Three Miles Up and Other Strange Stories - Elizabeth Jane Howard (Tartarus Press 2003)
Introduction by Glen Cavaliero Three Miles Up Perfect Love Left Luggage Mr Wrong
Elizabeth Jane Howard is still most widely remembered as wife to Kingsley Amis (and stepmother to Martin) than for her own work, excellent though much of it is. Her second book, published in 1951, was We Are For the Dark, a collection of three ghost stories (in the broadest possible sense of the term) by herself, and three by Robert Aickman, with whom she was romantically involved at the time. In her autobiography, Slipstream, Howard is a bit dismissive about the book, suggesting that it was written in an attempt to kick-start Aickman's own literary career. (Given that it was to be over 10 years before Aickman's next collection was published, it's debatable how successful the book was in that respect.) Certainly, the fact that, in the half-century after We Are For the Dark's publication, Howard only wrote one other ghost story would indicate that she isn't the hugest fan of the genre.
Mr Wrong - The title story of Howard's 1975 short story collection tells the story of Meg, alone and lonely in London, who is thrilled to become the owner of a second-hand car, "barely three years old, and in such good condition" at a knockdown price.
This is surprisingly reminiscent of a lot of Ramsey Campbell's work from around this time, particularly in Meg's relationships (or lack of) with her parents, flat-mates and employer, but the uneasy switch from ghost story to a more horror closer to home (which Cavaliero compares with the shift in tone halfway through Hitchcock's Psycho in his introduction) seemed a bit unsatisfactory to me.
Left Luggage - The most traditional story from We Are For the Dark, about a man haunted by by a dressing case left to him by his uncle, isn't exactly surprising, but it's very well done. A very satisfying, reasonably straightforward ghost story.
Three Miles Up - John and Clifford, taking a canal boat holiday to help Clifford recover from his illness ("some sort of breakdown these clever people went in for," John reflects), impulsively take on board a girl, Sharon, who they find asleep on the river-bank.
The most acclaimed of Howard's ghost stories, and undoubtedly very good, but it didn't quite strike me as the masterpiece it's often regarded as (although this is probably my fault rather than Howard's). The ending appears to have been pinched by Aickman for his own "Never Visit Venice". It didn't do much for me there either I'm afraid.
Perfect Love - This novella, however, is an underrated gem, with a fascinating Citizen Kane style structure being deployed to relate the career of turn-of-the-century opera singer Maria Mielli, plucked from obscurity by a mysterious benefactor, and haunted afterwards by an unseen child which blights her career and romantic life. It really is superb, with a whole array of creepy effects (a handbag full of hair, a child's hand-print on the outside of a second-floor window) plus some good jokes (including a Russian College which is "attempting to crossbreed horses, asses, and dogs with a view to producing a new animal ideally suited for purposes of Russian transport"). A winner.
Post by The Lurker In The Shadows on Feb 19, 2009 1:05:56 GMT
"Mr Wrong" was filmed in New Zealand in the mid-80s. It used to crop up on BBC1 back in the 90s, if I remember rightly. www.imdb.com/title/tt0089630/
And "Three Miles Up" was adapted for the lacklustre 90s BBC anthology series "Ghosts". I seem to remember that being the only episode that ever gave me any sort of chill. Something to do with looking in the water and something unpleasant looking back. www.imdb.com/title/tt0202626/
There is the touch on the shoulder that comes when you are walking quickly homewards in the dark hours, full of anticipation of the warm room and bright fire, and when you pull up, startled, what face or no-face do you see?
Post by ramseycampbell on May 18, 2011 7:02:08 GMT
This seems as good a place as any to alert you all that Elizabeth Jane Howard appears in BBC4's The Golden Age of Canals. There are also home movies of Aickman and L. T. C. Rolt. The documentary is repeated tomorrow night.
Many thanks for bringing THE GOLDEN AGE OF CANALS to my attention; it is fascinating stuff! It is particularly interesting to hear much more well-known people talk about Aickman, whom most people have never heard of, as if he was very important. He really seems to have had an impact on people's lives.