Thursday, 20 September 2018

'Three for a Girl'

The longest story in Carly Holmes' collection Figurehead is a novella about a haunted house. It is also a tale of two sisters - Georgie, a successful artist who has bought the house with her husband, Mark, and Marie, a Bohemian outsider.

When the story begins Marie has just had an abortion. We do not learn why, or who the man was, only that she has a lover. She calls Georgie, who is pregnant, and agrees to go and stay with her. Magpie House is a former orphanage in the English countryside. Mark is absent. From the start we know that Marie detests him and resents him having a part in her sister's life. Georgie, however, seems well and happy - at first.

As the story unfolds, Marie becomes aware of presences in the house. At first it is a single child that she dreams of, holding her close as she sleeps. But gradually ghosts of all the orphans manifest themselves to her. At the same time Georgie becomes disturbed, and eventually suffers injuries in some kind of attack. Marie's efforts to protect her sister become increasingly desperate.

The truth about the situation is revealed in the final quarter of the novella. Genuine horror emerges from the fabric of the story as it does from the fabric of the old house. There is an overtone of Shirley Jackson's most nightmarish tales in the final scene. But along the way Holmes brings the house and the people to life with exceptional skill, especially when the first hints of a haunting are described.

I felt a little stunned after the last page of this tone.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

'An Episode of Cathedral History'

Image may contain: outdoor

This is by Sebastian Cabrol. You can read an interview with the artists here.


My running review of Figurehead by Carly Holmes continues with this flash fiction piece. It is a familiar tale in some ways. The voice on the page is a young woman living in a poor, rural community who yearns for the liberation that knowledge can bring. She is sure that freedom is bound up in the power of the written word. 'I only wanted to write my name', she explains. But, of course, that is a revolutionary manifesto in some cultures, and not just in the historical past.

The woman becomes a wife and bears a daughter, for whom she wants better than a life of domestic servitude. Writing will achieve this, she hopes. The mistake she makes is to practice writing not in flour or mud but in more permanent media, clay and bark. The words are seen. 

'The local people took my scratched attempts at spelling to be spells. They called me wich.'

Words free us. Words condemn us. 

Monday, 17 September 2018

'The Glamour'

Another piece of flash fiction, again told from a first-person perspective. This one is a little masterpiece of ambiguity. The (again nameless) storyteller sees things - small things that fly and have 'a suggestion of humanity'. The author often takes a minimalist approach to description, which some readers may not like. For me it's not a problem, perhaps because my eyesight is poor and I'm used to being unable to identify things, small and fluttery ones in particular.

Might they be faeries, of a sort? Angels? Demons? Or insects misidentified? Could the person they appear to love be a changeling? What makes the story interesting is that it could be an account of mental breakdown due to illness, or something altogether more strange, magical. There is something a little Blakeian about the finale, and also a hint of Daphne Du Maurier's darker tales (i.e. most of them).

More from this running review very soon!