Wednesday, 7 June 2017

'Where's the Harm?'



Oh the irony - I'm writing this the day before the UK general election. Where indeed is the harm? Well, in Rebecca Lloyd's 'strange story' the harm is to venture off the path through the woods. This fairytale stuff, of course, and this novella does partake of folklore in some its imagery and ideas.

For instance, we begin with two rival brothers, both of whom are in need of cash.They agree to do up their parents' old house and sell it, but one becomes preoccupied with the forest and its link to a childhood mystery. Why did their beautiful mother cut off all her hair one day? An old codger living nearby has a good idea, but won't tell. All he does is warn them to stay on the path and not go in search of a second house that is said to be hidden in the trees.

Needless to say one brother strays, urging the other to follow him with the words of the title. They find the mysterious house and its residents, or at least two them. Beautiful and strange women with immensely long hair appear in the clearing and prove enchanting to Eddie, the wayward brother. This leads to a trysting and a union that are as bizarre as they seem inevitable. Ross the sensible brother, is the appalled spectator.

This is an interesting novella, well-paced and genuinely odd. It seems to be set on the margins of our reality. For instance, the place where the brothers live is called Holesville Nine, a place that I doubt we can find on any Ordnance Survey map. It sounds as if it should lie somewhere between the worlds of William S. Burroughs and Arnold Palmer.

By the same token the mysterious forest women (I can't call them 'hairy women' even though it's accurate) have Star Wars-y names like Carboh and Domescia. I'm not sure if these quirky details enhance the story or make it less effective. After all the brothers are called Ross and Eddie, not Zarp and Gingloid. But perhaps the pulp sf element is not surprising, as the story's climactic image is derived from a well-known work by Catherine L. Moore.

Those quibbles aside, this is another fine piece of writing. Again we are in the countryside, and again we are quietly informed that it is not a safe place. Too much is hidden by the foliage, anything might lurk among the trees.

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