CONTINUED FROM PART FOUR HERE: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/915-2/


Edited by Philip Hensher

My previous reviews of older or classic fictions: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

My review of the Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/26/the-penguin-book-of-the-contemporary-british-short-story/

When I read the stories in the above two books, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below:

29 responses to “*

  1. In future I shall be alternating two stories from the more modern collection above with just one from the older collection, instead of one alternately from each collection as previously.

  2. RHYS DAVIES: A Human Condition

    “Yet those chimes were like knells bringing grief. Grief, grief. A sensation of burning grief,…”

    Knells and knellbows, this story is a masterful story of a man called Mr Arnold who was once big in the city of London, now pastured out in the sticks in everlasting retirement, and today striving to get various pubs to serve him endless doubles of whiskey on his biggest day of all, on the very day he later falls into not his own grave, but into his dear dear wife’s newly dug one, but perhaps that ignores his big day’s coda with a nurse where they nurse him back to health. Intensely felt, slightly black humour, and less than slightly black resonances with my own life in still gradual actuality. Full of the gluey Zenoism of time that has bedevilled my reviewing during the years of lockdown. Perhaps never too late to speed up and live again? Whatever, this story is absolutely beautifully written.
    “He had the feeling he was in a dream in which a ghostly, senseless frustration dogs one’s every move. The cat slept. The hands of a dusty old clock remained neatly and for ever together at twelve o’clock.”
    And of course, it has its own elbow triggers…
    “The two men took his elbows, and now he submitted to their aid. […] ‘We can only hope people will think it’s grief.’ […] George and Henry took Mr Arnold’s elbows to assist him for the last look.”

    ‘Me! Me!’

  3. FRANCIS KING: The Mouse

    A haunting story of a married couple, young, broke, he coercive, even threatening and presumptuously expectant of her parents’ wealth, she seemingly submissive, their small daughter Mavis given by them the mouse as a gift in a cage, a gift despite the family’s cost of living crisis, he an ambitious musician, she the wife helping with this when he is sick and also doing for the old man downstairs as char for money. Mavis, mouse, matchboxes, the old man’s lazily musing massive mastiff in the shared garden. Beauty and the beast, the mouse and the monster. Which the magnet to which? Which the music’s mute dying-fall from the platform or the rostrum?

  4. ISRAEL ZANGWILL: The Tug of Love

    From the near marriage-broking and almost identical tug of magnetic love of the previous story above and the expectation of a wife’s dowry money, with monster and mouse, to this sparkling apotheosis of Jewishness in resonance within a firm of machinists, here with stuffed monkeys, not matchboxes, and a finger filched for diamond engagement ring after she grasped a man’s hand of mis-seen cloud earlier in mischief. Left hand or right, this is a marvellous co-resonance by oblique music of words. Read these stories in this order of reading and you will see! (But only one has a happy ending, beware.)

  5. WILLIAM SANSOM: A Contest of Ladies

    “handbag swinging like a third buttock,…”

    This is a truly remarkable tour de force of a novelette with many stylish passages as well as scatological twinges, a work that genuinely staggered me with its cheek! Lengthy descriptions that outdo anything you can imagine in nip and tuck tactility and fell pungent sexuality with far too close-up images of ladies in a seaside beauty contest each with “her-little triangle and her two small moons, nothing else,…”
    The English seaside place is a genius loci supreme that I recognise from my experience of some seventy years.
    There is so much I could quote to demonstrate what I say that I am spoilt for choice. So I am quoting very little.
    ‘Button-Putton. Holey-Poley. Button-Put – no, damn, Holey-Poley …’
    Six of these European ‘beauty’ ladies (one with ‘black beards’ of armpit hair) are well-characterised as individuals with hilarious undertones, all in interface with a wealthy man, once a celebrity, who somehow accidentally puts them up in his large mock-hotel that he likes living in on his own, pretending it’s a real hotel. The male jokesters in the town and members of the Yacht club and something do with Barium Meal, induces this situation and later resulting in him becoming one of the contest judges and his consequent snubbing of one of the beauty ladies, as she sees it… who gets her revenge by…
    Well that would spoil it. But I am reminded of the brilliant deadpan ending of Wilkinson’s Wife above!

    “He had found Miss Clermond-Ferrand sitting with her head in her beautiful hands and each elbow cupped in the half of a lemon.”

    My previous review of William Sansom: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/a-woman-seldom-found/

  6. SAMUEL SELVON: Knock On Wood

    “…one night Jarvis and me combing the Bayswater Road late to see if we could pick up a little thing to pass the time away.”

