August 15 2021
THE CLOCK WATCHER by Robert Aickman
I think I need to make this truly remarkable story the culmination of my reviews of specific Aickman stories, even though I still have many of his stories not re-read for my timely processes of gestalt real-time reviewing.
This one is a story that I cannot now step beyond. At least for the time being.
It completes a fitting, if chance, gestalt of the Aickman stories I have recently re-read and also of other authors’ stories he himself chose for the Fontana anthology series — a gestalt of Time’s Slowth or Gluey Zenoism and now here it is in its starkest terms, a story that is also in relation to a topic that arises often in Aickman:- the nature of sexual urges with, as well as between, women, and the nature of marriage at the time Aickman wrote it. And also it reveals views of its time, its post-war time.
It is a story of Gluey Zenoism, in the same way as RESIDENTS ONLY is. Turning pages interminably until suddenly one is not.
It is staggeringly Aickman-absurd as well as frightening in itself, but it’s even more frightening in the context of the gestalt I have, perhaps unintentionally, now reached…
From my earlier post about it here in 2007:
“I have often noticed in life that we never really learn anything – learn for the first time, I mean. We know everything already, everything that we, as individuals, are capable of knowing, or fit to know; all that other people do for us, at the best, is to remind us, to give our brains a little twist from one set of preoccupations to a slightly different set.”
Robert Aickman (from ‘The Clock Watcher’)
That certainly gave my brain a little twist! I don’t yet know why, but I feel that helps to ‘explain’ RA’s stories, if explanation is seen to be needed.
A narrator who thinks: “Of course, the Jews are like that: once a friend, always a friend, if you go on treating them properly. I cannot help saying it was where the Nazis went wrong. There was a great deal to be said in favour of the Nazis, of course, in many other ways. The Germans wouldn’t have fought so hard and long, if it hadn’t been so, quite unbelievable actually.”
It starts with this male narrator — of whose wartime experiences, family backstory and subsequent civilian work we learn about — who thinks this unacceptable thought about Nazis, one who marries just after the war had finished and been tidied up by the likes of him, and he marries a German Catholic girl called Ursula, and their marriage is a mixture of being siblings and sex partners, but not necessarily at the same time.
Clocks were in her family, and Black Forest her own nest, I guess, and when the narrator tells us that a clock had accompanied them on their honeymoon, a clock that “had been constructed by the insertion of a very subtle and sophisticated mechanism into a more or less intentionally crude and commercial case” and it “purred like a slinky pussy”, I must say even that was not match for what later transpired with the exponential accumulation of Ursula’s various clocks, some caricatures of cuckoo clocks, one being called Kuckuck, I recall. “Little Attlee”, beware!
Yet, Ursula was not a stickler for these clocks’ accuracy of time and she dreaded wearing a watch. Where did these clocks come from? Apparently some clock man visited her with them from time to time, but the narrator failed to catch him at it. The sight of this clock man is described, however, to him by the village idiot, and if even half of the description is true, I am bound to have nightmares thinking about such a sight, the clocks themselves eventually erupting into all manner of disgusting organic material and there is so much more that I could tell you, but I’d better leave it at that. Cannot be “humpty-dumptied” again.
“There are no beautiful clocks. Everything to do with time is hideous.”
A quote from another favourite author of mine —
“‘I’ll tell you something, Clara. Have you ever SEEN a minute? Have you actually had one wriggling inside your hand? Did you know if you keep your finger inside a clock for a minute, you can pick out that very minute and take it home for your own?’ So it is Paul who stealthily lifts the dome off. It is Paul who selects the finger of Clara’s that is to be guided, shrinking, then forced wincing into the works, to be wedged in them, bruised in them, bitten into and eaten up by the cogs. ‘No you have got to keep it there, or you will lose the minute. I am doing the counting – the counting up to sixty.’ . . . But there is to be no sixty. The ticking stops.”
From ‘The Inherited Clock’ by Elizabeth Bowen
All my reviews of Aickman: : https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/