THE COFFIN ON THE HILL by Denton Welch

“I had the idea that a monk’s life was nothing but a waste of idleness, and I decided that they would all go mad in the end.” 

Someone, presumably English, looking back to when he was eight years old and his parents — along with their Boy, Cook and Coolie — took him for a houseboat cruise on the river Yangtze from Shanghai, and as seen though his eyes, we share evocations of the sights he sees, and his fears of being dragged down by the current in the shape of creatures with monstrous tentacles, and other naive matters such as his doll (neither masculine nor feminine) whom he cherishes and the name of whom he knows but has never written down before, viz. Lymph Est. Which seems ironically pertinent to this particular reader today — when he recently knows he will soon or eventually perish by an invasion specifically of his Lymph. Not Est but Diest, I guess. And indeed this child faces death disarmingly amidst the picnics and other sight seeings. The monks and the granite incense burner with broken lip his parents are given by monks, a graveyard on a hill where in one grave he can see the rotted dead within. A coffin into which all of us, even his mother, will end up. And so defiantly, almost accidentally, almost deliberately, he drops the doll into the running, sucking river. An experiment to disprove the future’s dire rite of passage he dreads? Or just his own version of my own petulant attention-seeking? Some wondrous passages in this work.

***

My other reviews of DW: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/10/27/the-stories-of-denton-welch/

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