CONTINUED FROM PART TWO HERE: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/2022/04/26/penguin-books-of-british-short-stories-2/
Edited by Philip Hensher
My previous reviews of older or classic fictions: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
My review of the Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/26/the-penguin-book-of-the-contemporary-british-short-story/
When I read the stories in the above two books, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below:
23 responses to “*”
ALUN LEWIS: Private Jones
“…and something gentle at last opening inside her, like a baby begging her to receive it in.”
Jawch, I felt my Welshness inside me while reading this and writing my monologue about it, a Welshness of timbre and right regular, too, instead of being abandoned in Essex as I was as a baby, now an old man. This character, “Siencyn became 283749551 Private Jones” was sent to East England as my own father, honourable and kind Private Lewis, as sent there from Llanelli, to be stationed in Essex in the war and met my Mum and had me, and stayed there…..
But this is a story that’s different but is about a having of a baby, and the war, and having all one’s teeth out, and he called the Captain a bastard — compare and contrast Private Williams and the Captain in the book I am reviewing alongside this HERE — but whose baby, whose Welshness was it? — and whose war against whom? And with a Swastika plane almost getting him as he mis-manned a Bren,, but he had no ill feeling about the baby’s physical father, just pasted him, and, well, our man Siencyn, whatever the letters the postman back home sent him, probably got killed anyway after the story ended. But the Welshness remained. Still remains.
A third person singular monologue subject to this stream of consciousness monologue as review of it! More scared of the Irish, than the Jerries. (“Siencyn didn’t have anything against the Russians,…”) But yes the Welshness remained — a sort of Null Immortalis. And there was another man, a man’s man (“And Siencyn became devoted to this man, and he wasn’t afraid of all the things that happened to him in the next few weeks.”) But the Welshness remained, dyed right through this honest-to-goodness-down-to-earth Lewis monologue reviewed by another Lewis monologue. Nula Immortalise?
“His heart was like a feather, walking like this through his own countryside, seeing the sea through gates in the sandy hedges, and singing Dr Parry’s Jerusalem to himself which was this year’s test piece at the Eisteddfod, and feeling a free man, as if he owned the place and no need to pick up a shovel nor a scythe nor the handles of the plough …”
GEORGE EGERTON: A Nocturne
“sacred to our sewer goddess”
A story that starts as a plain rescue of a tired and seemingly homeless woman by a man, as, from his book-lined rooms, he sees her sitting on the London Embankment. But gradually we realise that he has a male chauvinist view of women in general, or was that typical of the time? And I had forgotten certain facts from my own ancient youth of past time….
“I don’t know the reason for it any more than I know why a man always buttons from left to right; a woman from right to left.”
“It’s curious, the inclination women have to gab about everything; they spoil a caress by asking you if you liked it.”
“I belong to the race of men to whom temptation comes in the guise of little feet. An instep or ankle appeals irresistibly to my senses;”
He has evident foot as well as book fetichism. He even has a male friend he mentions called Foote. And he uses the word “frillikins”.
In the possible guise of helping her, he plies her with sandwiches and, following being sick, dry biscuits. He admires the ripeness of her ‘youthened’ age. There are several references to timelessness and to the pendulum of being a Devil or Saint, the devils who write fiction, and her own devilled bean feasts, a fellow who drops in for a pick me up or a devil. The pendulum of her looks between plain and pretty. The pendulum of good or bad intentions between them. And he allows her, a woman of all things, to fondle his “book pets”, and he keeps her cigarette ash in a matchbox after she leaves!
Did he give her a good turn? Or did he have his devilish Nocturne? Or did she either-or to him? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about this finely oscillating story that may be emotionally correct in its time, if not politically so today. Meantime, did she go to sleep eventually and woke afresh? And is plain reality often more inscrutable than contrived fiction, fiction that this timeless slice of life once seemed to be before it was subjected to our own world’s timeful ‘index expurgatorius’?
‘HENRY GREEN’: The Lull
If you read this story, they’ll likely take you away in the ‘plain van’, and my review of it is to save as many people as possible from its smouldering insanity taking hold as fire. Not sure though if it’s too late for the likes of me. Seven chapters in all. About firemen bored by a lull in duties with there now not being a Blitz as there was in 1940, but one chapter mentions ‘syrens’ so there’s hope. Not sure why Henry Green had a girl in Hyde Park quote Paul Verlaine’s verse in the original French without translation, perhaps to provide a sort of bridge between Germany and England that could be also used to translate bombs across its obscurely unseens of foreign passage, perhaps also as a way to act as abridging this whole exercise in Lights being too gassy for me (the barman being light-handed!) and Wallop’s not served in this Firemen’s bar where someone thinks Wally Race had a brother called Sam or Sambo, while the last chapter has someone called Wal. Not to speak of the officially posted ‘stranger’. The woman who spears sheep with her umbrella or submits pets to ‘strangilation’, notwithstanding.
