23 thoughts on “The Late Breakfasters – Robert Aickman

  1. Part One
    I

    “De Reptonville, when Mr Repton assumed the name (early in the nineteenth century), was quizzed as the apogee of unwarranted pretentiousness;…”

    Griselda, 25, has this surname, and this fact reminds me of Cressida Hazeborough in GO BACK AT ONCE who had her own family name changed in the past, i.e. from Happisburgh that sounds the same! And Melanie Hatch — an older woman who has invited Griselda on purpose to BEAMS, a posh parkified eighteen bedroom (haunted?) house, to attend a dance party without first telling her about this party — hangs about in Griselda’s chosen bedroom waiting for Griselda to have a bath (one having a very vigorous water flow, with water hammer, I guess) so that they can chat together while Griselda is bathing, and this reminds me of Aunt Agnes earlier with Cressida as a guest in her house. Pity Griselda does not like dancing!
    A prose-stylish start complete with interesting backstories. Early Elizabeth Bowen fiction comes pleasingly to mind, if not late. Cf the assonance of Griselda and Cressida.

  2. II

    “Mrs Hatch was manipulating a vast and heavy teapot, apparently without effort. As Griselda descended the stairs, two men rose to their feet.”

    Disarmingly hilarious but off-putting aristocratic and high-political shenanigans as Griselda goes downstairs to meet the motley characters already socialising there and she has a crumpet, perhaps instinctively to prevent it becoming one of the “cold dead crumpets” by the end of the chapter! There is a painter present, though, called Goss, and the promise, or rather threat, of someone called Kynaston to help teach Griselda how to dance. The only other conversational topic that stays in my mind is one concerning Bolivian tin mines. And, oh yes, bonfires as posh pranks in Leicester Square.

    “The balloons haven’t been used for some time…”

  3. III

    “The stories were simply long rakes, designed to turn over as many memories as possible.”

    An ostentatious dinner menu including a savoury called ‘Tails in the Air’, leading to bridge and conversation. I am not too keen on the hoity-toity young woman called Pamela, with “yellowy-green and ichthyological” eyes, whom Griselda has been encouraged to befriend. I am pleased though that Griselda’s gaucheness in choosing a certain dress for the evening turned out for the best by matching the pinkness of the room.
    Goss’s pipe smoking I shall airbrush — while trying positively to remember another man who merely read a book during this social occasion, hardly turning the pages and never blinking. Even if I did not want to remember it, I cannot forget Mrs Hatch’s accident with a card table and then inviting Griselda to her bedroom with a green safe in its corner, so that Griselda could help dress the injured leg etc. I did not like the sound, by the way, of Mrs Hatch peering into her own bedroom’s commode to check its contents….
    Meanwhile I wonder if Mrs Hatch’s damaged leg will blight her anticipation of the important dance party? Hmmm.

  4. IV

    “She drew her dressing-gown from the wardrobe and put it on. It had once been the colour of dying peonies,…”

    “The noises were difficult to define. Nor was it easy to know whether or not any particular one of them was a new noise.”

    This is wonderful Aickman material, as Griselda tries to get to sleep amid many different weird noises and also a series of dreams. Honestly, dare I say, this nature of dreaming is the gestalt from perfect descriptions of what we are all now suffering as co-vividness. Very impressed and pleased that I have been induced to pick this book up again after many years — if only, so far, for the sake of this relatively short chapter!

    “But the nightmare had each time seized and penetrated her whole body and mind; it was as if she had been twisted into another identity, mysterious and horrible, which, when she returned, there could be no question of remembering since the two beings had no capacity for memory in common. She shuddered to reflect that this second identity, totally unreachable lay always behind her face and beneath her thoughts.”

  5. V

    Green duck eggs, Mrs Hatch in charge, and someone looking like a green sheep, and plenty of items of mail delivered for various guests as the breakfasters came down one by one. Apparently, I must have been confused as to exactly who the Prime Minister was among these guests, but you merely reading this review until now, without having read the book first, would not even know that the Prime Minister was one of the guests at all! And that there was a Duke and Duchess present, too.
    Apparently, Griselda will be soon be off for her dancing lesson with Kynaston….

  6. ACD2D4FB-331B-44ED-A170-662299A26E02

    Serge Lifar – Apollon Musagète – 1928

    VI

    “Now the floor was bare; a bar extended round the walls; and there were photographs of Karsavina, Lifar, and Genée.”

