THE THOUGHT by L.P. Hartley


“…counting the minutes that elapsed between one visitation of the Thought and the next.”


This is a highly spiritual work that inchoately reminds me of a cross between a churchly ghost story by M.R. James (many of which I happen to be currently re-reading HERE) and L.P. Hartley’s own ‘Facial Justice’ that I reviewed ten years agoHERE.
An articulated but involuntary or rogueishly autonomous Thought is as if played by an independent LP upon the gramophone in ‘The Cotillon’ and it is here magnified in a Mr Greenstream whose settled siesta of a life is disrupted by it, and he fails to remove the Thought even by making his mind blank as it ought to be to quench it, until he finds by an uncharacteristic turning in his daily walk to what he sees as Hartley’s cat, “A whiskered church”…
“…the monumental inscriptions, black lettering on white…

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A Change of Ownership by L.P. Hartley



“; it oozes a kind of bright sticky froth, and if you could bring yourself to do it, you could shove your arm in up to the elbow….”

“…perhaps shared a bedroom with three or four others, perhaps even a bed! What fun for him, after these constricted years, to come home to a big house of his own,…”

Now “no vociferous callboys, no youthful blades returning singing after a wet night.” Where has this story been all my life? It is a genuine classic of the weird gestalt! No ifs, no buts, nor even any passion of a reading moment to be used as a reason! It is what it is and ever will be. Of its times. I could quote it all! An amalgam of Robert AickmanElizabeth Bowen and, indeed, Charles Wilkinson’s house ownership torts etc. 

A tale of the different natures of loneliness and aloneness. A tale of Ernest, the supposed New Proprietor of a property after a life of laddish flat sharing, a very large, many-roomed property with a tower in a semi-rural street, and frightening, politically reprehensible sash windows (“the windows being visible as patches of intense black, like eyeless sockets in a negro’s face”) and a high box room with ‘vulnerable’ entry point for feet foremost or knees foremost or even elbows, with lackadaisical health and safety concerns relating especially to the use of its gas supply. Ernest arrives home in Hubert’s seemingly prehensile car after a stuffy night in the theatre, and they flirt together almost beyond naive bromance, tantalisingly debating whether to stay together for the night. And there are “important shadows”, a sensitivity to time ticking like clocks or ticking like gas meters, and “Number double o double o infinity” as a missing telephone number. And a lawn the gardener would find difficult to mow, a potential landscape to match our severe drought today: “it was like the form of an enormous hare, and each blade of grass was broken-backed and sallow, as though the juice had been squeezed out of it.” — “And of course he likes the trees; he doesn’t notice that the branches are black and dead at the tips, as though the life of the tree were ebbing, dropping back into its trunk, like a failing fountain.”

With Hubert gone, and Ernest locked out by what he had left as an unlocked house, locked by someone who has locked it from within, like this very story itself, he makes the most dangerous climb and grappling with windows, and frightening visions of hands halting his way inside. The house seems as prehensile with sounds and motives as Hubert’s car, with Ernest tantamount to becoming its burglar. Burgling himself, as it were. The puckish inverse of Puck of Stithies. Or he has become his own wicked policeman? Elbows first. “Half kneeling, half supporting himself on his elbows,…” an elbow moment that presages much genuine horror about loneliness and aloneness and self-identity as he seeks entry — and makes me think that the smeared marks the charlady finds at the end upon the box room window are really elbows!

“The imprint of a man’s knees perhaps?”


The full context of this review:

The Uncommon Prayer-Book by M.R. James


This is the story of Mr Davidson (as told by a sporadically intrusive and disarmingly omniscient, if unreliable, narrator) and by chance Davidson meets another man on a train, a man who takes him to a certain secluded chapel in the middle of the countryside looked after by the man’s daughter and her husband, and the man obsessively laughs at the husband’s reported reference to ‘Gregory singing’ (Gregorian chanting?) as donkeys braying, and Davidson when in the chapel is told by the daughter about the eight prayer books that always manage to be open at a certain page of Psalm CIX when nobody is around, even though she always leaves the books shut, and the gestalt one needs to formulate, an act I have so far failed doing, needs to combine a donkey braying, St Gregory (and the locust (mistaken for a moth?) that landed on his bible?), the ‘moth…

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THE FALL OF THE IDOL: Richmal Crompton

Shadows & Elbows

“There was a faint perfume about her, and William the devil-may-care pirate and robber-chief, the stern despiser of all things effeminate, felt the first dart of the malicious blind god.”

A Just William story that proves he is neither just anything nor simply just: “William was a boy who never did things by halves.” And he is swept away by emotions such as love’s blind god, a trait that betrayshis sense of justice and objectivity and principle …as he falls in love with his teacher, Miss Drew, while she tries to teach him about ‘principal and interest’, not to speak of the Spanish Armada.

But by the end ‘blind god’ or ‘feet of clay’ make a dubious ‘syringa’ or ‘guelder rose’ dilemma of a moral to this fable. Some interesting moments in the plot, though, if “alreadyhalfway up the walk” that Miss Drew had with her male cousin. …


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THE RING: Isak Dinesen

Nemonymous Night

“To the two actors in the pantomime it was timeless; according to a clock it lasted four minutes.”