    “Jupsingh have on a colin-wilson and he keep pulling the long sleeves down to cover his fingers, like gloves.”

    Well, Colin Wilson did write ‘The Outsider’, if not outerwear. And Jupsingh is one of the outsiders in Bayswater, with a wooden pole always in his coat, to knock on for superstition’s sake, much like the kissing of the cross…

    “and kissing a sign of the cross what he have pin on to the front of the colin-wilson. And he knocking wood. He knocking chair, table, floor – anything make out of wood in my room.”

    Coloured men who want to be cuddled — forties, fifties, sixties, Caribbean, Indian? — one of them bringing a girl here from Woking to try cuddle and bed in those un-woke times. A story told by one of them in the caricatured parlance of such men in those days, I guess. Mostly talking about bed arrangements — pairing or three? — for the night, just like in Mysterious Kôr, I guess.
    The girl was having none of it, not until perhaps she met one of their uncles.

  7. ARNOLD BENNETT: The Death of Simon Fuge

    “My belief is that I am to this day known and revered in Bursley, not as Loring the porcelain expert from the British Museum, but as the man who first, as it were, brought the good news of the Rossetti Limericks from Ghent to Aix.”

    This is quite a discovery for me, covering aesthetics in and out of its social history and art’s place of where it’s being shown and earthenware like Wedgwood, with coincidences of Knype and the artist Fuge whose recent death being by chance in the newspaper that I read on the train getting there, Fuge as part of the swarming fugue — Richard Strauss, Mozart and Brahms notwithstanding, and the Domestic Symphony of two families with mumps or not mumps in the Five Towns and its grit and ugliness — a swarm of people that bombard our narrator (me) at the Knype train station in the Five Towns of the Potteries, and the later swarming at the reading room, the wink of my host, me from the British Museum to help him with the Wedgwood of the parochial museum, and his final quasi-wink, his wife, and his friend’s wife who was the more stolid sister of the other sister (the latter now a barmaid as a sort of Goddess of the Private Bar), two sisters who had both been on the bosom of the lake with Fuge when they were younger. “And his dalliance, his tangential nocturnal deviations in gondolas with exquisite twin odalisques!” What I find out about them is apotheosised by the tension between them in the heavenly light of the Fuge painting as seen in a parochial museum, a painting of a girl that one will never forget reading about! Only ordinary human men can create such perfect art.

    But what elbows!
    Mr Brindley is my host, and the text talks about bridling and unbridling. And how to roll cigarettes. And a love of the Manchester Guardian. And does he say women will be women at one stage? Or women are all alike? Well, this story transcends those questions of mysogyny with a sublime character study of women and art. This is a masterpiece, and I am rambling randomly around in my own fugue of a review to nail it down. I never shall, nor will you!
    Not forgetting Oliver Colclough and his work in sanitary wear.
    And the Tiger pub in interface with Hortulus Animae.
    And Anna Brett, the barmaid sister in the Private Bar, one of the sisters from the lake jaunt with Fuge, is also seen with the mole-meticulousness of a Sansom Beauty Queen above…
    The lake was a crucial lake for canals and railways, too.
    Fixed up finally by the book doctor, for alcoholic hangover if not for aesthetic overdose…

    “the clean-faced southerner, who is apt to forget that coal cannot walk up unaided out of the mine,…”

    “In truth, I felt myself to be a very brittle, delicate bit of intellectual machinery in the midst of all these physical manifestations. Yet I am a tallish man, and these potters appeared to me to be undersized, and somewhat thin too! But what elbows!”

    “My drawbridge goes up as if by magic, my postern is closed, and I peer cautiously through the narrow slits of my turret to estimate the chances of peril. Nor was Mr Brindley offensively affable.”

    “…through which the train wound its way. It was squalid ugliness, but it was squalid ugliness on a scale so vast and overpowering that it became sublime.”

    “This ‘Ha!’ was entirely different from his ‘Ah!’”

    “…and down the main road a vast, white rectangular cube of bright light came plunging – its head rising and dipping – at express speed, and with a formidable roar.”

    “They bore down the steps, hands deep in pockets, sweeping over me like Fate.”

    “If you undermine the moral character of your fellow-citizens by a long course of unbridled miscellaneous philanthropy, you can have a funeral procession as long as you like, at the rate of about forty shillings a foot.”

    “It had the terrible trite ‘museum’ aspect, the aspect that brings woe and desolation to the heart of the stoutest visitor, and which seems to form part of the purgatorio of Bank-holidays, wide mouths, and stiff clothes.”

