in.”

    And which side was which, left and right, sinister and dexter?
    This is the naïve-blending-unnoticeably-into-mature narration of a girl, as mercenary offshoot of her own mother, then glad-handed willy-nilly by the men that her mother allowed to employ her. But when she left the home she could not recognise with a backward glance, she felt her inner demon, until further wear and tear of life made self and demon potentially indistinguishable from each other. One of them perhaps bowed out, instead. Or curtseyed out? Whatever, I felt for this L.
    But that’s where all of us end up….beyond the corner of Heaven’s L-shaped room, along with our accoutrements of aimless attrition, I guess.

    • Just dawned on me, ten days later, that ‘The Demon Lover’ is also the Demon L and is possibly the most well-known (if not the best) story by Elizabeth Bowen who is my favourite ever author, as I have mentioned many times over the decades. Carly Holmes’ work sometimes reminds me of how she might be writing today if she had been born in our times.


    “…their desire collided with their disgust and they left the tent abruptly, uncomfortable and hot.”

    As we all do today.
    This, for me, is a continuation of the Demon L story as the bearded lady. Here, she is in interface with a boyish, sexually-awakening narrator without his own beard.
    A wonderful concupiscence of a story that also evokes circus mœurs.


    My own quite different beardedady circus story that was published in ‘Standing Stone’ magazine in 1991:


    “Chipped face pressed into the dark wood boards, blinded and mummified by the fluff of decades, she’s there still.”

    Not so much that ‘bearded’ lady again, but an engagingly poignant narration by one of what I take to be Russian Dolls, taken from within each other to their ultimate ‘pip’ self, and lined up separately on a shelf overlooking the ever-changing garden. We are told of the attritional wear and tear of rough hands in play and utility use elsewhere … “We’re decayed to a point that teeters on no return,…” but leading, I feel, to a notion of an ever-possible Lottery or Zeno’s Paradox Tontine of continued consciousness of what the narrator (as figurehead?) has become and what the others, her sisters, still are.

  4. SLEEP

    “She stared at the severed lion while she rolled the stem of a glass between her palms. ‘It still looks like a dog to me,’ she said to herself, and giggled quickly.”

    Or a dying ewe? Well, there is not much I can tell you about this longer story, without spoiling its utter power and poignancy. Even saying that might spoil it. But there is no anti-climax here, just the tale of Rosalind (and her tutelary brother Ross at the other end of epistolary contact) (and her ‘coward husband’) and of her small son Tom /Boo for whom she cares, amid mother-and-son’s mutually dysfunctional backstory, a backstory gradually inferred by the reader as involved observer. The way Boo sleeps like a question mark. For once, I am at a loss for words, words only to be dulled eponymously downward.

  5. Possible Spoilers


    “…like a gesture of affection, the two heads so close.”

    At first, this seemed a run of the mill ghost story told by a girl’s Grandma to the narrator who is out for the first time with the girl, a girl whom he fancies. Yet, when the two of them visit the scene of the ghost story itself, I was genuinely chilled. Do we believe the Grandma’s story or do we believe the narrator’s telling us about it? Involving a dictaphone, a tin pig, a monkey and a dove, and far more that keeps coming back, the more I think about it all, and the possible implications…

  6. Possible…


    “I nursed her through her end days, staying by her bedside while my father tipped evenings down his throat…”

    A shifting of digits between the hands of mother and daughter, those end ‘swirls’ of indelible identity thus shared. Powerful prose, as if a father’s evenings were tipped across his jowls, and his unbearded daughter’s not. But that’s another story.
    Seriously, this book is growing on me, big time. Its mischiveous puckishness and its wickedlly disarming naivety, too. Only SLEEP so far seems out of character.


    “, so that we can touch without merging.”

    Or without those earlier dropped or dripped or spilt stitches so easily split? Here a moving emotion (strange expression that, a tautology?) of whom I see as an old lady in a care home reliving an accident with water and her lover, the man or woman she danced with. To which water, a shallow memory still being barely grasped, she lost that lover. But can any such haunting become autonomous in itself, thus non-depending, even while deepening, upon whomsoever is being haunted? A good question. A founthead, not a figure.


    “I talked to it the whole time.”

    No wonder you could not get a word in edgeways nor anyone willing to enter the gaps between my reviews let alone read what was outside those gaps. This is about a house edgeways, edgewise, every roomful’s which way, as you now listen to me for once, listen to me talking about this wonderfully tactile story that few will forget, a story of house and owner and their subsuming reciprocal relationship, of decoration and being decorated, tantamount to erotic.


    Surely a masterpiece? I don’t ask that lightly. I would need to quote the whole of these three pages to do justice to such a beautifully couched eschatology of rapture, as accompanied by possibly tiny visitants inscrutably real but ungraspable and possibly barely seen, if spiritually felt, nay, truly felt. Now truly seen.

  10. WICH

    Read this two page story of hips and words for wings. Another landmark in this book.

    “Creating words, destroying words, creating them again, wherever I went, until the shapes I made became less strange and started to spark connections…”

    A few days ago (here) I happened to finish reviewing a multi-authored anthology where two separate stories were entitled CWTCH and SWATCH. Just waiting for WICH to join them?


    Pages 97 – 121 (the first half of this novelette)

    “Do you remember how we’d refuse to eat our vegetables unless they came with a blanket of melted cheese on top?”

    To match the hips in the previous work, this one starts with “a hip a sudden solid warmth” from a stranger in passing at a railway station and Marie, the narrator, later seeing her own hipbones as a “jigsaw puzzle” with her sister Georgie’s current pregnant belly between them. Georgie affectionately calls Marie “ladybug”, Marie affectionately calls Georgie “pea”, but Marie does not like Georgie’s husband. There is much else going on, of course, which is this story-as-story, almost a Du Maurier type plot, methodically built up, in Georgie’s Gothic-creeping mansion she shares with her husband. The backstory of all concerned, Marie as puppet-maker, the mansion as orphanage, Marie’s recent abortion, too, and ghostly visions or dreams as dark realities that beset the nights, with Marie’s visit here to her beloved sister Georgie, whom she half-resents. Not forgetting the old bell needed by Marie if she loses herself in this mansion’s maze … I need an equivalent reviewer’s bell, too, I fear. I shall sleep on it. The toes, if not hips, notwithstanding.

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