Monthly Archives: August 2022

THE OTHER BED by E.F. Benson

“…a cold ugly wind was complaining among the pines…”

This is the potentially chilling story of the narrator’s stay, during a ten-day snowstorm, at a Swiss resort, and assigned, strangely, in an overbooked hotel, a room with an extra bed. Room no. 23, it must be noted. And gradually the sticky stain of someone  else of a spectral nature sleeping in it, having been recurrently delivered a bottle of whiskey by a ‘Sensitive’ ‘in-looking’ waiter — a waiter who was sent away because nobody had ordered it! Straightforward ghost story with a cursed spectral rationale? Yes and no.

“But at the time I made no guess as to any coherence between these isolated facts;”

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Other similar reviews: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/13/separate-horror-stories-from-many-years-ago/

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THE ROOM IN THE TOWER:

https://etepsed.wordpress.com/2022/08/03/the-room-in-the-tower-by-e-f-benson/

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THE MAN WHO WENT TOO FAR:

THE MAN WHO WENT TOO FAR by E.F. Benson

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And other reviews in the comment stream below….

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The Frontier Guards by H. Russell Wakefield

“It seems to me sometimes as if I actually assist in evoking and materialising these appearances, that I help to establish a connection between them…”

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Modest though I think I am, I do sometimes have an inexplicable knack to evoke the same effects when entering story texts that  I happen to choose to real-time review, the same as Lander does when he dares to enter haunted houses. The fact that he is said also to be a novelist is neither here nor there, I guess!

Ignoring all that for a moment I was genuinely terrified  by this brief story, perhaps more than any other, particularly when encountering its two undoubtedly crucial  ‘elbow’ moments, after having been justifiably obsessed with elbows as triggers  in literature for the last year or so in my real-time reviewing.

The story itself is well-written, atmospheric, about this house that is purported to be both ‘malevolent’  and ‘fatal’, and Lander — who has avoided entering it to date for fear of his own aforementioned ‘skills’ — is tempted to take Jim Brinton, at the latter’s request, to view it briefly just after dark on a foggy day, a day which they had earlier spent playing golf. I shall leave it there!

But I now wonder, as an aside, who or what tempted me into reading August Heat by W.F. Harvey a few days ago, a story that I had somehow instinctively avoided till then! 

“Concentrate on NOT concentrating.”

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My reviews of separate older horror stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/13/separate-horror-stories-from-many-years-ago/

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THE THOUGHT by L.P. Hartley

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

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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 ago HERE.
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 marble or white lettering on black marble.”
‘He prays for what he didn’t ought.’ – says one of the local likely lads who are set to taunt Mr G’s manic strident praying in the church that helps quench the Thought.
But an older lad says: ‘you chaps can go and blank yourselves. There’s nothing else for you to do. I’m off.’
“…the six bell-ropes swayed in all directions lashing each other and casting fantastic shadows.”
And a gargoyle has fallen, after Mr G has been away from the church, till now again he comes to give confession he hopes…
“The storm had split it but the odd thing was that the two halves, instead of being splintered and separated by their fall, lay intact on the sodden grass within a few inches of each other.”
leaving a naked spout aloft like a snake.
Inside the church, the red hot stove like a drum freezes him instead…
I cannot rid myself now of the Thought of this story. I trust you will fare less ill.

Like an itch in the brain that you can’t scratch because of the solid gargoyle around it?

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Full context of this review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/08/04/the-travelling-grave-and-other-stories-by-l-p-hartley/

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The Haunted Doll’s House by M.R. James

(My other reviews of M.R. James HERE)

“…he pointed with his stick to an object which shall be described when the time comes:”

“The point of agreement was, of course, somewhere between the two, it does not matter exactly where—I think sixty guineas.”

Told by a puckish narrator (“…an inventory of costume: I am incapable of it”) who even compares, at the very end, the events he tells to those in THE MEZZOTINT to take the wind out of the sails that he had already put into them, or the air of life he had put into the mysterious eponymous object and its inhabitants and their change of clothes, and its change of décor, a tale that is never COMPLETE although it says it is COMPLETE in the middle of it, before an elbows-on-the-table moment triggers the panoply or role-play of sinister events that the poor purchaser witnesses from his own bed as if the object and its contents were actually more real than Dillet himself, but the least said about his subsequent meeting with the man who sold it to him for perhaps sixty guineas the better, I say. Or ‘left to the imagination’, as it says.

