Thursday, 9 January 2020

'The Shiftings'

The third story in The Far Tower, Stories for W.B. Yeats, is by Rosanne Rabinowitz, who addresses the poet's spiritualist faith head on. It's a relatively light story, compared to the first two offerings in the book, but still has a hint of darkness toward the conclusion.

Set in 1980, 'The Shiftings' is the story of Ethel, a novelist who was once Yeats' lover and muse. A feminist and socialist, she was at odds with the poet over politics and other matters, but retains a strong affection for him. When she is approached by Lucy, a student, who is studying Ethel's own work, it seems to act as a kind of catalyst. Compelled to focus on her own past, Ethel conjures up the spirit of Yeats, who begins to communicate with her through automatic writing.

Dead, since 1939, but in this story he still won't shut up
The exchanges between live novelist and dead poet are well realised and very entertaining. We learn that Yeats has been through the Shiftings of the title, apparently the living through of all a deceased person's possible lives - a kind of Spiritualist purgatory? 

Yeats then explains that he wishes to continue his literary career from beyond the veil. Ethel balks at the idea of being a conduit for a dead poet, however distinguished. It is hinted that the spirit has fastened on Lucy instead. Ethel is left to cultivate her garden.

This is a lively, engaging story that manages to offer a compelling character study of a writer and puts Yeats in the historical context of a turbulent century. Another winner, I think. More from this running (or at least lolloping) review very shortly.

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