    “…and yet Simon Fuge had somehow caught in that face a glimpse of all the future of the woman that the girl was to be, he had displayed with exquisite insolence the essential naughtiness of his vision of things. […] It was Simon Fuge, at any rate all of Simon Fuge that was worth having, masterful, imperishable. And not merely was it his challenge, it was his scorn, his aristocratic disdain, his positive assurance that in the battle between them he had annihilated the Five Towns.”

    In that Tiger’s Private Bar as shrine or theatre of footlights …

    “Three perpendicular planes. Back plane, bottles arranged exactly like books on book shelves; middle plane, the upper halves of two women dressed in tight black; front plane, a counter, dotted with glasses, and having strange areas of zinc. […] A private bar is as eternal as the hills, as changeless as the monomania of a madman, as mysterious as sorcery. Always the same order of bottles, the same tinkling, the same popping, the same time tables, and the same realistic pictures of frothing champagne on the walls, the same advertisements on the same ash-trays on the counter, the same odour that wipes your face like a towel the instant you enter; and the same smiles, the same gestures, the same black fabric stretched to tension over the same impressive mammiferous phenomena of the same inexplicable creatures who apparently never eat and never sleep, imprisoned for life in the hallowed and mystic hollow between the bottles and the zinc.”

    “The boxes of light were flashing up and down it, but otherwise it seemed to be quite deserted. Mr Brindley filled a pipe and lit it as he walked. The way in which that man kept the match alight in a fresh breeze made me envious. I could conceive myself rivalling his exploits in cigarette-making, the purchase of rare books, the interpretation of music, even (for a wager) the drinking of beer, but I knew that I should never be able to keep a match alight in a breeze. He threw the match into the mud, and in the mud it continued miraculously to burn with a large flame, as though still under his magic dominion. There are some things that baffle the reasoning faculty.”

    “I knew my deplorable tomorrows.”

    “No, there are no half-measures in the Five Towns.”

    “‘Well,’ I said, ‘we shall see – in fifty years.’
    ‘That’s just what we shan’t,’ said he. ‘We shall be where Simon Fuge is – dead! However, perhaps we are proud of him. But you don’t expect us to show it, do you? That’s not our style.’

    I have become a different person after reading this strange aberration of literature.

  8. MURIEL SPARK: Bang-Bang You’re Dead

    “Désirée would sit innocently cross-legged beside you at a party, watching the conjurer, then suddenly, for no apparent reason, jab at you viciously with her elbow.”

    …as this substantive story does to me, its conjurer being the author. But my bruised reading-ribs openly provide evidence that this is one of the relatively rare works of fiction chosen, as if preternaturally, for or by me to read that did not have a magical trick working for me. I sometimes have a hiatus or leap of meaning that takes me nowhere. My fault.
    Especially in this work’s Colonial post-Kôr Africa, but I did appreciate the alternations of Sybil’s projected reels from her past and her projected reals of present time. Her approximation to another girl and, later, woman called Desirée, and the confusion of shooting incidents. And their childhood with other Doubles called the Dobell boys all of whom conjure Richmal Crompton’s William and Evadne Price’s Jane. And the other characters that grow into Sybil’s future … and her past.

    “Sybil vowed to herself each night, I will do the same to her. Next time – tomorrow if it isn’t raining – I will bang-bang her before she has a chance to hang her panama on the bough as a decoy.”

  9. I reviewed the next story in the past, as follows….



    BIND YOUR HAIR by Robert Aickman

    “‘Let there be wet,’ quoted Clarinda to herself in her clear gentle voice. ‘Oh let there be wet.’”

    And now, of course, we duly arrive at the most clinging and insidious ‘I’m not sure that time is the essence, Slow,’ of them all — indeed the most  gluey Zenoism (“it was now something after half past”) in the shape of the MIST against the wetness of which Clarinda, during a solitary  outing, needs to bind her hair, as she wades through near ankle-breaking  muddiness, and through very soft rubber and other resistances of passage, an outing that she foolhardily takes during this first stay with her future husband’s ‘lobster-pot’ of a family in an empty part of an English county whereto rich men of the shoe and the bootlace industry retire, one of them being  her fiancé’s father. She tries to escape, by means of this  outing, from the socially claustrophobic  house and its hindsight promise of an over-large  breakfast fated for  the next morning. An outing that turns out to be darkly time-mazed with gradients of early cinematography, including  sights of pigs and smells of unsavouriness and meeting two indeterminate children and a slouching mis-languaged man with a shepherd’s crook, and the unforgettable Mrs Pagani who had been part of the original social gathering at the family house. 

