Tuesday, March 20, 2012
What is it about horror stories that we find so captivating? Why do readers lap up stories of ghosts, witches, warlocks and goblins year after year after year? When you stop to consider it this need to be frightened is totally irrational and yet horror stories continue to entertain. The Woman In Black effortlessly fits into this category and its fame is secured as it has now been adapted for the big screen.
The novel beings on a Christmas Eve with Arthur Kipps and his wife Esme and stepchildren sitting around the fire celebrating the season. They decide to begin relating ghost stories calling it part of an ancient tradition. Arthur declines taking part and after listening in silence to tales of ghosts and monsters decides he needs some fresh air. Arthur has his own story to tell but it is most definitely not for festive amusement.
The memory of his story weighs heavily upon him and Arthur decides to record his supernatural experience. The tale begins many years earlier when as a young man working in a firm of solicitors in London he was dispatched to the north east coast of England. His destination is the farming town of Crythin Gifford where he is to sort out the papers belonging to a recently deceased client of the firm, a reclusive widow named Alice Drablow.
Arthur attends Mrs. Drablow funeral, a pathetic affair, where he notices standing at the back of the church a mysterious woman dressed in black. He enquires as to who she could be but is fobbed off and given mysterious half answers. Shortly afterward Arthur decides to visit Mrs. Drablow’s home, and organise her papers.
Situated several miles outside the town Mrs. Drablow’s residence was Eel Marsh House an isolated mansion situated at the end of Nine Lives Causeway. Access along the causeway is restricted and it can only be accessed once the tide recedes in the morning.
Because of a change in the weather Arthur is forced to stay the night in the house. Out of the mist which surrounds the causeway he hears the terrified whining of a drowning pony and the plaintive and increasingly faint cries of a young child. It is the beginning of Arthur’s ghostly experience and one which will haunt him for the rest of his days.
Although written in the 1990’s the book reads as if it was an old fashioned Victorian ghost story. This is a credit to the writer, Susan Hill and that she can maintain this throughout without inadvertently lapsing into a modern prose style is nothing short of astounding.
The Women In Black consists of 150 pages and needs not one more. Susan Hill implies the terror of Eel Marsh House and the genuinely frightening atmosphere that permeates throughout. Through vivid descriptions of the deceptively peaceful Eel Marsh House she dispenses with the need for spine chilling, blood drenched vampires and monsters. Its pitch is just right and it’s been a long time since a writer was quite literally able to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand upright.
With an ending that is truly horrific and heart wrenching it is no cliché to say that The Woman In Black is a story which will stay with the reader long after they’ve read the last page.
Saturday, March 03, 2012
Dublin in the 1920’s. Post war of independence. Post civil war. A charismatic and ruthless leader of a left wing revolutionary organisation. Social disintegration. Vice and drug addiction. Idealism, and betrayal. Love and murder. Such are the components of Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer.
The novel begins with gunman Francis Joseph McPhillip, returning to Dublin for the first time since murdering the leader of the Farmers Union the previous October during a farm labours strike. It is now mid March and McPhillip has spent the previous five months hiding out in the Wicklow Mountains. He returns to Dublin with a price on his head and suffering from consumption.
It is just before six in the evening and McPhillip seeks out his old comrade Gypo Nolan in the Dunboy Lodging House in Dublin. Gypo is an ex-policeman who accompanied McPhillip on many exploits. Together the two were known as The Devil’s Twins.
Gypo has fallen on hard times. After the murder of the president of the Farmers Union he was expelled from the Revolutionary Movement. He is homeless, penniless and but for the opium addicted Katie Fox, friendless.
Seeing that his old comrade is desperate to return to his family, Gypo sees an opportunity. He sets up McPhillip, telling him his all is well, his parents house is safe, the police have long ago given up keeping watch. They part and immediately afterward Gypo informs the Police of McPhillip’s arrival in Dublin and his subsequent location.
Armed with this information the authorities surround the McPhillip family home and Francis McPhillip is killed while attempting to escape. For providing information which leads to the death of his old comrade, Gypo Nolan receives the grand sum of £20, quite an amount in the Dublin of the time.
From here the man focus of the novel is Gypo, the informer. Gypo suddenly realises the full extent of his actions. He is outside society. He was dismissed from the police force, expelled from the Revolutionary Organisation and now has betrayed his friend. It would be no exaggeration to say that Gypo, through his actions, has found himself on the very margins of society.
One of the most fascinating characters in the novel is Commandant Dan Gallagher. Intelligent, brave, charismatic, ruthless, Gallagher will stop at nothing to bring about his goal which is the bringing the about of an armed revolution. But first Gallagher is more concerned with catching and dealing with the informer. When Gallagher and Gypo meet, their clash of personalities and subsequent outcome, is outstanding.
It soon becomes apparent that O’Flaherty knows the criminal underbelly of Dublin and the people who reside there. At times the descriptions of the city mirror the inner turmoil his characters endure. While his detailed retelling of a drunken Gypo’s time spent in a bordello is both colourful and memorable. So vivid and recognisable are its characters and descriptions of Dublin that reading The Informer now it is hard to appreciate that it was first published in 1925.
The Informer is not an easy read, but it is a memorable one and may best be described as being an expressionist novel. All the action takes place over twelve hours which may account for it’s relentless intensity. The Informer by Liam O’Flaherty without doubt deserves to be read by as wide an audience as possible.