Part of my ongoing re-assessment of Bowen stories here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/the-collected-stories-of-elizabeth-bowen/
MYSTERIOUS KÔR by Elizabeth Bowen
“If you can blow whole places out of existence, you can blow whole places into it.”
This has the most exquisite opening to any story, leading into an ineffable portrait of London during the Blitz on the night of the most imposing moon ever, where criss-crossing searchlights fought for outshining it, I infer.
“‘…by changing colour they show the changing of minutes; in Kôr there is no sort of other time.’ / ‘You’ve got the moon, though: that can’t help making months.’”
A portrait, too, of a young couple, Pepita and Arthur, he on leave, and nowhere to stay, sort of war-induced in-love with each other, and she is taking him back to the small flat she shares with Callie who laters becomes their virgin chaperone. But was temptation there, induced in turn by the moon, the moon itself or talk of it? Pepita meanders beautiful talk about her dream of a “ghost city”, Mysterious Kôr, about which she even has passable literary verse to quote — or she has even made it up herself. The logistics of the flat, the thin walls, the conversations, the cigarettes, and Callie’s thoughts sort of take over, and I infer much. What about you? This story will not leave you untouched. It is a past’s strangeness but it is our life today when we were in lockdown and where we now also have the same “fuel target”, I guess. Turning off the table lamp (“gaily painted with spots to make it look like a toadstool.”) This was the way London was situated then, making it difficult for Callie to go elsewhere to leave the ‘loving’ couple with more freedom and more room. She said she was no gooseberry. But worried, as their votive chaperone, about Pepita’s parents knowing their daughter was sleeping with a man.
“‘What next?”’ / ‘I don’t know about “next”, but I do know what we’d do first.’”
This relatively short work is at once literature, fantasy, weird or Aickman strange fiction, even the vision of science fiction terrains of another world that shone upon London then just like the moon.
So many other touches: the cretonne housecoat as a hostess gown, and a wartime searchlight not the moon “finding flaws in the black-out stuff, it made veins and stars”. Pepita looking at her hand and finding it was not her own. Arthur’s own thoughts, too, about the two girls and his sense of guilt. Callie as an “unlit candle”, and Pepita sleeping like a mummy (from Rider Haggard?) — Kôr as a role playing game or a hallucination?
“…Callie extended her sword-cold body:”, what does that remind you of from Aickman? A password not an answer. An ‘insufficient answer’, as we untangle the inferred motives and sentiments and emotions and any deadweight sleep within our dream of Kôr — things that the three characters with only one bed available can’t untangle themselves. From Kôr to Troy?
“How are any of us to know how things could have been?”