“It’s full of little things that mustn’t be displaced more than we can help.”

“…now stood on Mr. Dillet’s large kneehole table, lighted up by the evening sun which came slanting through three tall slash-windows.” (SIC in my version)

“At the angles were absurd turrets covered with arched panels.”

“…four large rooms, bedroom, dining-room, drawing-room and kitchen, each with its appropriate furniture in a very COMPLETE state. […] The stable on the right was in two storeys, with its proper COMPLEMENT of horses, coaches and grooms, and with its clock and Gothic cupola for the clock bell. […] highly COMPLACENT frame of mind.” (My upper case letters throughout – and can anything be very complete?)

“The tale was complete.” — Except it wasn’t!

“…seen as if through the wrong end of a telescope.”

“The man of the blue satin and the woman of the brocade were alone in the room, and they were talking very earnestly, seated close together at the table, their elbows on it: every now and again stopping to listen, as it seemed.”

“The seer does not like to dwell upon what he saw entering the room: he says it might be described as a frog—the size of a man—but it had scanty white hair about its head.”


Frogs never say ‘ribbit ribbit’ but Dillet Dillet?

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A Kneehole Table

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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 psalm’ or as the daughter, who keeps her fabric safe from  moths, says: ‘morth’, together with aspects of historic rebellion against Oliver Cromwell by such banned prayer books having existed in 1653 …

The plot also takes me into a situation involving an unreliably Jewishly described(?) villain with three names who steals the books by exchanging them for books of a similar binding, and this villain is later bitten by a snake(?) or something else, as obliquely and frighteningly told to us by the lengthy Joycean stream of dialect monologue of a policeman interviewing common-spoken men.

An uncommon mystery indeed!

Some chance textual clues….

“…he say he can hear the old donkey brayin’ any day of the week, and he like something a little cheerful on the Sunday.”

“…to see as the morth shouldn’t get into ’em.’”

“The portraits of Cromwell, Ireton, Bradshaw, Peters, and the rest, writhing in carefully-devised torments, were evidently the part of the design to which most pains had been devoted.”

“It [the chapel] is a stone building about seventy feet long, and in the gothic style, as that style was understood in the middle of the seventeenth century.”

“‘…there’s not a rat in the place—not as no rat wouldn’t trouble to do a thing like that, do you think, sir?’ 

“Hardly, I should say; but it sounds very queer. Are they always open at the same place, did you say?’”

“Psalm cix, and at the head of it, just between the number and the Dens Iaudem, was a rubric, ‘For the 25th day of April’.” (25/4: St Mark’s Day and Cromwell’s birthday.)

The daughter’s possibly justified paranoia at being stalked: “here—no, it’s the other side, just within the screen—and lookin’ at me all the time I’m dustin’ in the gallery and pews. But I never yet see nothin’ worse than myself, as the sayin’ goes, and I kindly hope I never may.”

“We need not accompany him all the way to Longbridge. But as he was changing his socks before dinner,…”

“…great roll of old shabby white flannel about four to five feet high […] and this face hid in his neck—yes, sir, about where the injury was—more like a ferret goin’ for a rabbit than anythink else, and he rolled over, and of course I tried to get in at the door,…”

The reader did try to get in at the door of this insidious work, and then back out of it again, but they were subsumed by its implicit horror. Or is it simply the heat of the day?

Any help in ravelling or unravelling this gestalt?

