'Young Magic' by Helen Simpson
Women's Weird 2 includes several stories by writers new to me. This 1925 story is a case in point. Helen de Geurry Simpson (1897-1940) was an Australian writer and a British liberal politician. 'Young Magic' is an impressive piece that reminded me little of Angela Carter, with its self-possessed young heroine.
Viola, a solitary child who is not sent to school, does not learn to read and instead inhabits a fantasy world. Or does she? Her imaginary friend, Binns, is a subject of mild interest from the adults, but Binns is in fact real in some sense. As the story unfolded I wondered if Viola has telekinetic powers and Binns is a mental personification of these. Then I wondered if he is an actual demon or other entity. By the end I had concluded that it doesn't really matter, as it's a fine story and the ending is both surprising and credible.
Simpson is perfect in her depiction of the intense disgust children feel when patronised. Viola is interesting enough to inhabit an entire novel. This story is so fresh it might have been written yesterday, and if Simpson's other work is as good she deserves to be far better known.
Next up - a bit of murder and a spectral revelation.