The young woman married to a young man, after familial doubts, and she goes on a visit to see what turned out to be his sick sheep and listen to talk of a vicious sheep thief with her husband’s elderly shepherd, a visit on sufferance without her dog Bijou that might have scared the sheep, later without her wedding ring, ‘lost’ somehow in a glade or grove, along with that direly disheveled thief? A Zeno Paradox of time, as the pantomime works through, with eventual reunion with her husband, and the meaning of it all never fully to be even half-understood. In the grove or glade, that pantomime with his blade and phosphorescent face. But which of their eyes was the bijou? That glimpse of truth?

”For a second the eyes of…

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“The arm beneath was chocolate-coloured to the elbow.”

In these episodes — during August at Low Threshold Hall in Suffolk that makes the reference to Lord Deadham seem strangely significant (a much rainier August than our current one in the same general area!) — I admit I became confused by the characters and the various “Termes of her Curse” relating to the vengeful ghost of Lady Elinor, but this work certainly chilled me with several frissons that still recur even as I write this and also teeming with inspirations of conceit, including the best ‘elbow moment’ ever! Including the dead cat doorstep bounce reminding me of Podolo and Three or Four for Dinner. And “According to one story, she doesn’t go out with the corpse, she goes out in it” gives a whole new slant to the Travelling Grave! The drawings morphing the person being drawn! And much more of Low and High Absurdism that even outdoes Aickman’s Compulsory Games with its aeroplane earlier crashing through this work’s ‘Thresholdiana’, with the aeroplane’s broken-off wing later used as a stretcher for a corpse that is piloted feet first “should its path be crossed by a Body yet nearer Dissolution. . . .”!

“Have you been sleeping in both beds?”


Later: Having now re-read my review of COMPULSORY GAMES, I see how significant the cross-reference may be:

The full context of the above review:

The True Primitive by Elizabeth Taylor



Lily is dating young Harry as a marriage prospect, the son of Mr Ransome, and the brother of another son called Godfrey, Mr R being the lock keeper on the river, with a lock garden but, increasingly offputting to Lily, Mr R also has a near violent and almost ‘obscene’ obsession with the culture represented by books of literature and their authors, as well as painting, especially his own painting methods that he inculcates into his sons, and those art students who crowd to the lock to paint, he thinks he can mentor them, as some even said that Mr R’s own painting of the same scene was as creatively naive as Douanier Rousseau, the original ‘primitive’, but Lily senses more than just interference by Mr R upon her mind but also upon the prospect of her body, especially when she spots Mr R naked inside their house between the shutters, but she failed to see the two sons who painted him from a darkened area of the room! A startling story that starts off naive, and has superb passages like this one…

“She [Mr R’s now deceased wife] had never been able to comprehend half of what he had offered her, she had muddled the great names and once dozed off after a few pages of Stendhal; but something, he thought, must have seeped into her, something of the lofty music of prose, as she listened, evening after evening of her married life. Now he missed her and so much of the sound of his own voice that had gone with her.
How different was Lily. The moment he began to read aloud, or even to quote something, down came her eyelids to half-mast. An invisible curtain dropped over her and behind it she was without any response, as if heavily drugged. He would have liked to have stuck pins in her to see if she would cry out: instead, he assaulted her – indecently, she thought, and that was why she would not listen – with Cicero and Goethe, Ibsen and Nietzsche and a French poet, one of his specials, called Bawdyleer.”


“‘You,’ they [the artists whom Mr R thought he could mentor] had been thinking, ‘a man who has all the great Masters at his finger-tips and can summon from memory one thundering phrase after another, who would expect to find you in such a backwater, living so humbly?’”

A most naively, bizarrely sophisticated unprimitive work, and I say that you need Author Elizabeth Taylor’s literary work like this to complete your own ‘culture’. Come around mine some time and I will read it aloud to you. Not for you to become my captive audience, but more something else, something far more intangible that I have to deploy for you about all the types of literature that I have been cultivating for years in Voltaire’s garden…


Full context of this review:

THE MARMALADE BIRD by William Sansom


“There it stood again, the magnificent marmalade bird! Head and shoulders above the grovelling tabibs, peppered as a thrush, beaked as an ibis, and achieving even some of the important trousery strut of an eagle.” 

An amazing story of a marriage battle as Dr Henry Livingstone and his wife holiday in Morocco, somehow in tune with this ‘Temporary Matter’ here: that I read and reviewed only this morning, where darknesses and secrets are replaced by breeds of birds in this Sansom story, with the kaleidoscopic genius-loci of Morocco last century coming right at you with the wife’s pesky small tabibs and the husband’s more regal marmalade bird that attacks their marmalade in the hotel, and she attacks the marmalade itself with Kleenex tissue, and this sticks to the marmalade bird itself, paralleling their battles of what a holiday should be in Morocco, spiritual and Moroccan, or trivial and touristy. It is like an Aickman with knowingly pretentious literariness, and we are bombarded sensorily by it, as they bombard each other censoriously. Till they sort of make it up via their respective competing and struggling birds and become a gestalt more than what they are individually, along with sacrifice and exultation. Like Elizabeth Bowen, too.
I felt like picking old hard skin off my ageing head while reading it. And so I did.

“…and a tall Sengalese in baggy scarlet trousers and gold waistcoat entered the room carrying letters on a tray. This man stood for a moment more astonished by humans than by bird: by the doctor’s malevolent bloodhound eye and ghostly face patched with white toothpaste, by the wife with hair pinned mannishly down in a night-net. But his second thought, as servant and by nationality host to these strangers from the white North, was to be of assistance to the poor crazed things.”


Full context of this story: