“…of course there is an enormous difference between Suffolk and Norfolk, and between both and North Essex.”
I look at my own wide shallow bungalow house in North Essex where I have aged and shared with my wife, and at this house’s matching log cabin and shudder at what fate draws us to which.
This WOOD, of course, is a fiction classic, if a disturbing and reprehensible one. A story of a best man (who had been knocked out during action in the war at the precise moment Wilfred Owen was killed, then became an architectural writer) whose availability for a registry office wedding seemed to dictate its date. The groom is a vexed ex-Inland Revenue man called Munn who, when we first meet him, makes straw men on his “mill” over the sub-post office he runs, and he is due to marry an undertaker’s daughter. A transpiring story of this particular marriage and of Marriage itself, of Woman herself (“woman’s). Munn…”), and the house the undertaker built for them to match the ‘englutinating’ of such institutions of couplement and eventual de-coupling by merging with whatever essence that any boxed wood caskets possessed, a house imitating a cuckoo clock with alternating rain-sensitive puppets that manipulated the metaphorical strings of themselves till the very end. Even their only child spotted inside the house as clock.
“When the woman’s blindly scraping / Then’s the hour for blows and raping” – part of verse handwritten on a scrap of paper pasted on a wall within this story. This strange and worrying work cannot be airbrushed because it is an astonishing literary absurdism bordering on an assumed artistic madness, worth condemning, if ever madness can be condemned but only admired or pitied, by alternating turns, for its pangs of eventually constructive creativity that would not otherwise have been constructed at all.
It also mentions a story by Maurice Baring*, but I don’t think it is the same Baring story that Aickman included in his Fontana Ghost series, a series that I reviewed in detail recently. All the Aickman choices for that anthology series need factoring in and out of his own work, in order to reconcile its difficulties and explain some of its minutiae — entertaining and inspiring difficulties and minutiae for the weird fiction lover.
The pantomiming best man’s gift to the couple at the wedding is an envelope (with a ticket inside) as sealed with scarlet sealing-wax. The cackling nature of the bride’s parents is off-putting, and the bride herself, all three of them described gnomically. The father called Pell is a man of “timber and satin”, as I think I have mentioned already. The nature of the town where the Munns settle, with their Daphnes and Daffs, is unsettling, a place with sporadically heavy wet weather to bring the best out in them.
All my reviews of Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/
* The plot recounted in WOOD (as a putative Maurice Baring story or play) about a man in a romantic relationship who reveals his secret of being the hangman, to his loved one’s shock, reminds me of a story I read recently, but I can’t yet place it!
PS: WOOD is to be differentiated from Aickman’s INTO THE WOOD that I reviewed here in 2013: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/aickmann/#comment-7243