But I still try to rescue you, especially from the bit about a blubbery barrage balloon, or to help you down from seeking the seat of the fire in the roof of your head. Anyone reading this review will be saved all the dangers of reading this story for themselves, thus avoiding lethally simple words harbouring a blitzkrieg of meaning that would otherwise directly translate through to the mind under the subterfuge of slippery meaninglessness or ignorable passages of pretentious French. Even ‘The Heat of the Day’, I say, would be safer Blitz fiction. Or Mysterious Kôr.
Gerald had a check shirt.
“This was a reference to the fact that, because he pleaded he had to check his stock, the barman was excused fatigues.”
ARTHUR MORRISON: Old Cater’s Money
This is an ingenious story where old man Cater, in olden times, dies coughing after leaving his window open and uncharacteristically having read his Bible. He was a rogue with sly money ways, surrounded by men of variable slynesses and roguenesses, sometimes men with honour and hard work, but mainly sly rogues, forming a connected skein of men who are after his money via his will and its codicil that get separated from each other. A plot involving a penny barber, a tatty hat with a lining, a switch of that hat with a better hat, and shin-beef tea to ‘bile’ for ‘old wagabone’ Cater – ‘bile yer face, bawled the navvy’ — “Here was Samuel Greer at his elbow knowing everything,…” (bile = boil)
Ingenious? Yes, as stemming from the truth embodied in this quotation: “People of Jarvis Flint’s sordid character are apt, with all their sordid keenness, to be wonderfully short-sighted in regard to what might seem fairly obvious to a man of honest judgment.” — and this truth triggers a maze of motives, good and evil, panning out toward a certain Panglossian Tontine of justice as part of God’s plan with hat tricks.
(Though, the threatening with a poker seemed a bit rich, to me!)
SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER: The Trumpet Shall Sound
“Oh, it makes my blood boil!’”
Those relatives waiting for a funeral hearse to arrive, during the era of blackout and rations, featuring many folk, here brought back to life, working-class folk that I remember still living in the 1950s around me. Bigamy, iodine socks, double declutching, bad fish versus disinfectant — and a stoical acceptance of life and death but still saying ‘What’s the use?’
And cheated rations under the bed keeping company with the jerry!
But with added ingredients such as four mutes, and a landmine falling through the air above the prehensile coffin that is being lowered into its new ‘lair’
The main viewpoint – one of the aunts: “If you’d got to be a woman it was better to be an old-fashioned woman, with plenty of work to keep your mind off it.” Even a viewpoint of the new vicar, too. And not forgetting Dodger Blackbone, perhaps reconciled to the mourning aunt by a bit of nookie when sheltering in the grave? But who… “touched his elbow, pointed to the grave.”
“…a column of dust was still boiling up,…”
This story reminds me of the socially quaint period humour and darkness of William Trevor, whose ‘The Old Boys’ I am currently reviewing here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/03/31/two-novels-by-william-trevor/, having in recent years also reviewed all his stories!
My previous review of Sylvia Townsend Warner: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/907-2/#comment-2211
GEORGE GISSING: The Peace Bringer
“Not many persons made a point of coming frequently to Sevenoaks, to sit with an invalid who might or might not even seem grateful, or to call upon a woman subdued by sadness.”
Although immaculately written and intensely sad, I still wonder what extra-special quality enabled it be showcased here. Then I thought it was bespoke for everyone who reads it in declining health and/or age.
Those who love listening to music being played and writing creatively, and where older relationships are exchanged for newer pastures (a newer pasture where a woman “hummed an air and smiled at her own thoughts”) before all and any such pastures die along with those grazing there. A story with gender issues that are before its time, too. Changing affections and weak strengths of character as generated by the aforementioned declining. Not a free get out of one’s gaol of guilt card but a way to explain if not excuse. We are all weak. Women and men alike. But here the sad woman is stronger, it seems. “It was difficult to understand how he passed his time.” Well, to be clear, I spend mine having a public relationship with words once written creatively by others.
Another review of George Gissing: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/28/that-glimpse-of-truth/#comment-24895
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM: Winter Cruise
“She was only very slightly disconcerted when she found that Madame Bollin was coal-black. She told herself that one had to accept the rough with the smooth and that it takes all sorts to make a world.”