    An engaging social comedy, as Griselda dutifully visits Geoffrey Kynaston’s two bedroom bungalow for dancing lessons, an occasion which somehow, after dubious coffee, turns into a picnic outside in the woods. More Elizabeth Taylor fiction than Henry Green’s, I guess, and the man’s pretentiousness is almost endearing, especially his insistence upon reading his poetry to Griselda, one poem entitled INCUBUS that seemed to me, from the sample given, mainly vanity. A social climber but not to the extent of sleeping with other men, from what he says. And Griselda is stoical, if not social…

    “I’ll be sent home if I don’t dance.”

  7. VII

    “After all, Miss de Reptonville, not everybody nowadays even knows who is or who is not in the Cabinet at any particular moment.”

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    After returning to BEAMS, Griselda has a conversation with the Duke and Duchess, seemingly fresh from the routine of being a sexually-dutiful couple, about their beloved dog’s dying, perhaps accounting for at least one of the earlier disturbances in the night. But, perhaps more importantly, they will not allow this to mar the forthcoming dance party, a social event so important, apparently, it has been arranged to help form an emergency coalition government to cope with our country’s worsening state! (As we wait for Brexit finally and painfully to unwind this very weekend in my own real-time!) Not a late breakfast, more a dog’s dinner, perhaps. Just waiting, no doubt, for Noel Edmonds to arrive doubly late. The prime minister will be attending the dance party as well as the leader of the opposition. Incidentally, this PM, whom we have already met at BEAMS, is called Mr Leech!

  8. VIII

    “Ghosts only harm those who fear them.”

    An obliquely touching relationship between Griselda and svelte long-haired Louise in the former’s bedroom. Louise is not exactly a lady’s maid, I gather, but someone far more complex as arranged by Mrs Hatch to help Griselda to undress and to have a bath in the difficult bath and to dress for the dance. The subtlety of haunting meantime discussed, mainly concerning a ghost called Stephanie who, according to Louise, is a red-haired and multi-raced ghost but one with a strong strain of Jewishness, a ghost only attracted to this very room and only by beings such as Louise or Griselda. They talk, too, of the importance of clothes, reminding me of my recent review of COSTUMES OF THE LIVING.

  9. IX & X

    “You Twisted Me Before I Twisted You.”

    …and those of us who remember 1964, when this novel was first published, will know why something like this would be played at a dance, even as a single novelty number at such a posh do as this. The dinner followed by the dance itself and political speeches, and I shall leave you alone to read this dog’s dinner or slapstick co-vivid dream yourself, even preparations for the later funeral ceremony of the dead dog itself in the parkland along with architectural follies as well as human follies and such other fictional Reggie Oliveriana. A welter of planned dance contracts for Griselda alternating with Kynaston’s attentions, and her Sapphic tryst with Louise and/or a ghost outside in the Temple of Venus. And plans for their loving future together. Amid terrorist bombs from Communists, and the post-dance orgy that Griselda eschewed following the attempts by a Moggery of politicians to speak up the rebuilding of our nation’s ‘sinews of greatness’. It all seems so fitting for today’s viral games of chance. We, the dice who die.

  10. XI

    “Back in her room she felt tired and contented, though her mask would not slip over the top of her head and the untying of the knot proved tedious.”

    And now the morning after…
    A chapter full of mushy medlars and meddling muddles!
    Political and national as well as personal muddles. Some involving guns.
    And the Duke and Duchess’s dog’s funeral in the rain.
    And a generally ‘deflated’ house gathering, to boot.
    Schemes and scheming amid the disappointments.

    “‘Now that little Fritzi has been laid to rest, can we not once more be gay?’ enquired the Duchess in her curious interglossal accent.”

    And a love letter to Griselda from Louise …

    “‘Never forget, dear dove, that the sky into which you soar is full of falcons and that falcons fly higher than doves. As I listen, your heart is softening towards the falcons. Beware of the falcons! They not only kill: they disfigure. Their nests are matted with blood. The streets and fields are filled with bodies whose vitals the falcons have eaten. The falcons eat only the hearts, the brains, and the livers of their prey; whom, bored, they then return, like bottles, Empty. The Empties clutter our lives: they break easily, and becoming worthless become also dangerous.’”

  11. XII

    “The room was filled not with damp night, but with Louise’s perfume. Griselda softly cried out ‘Louise!’”

    One of those haunting Aickman’s short chapters you will remember. Full of mystery and unaccountable sharp edges like words with daggers or swords, but ending with the most softly worded expression of Sapphic love, amid turmoil. Go back there at once, we all say in unison, before that turmoil started.

  12. XIII

    “Whether the knife was meant to revenge or to rescue, remained unkown.”

    A shockingly momentous ending to Part One of this novel and to Griselda’s stay at BEAMS, another short chapter which you will simply have to read for yourself before I commence Part Two to be linked below.

    From Internet – ‘A beam is a structural element that primarily resists loads applied laterally to the beam’s axis. Its mode of deflection is primarily by bending.’

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