“‘Let there be wet,’ quoted Clarinda to herself in her clear gentle voice. ‘Oh let there be wet.’”
And now, of course, we duly arrive at the most clinging and insidious ‘I’m not sure that time is the essence, Slow,’ of them all — indeed the most gluey Zenoism (“it was now something after half past”) in the shape of the MIST against the wetness of which Clarinda, during a solitary outing, needs to bind her hair, as she wades through near ankle-breaking muddiness, and through very soft rubber and other resistances of passage, an outing that she foolhardily takes during this first stay with her future husband’s ‘lobster-pot’ of a family in an empty part of an English county whereto rich men of the shoe and the bootlace industry retire, one of them being her fiancé’s father. She tries to escape, by means of this outing, from the socially claustrophobic house and its hindsight promise of an over-large breakfast fated for the next morning. An outing that turns out to be darkly time-mazed with gradients of early cinematography, including sights of pigs and smells of unsavouriness and meeting two indeterminate children and a slouching mis-languaged man with a shepherd’s crook, and the unforgettable Mrs Pagani who had been part of the original social gathering at the family house.
A story that is another theme-and-variations by Aickman upon the Lordly Ones, I guess. There is even, within it, a vision of my own photo above that I have used time and time and time again in my reviews, a photo originally taken uncounted years ago. Not forgetting the children’s diving-suits with hoods. And the long red mouths. And listening to four chapters of PERSUASION read aloud by the father in one sitting before supper. No need, surely, to provide further inducement for those with sufficient sump to receive this story. And strong enough ankles to kick away its boars.
“Genius, however, comes normally in inverse measure to the capacity to impart. The two things are strongly opposed.”
Unless one can balance them — as in Niemandswasser’s bi-polarity backdropped by time’s slowth — the latter being the ever-durability summoned by Aickman’s own lasting genius, here in Celia become paramount. Lasting beyond death with the rats eating you now transcended by a self-harming, an obsession as aided or abetted by insidious mirrors with many of which she had been brought up — and eventually by her own choice of knives and their durable threat of the final cut of all. The gangrene of time cut out or cut off from the body literally and from the ageing mind metaphorically to hopefully help create the truth of youth again — while somehow swaddled by the celebratory figures of various Arts, both geniuses and mediocrities, as named here.
A version of Dorian Gray? So, what of that sense of immortality’s nullity? With Time itself to become the “divine benediction” of Celia’s “soft stole.” Or a sharp flaying and flensing? This a culmination of what I have found so far in Aickman’s work? Or is there never such a culmination when genius is involved?
Beautifully and complexly couched portrait of a well-bred young lady artist sent to the ateliers of Paris, a new life away from her very very old father, a new era for her as disarmingly launched by the meal she once had with the family solicitor’s chief clerk. A meal that is later seen as having been as a ‘romantic’ one by such an inferred male mediocrity…?
“Time flies when we watch it, but has no need to fly when we ignore it.”
…which perhaps evokes again that different version of Dorian Gray?
“…that last payment she was able to make and had made more prematurely than ever, came to be overlooked altogether.”
“Every ripple is poetry and every zephyr a tender release.”
A ‘semi-ruinous lakeside congeries’ of a story, one that has come up fresh, even ice-cold, with weird-classic resonances that I cannot remember from first reading it many years ago. With mountains nebulously hovering in the backdrop of this congeries of the countries that are the lakes’ boundaries, one particular lake with a ‘No Man’s Water’ area where Venn territorial overlaps cannot reach. But we cannot forget the basic story of Elmo, the past’s high ranking German man, a sort of ‘Lady of Shallot’, one who, as a Ravissante-like young man, “went repeatedly through the soft dresses and perfumed underclothes”, and who also reaches a typically Aickman-like Zeno’s Paradox of a despairing ‘Shall-Not’ Null-Immortalis as I call such states (and Elmo’s eventual yearned-for death is indeed ‘presumed’). A story that also contains Elmo’s visions of a Holy Virgin figure (beautiful, white and naked) hovering over lakes and his friendship with another man called Viktor “who sometimes dressed as a girl” and Elmo’s once obsession with a woman called Elvira, with ‘The Model’ then apotheosised perhaps as his shallop eventually reaches that crucial non-overlap point in the lake whereat Viktor once had his fingers bitten off by whatever lurked beneath its surface. The important reference, too, to the literal “Polar” regions (or ’Himalayan’) of the world brought here to historic Europe by geographical prestidigitation, as it were, being a link to describe this story’s essential bi-polar mental state. A landmark conceit by Aickman.
A bi-polar man with a “pretty pistol” if never to use it on himself. A perpetual yearned-for death that he somehow already possessed…
By chance, I finished yesterday (HERE) my marathon review of Mark Samuels’ under-considered horror novel, and the first example quote from this Aickman work below is, for me, a serendipitously striking accompaniment to that long reading experience… a few quotes from this crucial Aickman story to be read alongside my thoughts on it…
“Elmo found, as have many, that the death of the heart corrupted the pen into writing a farrago of horrors and insanities, not necessarily the less true for their seeming extravagance, but inaccessible for the most part to the prudent.”
“duration was always impossible” — “it was like trying to act decisively in limbo.” — “When the heart is dead, all is dead, though the victim may not fully realize it for a long time.” — “….heavier and heavier to pull with every minute that passed or was it with every hour? The darkness was so thick that it impeded his movements like frozen black treacle.”
“What other thought mattered than that nothing mattered.”
I will not quote, however, the Spalt, if not now spoilt by unwisely spilling it here, passage about women in general!
But the hovering ‘Holy Virgin’ lady at the end becomes vicious with pointed teeth in revenge!
…whereby Aickman indeed doubles up on absurdism, an impish angel-demon version of Aickman hand in glove with the other side of Aickman in Society, but only to become a lost property that we all seek today from his words, well, at least I do. If you don’t leave words meticulously yet wildly couched behind you, what else of you is left, I ask? Only dying memories of dying people. Meanwhile, here we have two disarming Aickman women as in Trains or Go Back At Once etc, visiting for a picnic an Essex that seems right that it is Essex as I was born and still live there. One woman Millicent jilted by — or, rather, jilter of — some man called Nigel and she apparently needs a dose of tender loving care from her spinster-destined friend Winifred …and near their proposed picnic site, a derelict church (“The whole structure was in a state of moulder”) and an Essex woman called Pansy Stock in the ‘vicarage’ or ‘rectory’ and, also, a scenario containing not a Black Mass but a black mass shape ominously threatening, and sudden mushroom growth, and many strangely smelling flowers left over from an equally sudden funeral passing through unseen, and cows in a field that take over Millicent’s Dreamcatcher mind and these cows (if not bulls) somehow bloodily gore a visitation by Nigel in person….and another visitation later where his traditional routine pre-Midnight telephone call to Millicent (even at Winfred’s house) ends up with him in person metaphorically if not bloodily goring Millicent to the heart, a heart tired by tramping round Essex, I infer. From where they went back at once. From the kissing-gates et al, instead of having passed through them, but gone back at once to what? When read alongside the absurdistly or deceptively slow-motion Marriageable, Possessional, Essexual and other themes of his canon of stories, this one gradually takes on a gestalt meaning that you cannot share with other people, but only share with yourself. Hand in glove. This review is the very best I can do for all those other people. If not good enough.
“There was an embarrassing blank in time, while an angel flitted through the room, or perhaps a demon.”