    A story that is another theme-and-variations by Aickman upon the Lordly Ones, I guess. There is even, within it, a vision of my own photo above that  I have used time and time and time again in my reviews, a photo originally taken uncounted years ago. Not forgetting the children’s diving-suits with hoods. And the long red mouths. And listening to four chapters of PERSUASION read aloud by the father in one sitting before supper. No need, surely, to provide  further inducement for those with sufficient sump to receive this story. And strong enough ankles to kick away its boars.

    “Can I change my shoes?”

    All my reviews of Robert Aickman: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/robert-aickman/

  10. MARY MANN: Women o’ Dulditch

    “She screwed the half-dozen hard red balls in their bit of paper, and stowed them lightly in the customer’s basket.”

    A highly tactile dialect-strewn story, almost naive if we hadn’t known, by hints of explanation, some of its backstory, about an indifferent woman and her neighbour a woman dying like skeleton and the latter’s selflessly selfish, field-working man of a husband, each of this trio a simple-minded impulsive ‘shadowy third’ to the other two. None changed their set course, of course, but the indifferent woman did do what was, simple-mindedly, an unthought-out stoical duty by caring for the dying woman, while all three had eyes for an empty eternity, despite the clergyman’s claim it was full.
    The dialect spoke more to us than what its own elided-tactile vowels and consonants actually meant as uttered by those using it as dialogue, I guess..

    “…and with elbows on knees and head on hand he hiccoughed and moaned and wept aloud.”

  11. V. S. NAIPAUL: The Perfect Tenants

    “‘Itler had the appendix took out of all his soldiers.”

    And in a block of flats in the late fifties, it seems, the tenants, even this story’s narrator, all of them as renting appendices, have their weakest link among them, too. (I think it was the late fifties as I remember well it was when we needed to get the black and white TV adapted so as to get the then new second channel, one with commercials as mentally painful appendices.) We get to know the narrator here by his words, a tenant himself, and also, by his words, we get to know the landlady herself and her husband, and there is also a couple with a knitmaster knitting-machine of those times, and also the supposed eponymous ‘perfect tenants’, the Dakin couple. And we are left to infer race and/or class with all these people in this mischievously humorous story.
    A story with bottles of milk building up outside on the doorstep, the unsocial noise of a TV, a ladder burnt to hide health and safety guilt, and Mr Dakin going into hospital with a perfect appendix. Sorry, perforated? The narrator fears the look of the inside of a Ladies club in town whence the next perfect tenant harkens….while the assumed freehold author is assumed to become a wicked appendix to his own story, give or take Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy in Literature! Any Let or Leasehold characters as the self-autonomous story’s own tenants, even this review as chronic appendix, notwithstanding.

  12. J. G. BALLARD: The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D

    “Later her portraits, carved in the whirlwind, were to weep their storm-rain upon the corpses of their sculptors.”

    Fiction is like cloud sculpting, clouds as words, words as clouds, and we see the faces, the interactions, the cripples and the beautiful ones, the gliders of plot between, the scenic thermals and vicious storms, only to become smears or effervescences of memory, eventually fading as the next wordclouds come along in the eternal race. Hence perhaps crystallising them in these individual gestalts of reviewed real-time, eventually reaching out, literarily re-viewing them in constructed hindsight, towards the ultimate gestalt that can never be swept away by the winds and gales of life? And this story is an inspiring version of that, I can see, as we witness clouds sculpted as part of its very plot, from a crazed Mona Lisa and much else to portrait sculptures of the ‘colossal narcissist’ Garbo-type woman Leonora whose portraits by famous artists she has collected for her home, a formidable woman now commissioning these portraits in the sky from a group of characters in this story, themselves a sort of Picasso painting of motley figures from a “threadbare circus”, one of whom falls in love with another woman connected to Leonora called Lafferty. The outcome in the sky is thrilling and inevitable. Beautifully written. As we fly like a composite Michelangelo in precarious gliders ourselves above an exhausted volcano as mesa but ever within an unexhausted and manipulatable mass of sky’s immortality. Whatever the crippled bodies we leave behind on the ground when parts of us crash back there.

    “Leonora clutched at his elbow. With the diamonds fixed around her eyes she reminded me of some archaic priestess.”

