THE AMBUSH by Elizabeth Taylor

“The tall clock only tocked, never ticked, Noël had said.”

The beautifully atmospheric riverside weir of a house as substantive story of Catherine, who paints and draws, as she revisits the family, Noël’s mother Mrs Ingrams and Noël’s (now seen to be vaguely lookalike) brother Esmé — a place and people that she once visited with her beloved Noël before he died in a car accident… and also there towards the end of the visit is Esmé’s petrol can fibbing friend Freddie, another painter, and tussles with a dangerous snake that turns out to a harmless one.
You can imagine in your mind’s eye by a preternatural instinct many of the interactions here, the beauty of Mrs Ingrams as an older version of Noël, Catherine’s approchement with more taciturn Esmé as seen to be devised by Mrs Ingrams, a sort of ambush that seems as nothing when compared to that of Mrs Ingrams’s potential farewell at the end in the form of perhaps a Sapphic kiss and hug? You can imagine also the Bowenesque accoutrements of river and house, and conversations. A major work and please revisit some of it with me below…

“The nearest she had got to that, she reflected, was once sketching his foot when he was lying on the lawn after swimming. She had been drawing the gable of the boathouse and branches of a chestnut tree and, for some reason turning to look at him, began on a corner of the paper to draw his foot with its bony ankle and raised veins.”
She erased Noël’s foot at the time of drawing it – with a dragonfly et al.

First elbow-trigger, as Mrs Ingrams perhaps commences the approchement of Catherine with Esmé…
“‘Don’t defer it, or try to pay off in instalments,’ Mrs Ingram said. ‘One only pays more in the end.’ She sat so still with her elbow among the litter of leaves on the table and her cheek resting on her hand.”

“…a great, bracing, visionary ill.” —
“Mrs Ingram was brisk, as if now Catherine was disposed of for the morning. This was unlike her, Esmé thought: but his mother was definitely up to something and he wondered for whom ill was boded, Catherine or himself. Some wonderful ill, no doubt, he thought; done for one’s good; a great, bracing, visionary ill.”

The second elbow-trigger as the approchement with Esmé commences…
“She rested her elbows on the drawing-board and covered her eyes with her hands, waiting for this moment to pass. Esmé, going along the tow-path to the pub, saw her before she heard his footsteps”
… then a different trigger of two darts bullseyes she throws in one go by fluke inside the pub!…

Later, “The same pop-eyed old codger who was selling the bull’s-eyes”, as part of the charmer and chancer Freddie’s lies about his excuse for missing lunch!
His virtuoso paintings compared to Catherine’s.

The river “locks” of time, as an Aickman-like Zeno’s Paradox wading of time to keep it longer if one needs, and to resonate with the weird weir’s resistance to flow? “white ghosts rose off the weir.”

“The dead can become too important, just by dying.”

“She wondered if she would have to face some overpowering monument, for death is alien enough in itself without some of the things which are done afterwards as being appropriate.”

“…‘We are under the same roof.’ She had known how beautiful it can be to come to the close of the day and lie down in bed, thinking those words. Then the house itself became haunted, enchanted, spellbound with love.”


Full context of this review:

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