By Phyllis Paul A novel first published 1957 The Sundial Press (2012) with introduction by Glen Cavaliero Beautiful hardback book that I recently purchased from the publisher.
Below is a real-time review that may take me days, weeks, months or years to complete… (my previous such reviews linked from HERE)
One, Two “Owl-voices, cries in the night –” I have not read Phyllis Paul’s work before but when I first saw this novel advertised I simply knew that it would be just up my street, being, as I am, a long-term fan of Elizabeth Bowen (who died in the same year as PP, that link being to my own site I created in EB’s honour) and currently re-reading ‘The Glastonbury Romance’ by John Cowper Powys, both of which authors have been mentioned in connection with this Sundial Press book. And I can tell, this early in the book, that I am not mistaken. I am rather excited at the prospect of reading the rest of it, although I may savour it slowly. A novel of such deeply textured, yet limpid, prose deserves savouring. The first chapter summons up, by inference of a tentative fire warming a room, a young (children or young adults?) brother and sister preparing to visit a house in the country with resonances of past ominous connections with them and a man they hardly know. I will not repeat the plot in this review, but hopefully just give impressions as I go through the book. So far, Frances Oliver‘s work comes to mind and an echo of ‘Twin Peaks’ when the owl-voices are mentioned in the second chapter that evokes a woman in her early twenties about to be a governess of an obliquely unwell girl – as this woman writes to a friend about living in the same country house, I presume, that the brother and sister earlier discussed by fitful firelight… [The device of that fire reminds me (if I may be self-indulgent for a moment) of my own use of a carpet at the beginning of 'Nemonymous Night' as characters gradually emerge walking upon it, a feeling of one's way to establish identities...] (1 Oct 12 – 7.45 pm bst]
Three, Four “With these words in my ears, I descended on a stair-carpet of such exaggerated pile that there was no sound to distract me from their echoes;” We home in further upon identities via objective correlatives like that carpet and a rose, even via a person like the house’s neighbour, as we learn of the interview hurdles Rachel the companion (not governess, perhaps) of the mysterious girl (age?) needs to jump (selfward and external) to take up her position so as to care for that girl who needs a place of mental Doctoring within, it seems, against a sensible grain, the house where it all happened, where what happened? “…yet a doorway is always a centre of interest.” Each turn of the paradoxically gentle teasing of the narrative screw allows us to get closer to the Doctoring Constantine responsible for those mental needs and why we are all travelling, we band of readers, toward that very house along with others travelling there and those already close by. All in a skilful ‘al dente’ prose and dialogue style of ‘genius loci’ via, strangely, character and via, of course, place….“…the latent monstrosity brought out by the owl-light.” (2 Oct 12 – 10.30 am bst)
Five, Six “He found himself standing before the window, with the curtain lifted, looking straight towards the big house. He could see a good deal of it, in spite of the leaves.” An arguable forerunner of the HOUSE of Leaves (with a CS Lewisian “wardrobe”?), with the various narrative perspectives (even Satan the cat’s ‘immanent’ one) leading me to feel that this book is exceeding my already high expectations of it. I am both this book’s ‘disassociated’ neighbour and its tenant (a dualistic emblem for Rachel’s ‘out and in’ viewpoint as she tries to fathom her charge Victoria and what happened once). It is a dream that is decidedly not “safe as sleep” . And I ask: “What am I doing in this queer show?” What are you? For me, I’d risk even my own sanity to read this fine prose. Its scowls and frowns, its knowing resonances. “The carpets are particularly rich and thick — everything is thick-piled, as you might say.” (2 Oct 12 – 7.00 pm bst)
Seven, Eight, Nine “…the divine afflatus descended on an instrument still too crude for it,…” …in a similar way to this book upon the reader — or vice versa, as I, for one, multi-infer much from the various narrator pecking-orders underpinning this section of LP Hartleyesque ’go-betweens’ (literal and figurative), ‘blind agents’, ‘love letters’ and packages together with some concupiscent innuendo between author and me about pre- or post-adolescent girls. This resides within an almost ‘whodunit’ ambiance depicting a finishing-school or health clinic run by a dubiously foreign near-’quack’, a scenario reminiscent (in a synergistic rather than derivative way) of ‘The Ghosts of Summer’ and other works by an author I mentioned earlier in this review. All threaded through (or by) some gorgeous Autumnal prose that dreamily structures the inferred chronology. (3 Oct 12 – 2.15 pm bst)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED
HERE . Alternatively continued here in four further parts: