IN THE CONSERVATORY by Susan Hill (1971)


“Boris never went to parties of any kind,…”

This is a remarkable strange, weird story, arguably a ghost story, too, one I had not previously encountered, starting like a romcom, wherein a woman, married to Boris who spends his time lining up his leaden soldiers (rather than creating buses out of wooden boxes?!) … and, with her knowing that he was satisfied by that insular life, she somehow thought he would not mind her having an extramarital affair. And the logistics of that affair, after meeting the appropriate man with whom to have an affair, he and she somehow feel the need to conduct it in public places like museums or art galleries, and finally their favourite venue, a stately home called Fewings that has paying visitors, the descriptive atmosphere of which is built up strikingly with a seemingly neuro-diverse boy that seems ever to haunt it with his limping gait. A figure that will haunt you, too, particularly within the nature of the house’s conservatory. And the work’s ending seems tantalisingly ambiguous to me. Is one of the boy’s parents — the woman once thought to be living within a ‘self-contained’ affair — the Fewings caretaker’s wife instead, with Boris as her son, in their own self-contained flat within which she and her husband live as part of being on the job? The rest of it being fiction. Or simply madness.


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