    My previous reviews of J.G. Ballard: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/j-g-ballard/

    It seems fortuitous that, by an inspiring chance coincidence, I have read this story today in due order of planned reading soon after completing my review of ‘The Queen of Clouds’ here, an equally significant work that is intensely connected by a diverse, yet mutual, synergy of power and poignancy.
    And both also suddenly remind me of ‘The Cloud Cartographer’ here.

  13. SAKI: Gabriel-Ernest

    A story of registerable ‘childflesh’ cannibalism and of rereleasing the Beast after T.H. White’s story hunted it down earlier in this anthology. This one is about a naked boy found in the wood that a shameful relishing by a maiden aunt made her quick later to cover up this foundling’s nudity — and about a man named Van Cheele who sought a second sighting of this creature from one called Cunningham…before they could make us make-believe it, too.
    This possessed the je ne sais quoi of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Pool — and the innuendo of Sarban: another writer with a single name beginning with S. The lostling or changeling child called Toop may have been a Hyde-away of an alter id or nemo anyway?

    “‘You’re talking rather through your hat when you speak of feeding on hares.’ (Considering the nature of the boy’s toilet the simile was hardly an apt one.)”


    “The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.”
– John Fowles (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’ 1964)

    Cf My review of Saki’s Sredni Vashtar here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/weird-a-compendium-of-dark-and-strange-stories/
    And of his THE WOLVES OF CERNOGRATZ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/04/the-4th-fontana-book-of-great-ghost-stories-edited-by-robert-aickman/#comment-21690

  14. CHRISTINE BROOKE-ROSE: Red Rubber Gloves

    Anti-novel techniques — or Robbe-Grillet cut your heart out! Report on Probability A, too, as a counteraction to Coral D? This is a convalescent character on their balcony through the quick-passing seasons looking with detailed, chess-like, contrastively slow-motion Zeno’s Paradox obsessions at the geometry of the neighbouring houses, two of them like Siamese Twins, the mapping of their various rooms, and a pair of red rubber gloves that appear at first prehensile while cutting up meat and doing the washing, till they become the appendages of speed-housewife tasks over a thin woman’s hands whose sun-bathing is also picked out in pink, a mock-nudity whereby most of the items of her body itself are picked out meticulously one by one, but, just to annoy me, there is no mention of elbows! The eventual inferences of her lover and what she did to her baby are merely that – inferences. And I was more interested in the mind of the convalescent observer, and their eyes wandering from corner A of the chess board to the coordinates of the corner where I am put out by reading their inferred first person singular narrative words about watching me smart.

    My previous reference to this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/05/22/well-never-have-paris/#comment-16293

  15. This is possibly a sequel to the previous story (!), with the equivalent observer not hide-bound by convalescence, but roving from house to house, first meeting a vicar whose equivalent to red rubber gloves are a tea towel…

    ELIZABETH TAYLOR: In and Out the Houses

    “He held a tea-towel to the door-handle, because his fingers were sticky.”

    And our observer this time a young lady still at school who picks up a knife to slice oranges to help the vicar make marmalade.
    “The village was short of babies…”
    She is on holiday from school — otherwise busy writing a novel — and she regularly transfers gossip about recipes for this and that commodity, thus creating rivalries between the houses, and she spreads gossip about deaths and babies, in fact the death of someone she fears at the start of her holiday’s visit-mongering is consummated by the time it comes to an end.

    ‘Jam Fart and Custard’.

    Her own novel turns out to be quite unexpected but, still, this charming Elizabeth Taylor work reminded me of Beatrix Potter anyway!

    I intend to review all Elizabeth Taylor stories here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/27/complete-short-stories-elizabeth-taylor/
    My notes on Elizabeth Taylor and Ivy Compton Burnett: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/ivy-compton-burnett-elizabeth-taylor/

  16. J. E. MALLOCH: Cheap Lodgings

    “Yes. Very good – but I was saying – call me Marianne, with two n’s, or even Mrs Bertram Clark – but not ma!”

    A tranche of life for two down on their luck actresses in cheap lodgings and sharing a bed by necessity, one older with two n’s in her name, but called by other more or less wishful names, and the other younger, Lillian, with a dog Spot, and given insipid tea in the morning by change-over lodging-house servants, a weary older woman for a younger, and a thin male tenant on the stairs today whitewashing the walls of the landing in lieu of his paying rent, and he inadvertently pushes Lillian, by dint of his obstacles of work, into a real loo or bathroom, foully decrepit and disused…
    Three and sixpence good enough for a week’s work? Well, this is the sort of world that our own temporary landlords today wish to be landing us back into where push becomes a shove. And this time without inadvertence! Their attempts at whitewashing won’t wash with me!

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