MARK INGESTRE: THE CUSTOMER’S TALE by Robert Aickman
…a paragraph from the opening of this truly reprehensible Aickman work… and the above paragraph is linked firmly with my reading of ‘The Empty Chair’ by Roger Keen earlier today here: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/697-2/#comment-1318. Each fiction work’s reader and, thus, in many ways, its co-creator, is effectively also its ‘customer’. Think about it in the context of this story and in the quite different context of the Keen work.
Malcom Arnold’s 1959 ballet (mentioned in the Aickman) called SWEENEY TODD featured a character called Mark Ingestre, and I am listening to a tellingly companionable performance of the concert suite from this ballet on Spotify as I write these words. Arnold is one of my favourite composers and in fact his work was somewhat responsible in 2002 for my very first gestalt real-time review, as shown here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/my-original-real-time-revie-2002/ . [PS See second comment below.]
Now coming fully to the Aickman work itself…
A journalist in the Fleet Street area (sent to do a review of the Arnold ballet, the programme for which has an advert with the slogan: “Best English Meat Only”) re-tells to us an eccentric sounding story of that very old man who became a customer of a barber’s shop just as the journalist becomes a co-creating customer of that very story, by re-writing it to some extent. A story where the barber shop visit by the old man, when he was 17 years old, is a scenario with razors et al, entailing a short black man or just a man covered in hair waste or a skin disease assisting the tall barber, and the ‘old man’ narrator ends up somehow downstairs in extreme heat near an oven, with a small girl and “a huge woman” on a sugar-box throne (as possible parallels to those similar characters mentioned in my ‘Rosamund’s Bower’ review yesterday) and they both strip off naked and the girl strips him off naked, too, (earlier the storyteller cites a Byron poem Little Medora about a little girl dressed as a boy) and there is much confusion between waste hair and pubic hair or lack of pubic hair in the girl’s case, and sexual fulfilment for this virgin narrator who eventually becomes the old man who told the story. But escaping by the back way, it is obvious that he, as a youthful 17 year old, escapes being cooked into meat pies, thus fitting Aickman’s propensity for cannibalistic themes in his work that I have mentioned before. To match the psychotherapy aspect of my chance synchronicities above with the Keen work, one wonders how much Aickman writes all his fiction works as just such a catharsis for himself. Becoming then a group therapy? A process that has the collateral of some great dark literature providing various bespoke catharses to its reader customers as well as being great strange stories in the weird fiction genre for their own sake. In this Aickman work there are many finely written Horror genre passages.
Just a few observations along the way of the Ingestre story, which may not be one of Aickman’s best, but certainly one of his most controversially provocative…
“How did I get into the barber’s shop? I wish I could tell you.”
“Sometimes we can see more without definition than with it.”
“Probably everything in the shop was an imitation of some kind.”
Talk of singeing, hypnotism, and his body going round like a Catherine Wheel, a falling through trapdoors which brings us back to the theatrical basis for this work.
The mattress downstairs is rents and bloodstains. Is this a rat hole or a sewage-overflow chamber, he wonders. Cf such overflow with a psychotherapeutic catharsis?
The ‘drooling’ woman caresses the girl, and there are echoes of his own (sexual?) yearnings for his own mother. Just more than a usual troilism?
“I was wet and slimy as a half-skinned eel.”
Much more on the confusion of hair. Tangling hair that enabled a harder kiss? Later tearing at ‘wisps’ of hair.
Much theatrical business with the props of a massive working knife and a small pistol.
The house settling and its locks realigning, as we continue forever to resonate with the moving parts of this remarkable work. And with the rest of Aickman’s work.
“I suspect that things happen from time to time to everyone that they don’t understand, and there’s simply nothing we can do about them.”
All my reviews of Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/