I do not quite understand the significance of that as Mme Bollin never appears in the story. The story of the only woman on board a ship, and that is Venetia (née Alice) Reid, virgin spinster, and travelling cheap on this German freight ship to cruise around Haiti to see interesting places, but she has somehow a rapprochement with a pure Aryan radio-operator on board so as to cure her propensity to be insufferably boring to the Wagner-singing Captain, and to the ship’s doctor and to the other crew, No plot spoilers, merely my innuendo as to the then mœurs of race and of gender and of the writing of pointless if mildly entertaining stories such as this one.
A momentary editorial slip-up in this otherwise inspiring anthology?
My reviews of what I consider to be Somerset Maugham’s much greater stories: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/short-stories-somerset-maugham/
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Can one have sex without realising it is sex?
A question people often ask themselves.
A story growing on me.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: The Brazilian Cat
The weird attraction of this otherwise dated and naive story stems from the mystery of its inclusion at all in an anthology showcasing the short story art. It is as if I have been submitted by the editor to this story of a feral Brazilian cat for an ulterior motive. I was, you see, captivated by the fine descriptions of its huge sleekness as a cat and the nature of its cage in a large Suffolk house, and why this story was written at all about two cousins, both of the same family, both, as it turned out, awaiting death as a legacy, and the cousin hunter’s wife who also was Brazilian, Brazil being the country where he had hunted and captured this cat and then brought his wife and the cat here to England. Why did she not more plainly warn the other cousin of her awareness of his being in severe danger in staying here with her nut of a husband? Nasty looks surely do not a warning bear. Nor does ignoring anyone by turning one’s face away, had she also done that. Attritional and bloody, for its own sake, should I continue to stay.
Or was the cat jealous, as the naive penniless cousin narrator assumed the Brazilian wife to be? It liked being stroked and when it wasn’t, it turned ugly?
“It is not easy to remember how and why I wrote a story or a novel. Once they detach from me, I too find them unfamiliar. It’s not a ‘trance,’ but the concentration during the writing seems to take away the awareness of whatever isn’t writing itself.”
— Clarice Lispector (Ukrainian born Brazilian writer)
Doyle to Dahl…
ROALD DAHL: Someone Like You
“I sat there and picked nuts out of the plate and munched them noisily, pretending that I did not care about anything, not even about making a noise while eating.”
This is possibly one of the most chilling stories I have ever read. It’s about jinking. I jinked a short while before reading it, those light touches of time deliberately sped up or wasted by delay, the opposite of Zeno’s Paradox, as I had another idea about the story above before I read this Dahl one, and now this story makes more sense than it otherwise would have done, and so does the previous one by Conan Doyle as a result.
It tells of a conversation in a restaurant that serves rotten whiskey.
A man who’d flown air raids in the war…
“‘You know,’ he said, ‘you know I keep thinking during a raid, when we are running over the target, just as we are going to release our bombs, I keep thinking to myself, Shall I just jink a little; shall I swerve a fraction to one side, then my bombs will fall on someone else. I keep thinking, Whom shall I make them fall on; whom shall I kill tonight? Which ten, twenty or a hundred people shall I kill tonight? It is all up to me. And now I think about this every time I go out.’”
And he tells me about another man called Stinker with a dog he loves so much he goes mad when it vanishes, and, now — as a result of the preternatural jinking (beyond reach of any jinx?) that I try to exercise when connecting the books that I happen by happenstance to read and real-time review simultaneously — a new slant is given to Missy the dog here earlier today… and the huge jealous sleek black cat, as created above in the previous story by Conan Doyle, is possibly even more loving than a dog, a dangerous-seeming cat that dotes on its hunting master and vice versa.
All three stories now have even more chilling power. With a Brazilian cat, a dog called Missy and Stinker’s dog called Smith.
Did Putin in our own time delay attacking Ukraine by a few seconds to avoid more deaths or create more deaths? The same or different deaths?
Think about it — Each time jinking before we do anything at all for fear of repercussions? This story could destroy a life ….because its reader (someone like you), as a result, may become freeze-framed? Hesitation piling on hesitation, by a new Zeno’s Paradox? Chilling, indeed.
Shall I mention the woman in this Dahl story with a beautiful bosom or the man with egg on his beard? Or do nothing?
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This review continues here: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/915-2/
THE PENGUIN BOOKS OF BRITISH SHORT STORIES
Edited by Philip Hensher
My serial real-time reviews of every single story in these three mighty anthologies, in this order…
The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story
Edited by Philip Hensher