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My other reviews of M.R. James: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/my-ongoing-reviews-of-m-r-james-stories/

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THE COTILLON by L.P. Hartley

“thoughts broke free from their bondage to the turning wheel”

…indeed also to a gramophone.
Pretty, sought-after Marion Lane’s thoughts are earlier said to be articulated like a record on a gramophone, that happen to presage the climax of the Christmastime cotillon — a cotillon in a large house with elements of the ‘masked’ hide-and-seek in ‘The Travelling Grave” and with a certain loophole of entry (here an opened window, one of five in a row, causing the snowy cold outside to battle with the roaring log fires inside), yes, entry by the damned dead reminiscent of ‘Feet Foremost’ — presaging the complex cotillon’s aftermath as a record being played, followed by an ending ‘shriek’ perhaps as the needle flies off?… “The room rustled with their whispering, with the soft hissing sound of ‘Chichester’ and the succeeding ‘Hush!’ which was meant to stifle but only multiplied and prolonged it. [……]” — and, incredibly, an explicitly mentioned ‘cartridge’ as bullet or needle holder upon a wooden head that perhaps represented the body of the gramophone that played the record: ‘Would you like to see? Would you like to look right into my mind?’
Also somehow presaging, in many preternatural ways, our own recent grappling with the wearing of masks socially (“these confounded masks”), not just on the upper face as someone says here in domino or masked balls, but men whose smiling (or not) could not be discerned. “Knowing how fallible are human plans, she had left in the cloakroom a small supply of masks for those men who, she knew, would forget to bring them. She thought her arrangements were proof against mischance,…”

This is the chilling story of Marion and the love-crossed suicide called Harry or Hal (cf Shakespeare?) that she caused by her behaviour, a man now supernaturally seeking revenge (“I never much valued Truth for its own sake, and I am grateful to Chance for affording me that peep behind the scenes last night. I am more grateful to you for keeping up the disguise as long as you did”) as part of that cotillon that seems to be still dancing in my head as I write this about it. And other moments that haunt me: “masked males, leaping like salmon,…”, “…while the man at the back, never shifting his position, drooped over her like an earring”, ‘anonymous fingers’ grasping the top of a sheet, a sheet like an opaque badminton net…
…and ‘The dead travel fast.’ — if not we alive ones who are still counting the minutes to Midnight….

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The full context of this review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/08/04/the-travelling-grave-and-other-stories-by-l-p-hartley/

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In Hindsight

The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

Me with my beloved grandmother in 1952.
She was born in 1899 as was Elizabeth Bowen and turned out in hindsight to very much look like her, too.
I think I was perhaps destined to love Elizabeth Bowen fiction, although my grandma was not at all ‘literary’!

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THE ROOM IN THE TOWER by E.F. Benson

“…on the mere calculation of chances it does not appear in the least unlikely that a dream imagined by anyone who dreams constantly should occasionally come true.”

Coincidence, dream, recurrence, dread, visitation by the evil of a suicide, a painting that makes you bleed, a recurring sense of ever being given the eponymous tower room to stay in, an impending thunderstorm after losing matches… and with the ace of diamonds as a sort of  pre-non-sequitur, this story was nothing like I remember it from when I was frightened by it many years ago. It was as if it has now morphed into a poor story, one which no longer frightens me at all — a fact which is perhaps frightening in itself! 

A recurring dream that is different from the co-vivid dream that it becomes by my reading it again … and it somehow makes me doubt who I actually am!

‘By Jove, the old lady is a weight,’ said John mopping his forehead. ‘I wonder if she had something on her mind.’

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My other recent reviews of unconnected horror stories — https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/13/separate-horror-stories-from-many-years-ago/

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THE THING ABOUT ANTS AND ASTRONAUTS by Justen Russell

ANTS and AstroNauTS, and we learn of two characters, one called NATalie, lost in space while scouting nebulae, as is the narrator searching for them, a narrator bemused by a particular nebula called Blackheart and its scientifically impossible plANeTS. I think I partially understood what was going on and I certainly found it intriguing! I was spatially inspired by the detailed parallels of this nebula-scouting with the narrator’s not always happy memories of childhood when their house in Kanpur was infested by marching ants… and I noted the narrator’s self-diagnosed psychological state, we are constantly told, being one called ”NoT Attached” (my upper case). Still working on this story’s themes, every damn atom of me!

“I am supposed to fly headlong into the unknown, not avoid it, but some unknowns feel unknowable, like the event horizon of a black hole or what lies beyond the boundary of death.”

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Full Interzone context: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/23/interzone-292-293/#comment-25150

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