The Roll-Call of the Reef - by Sir Arthur T. Quiller-Couch - This is another one full of wonderful 'cosy supernatural' atmosphere, unfortunately that's the best that I can say for it. A man rents an old house in the country with a view to some peace and quiet while he works on his translation of a holy book. He's soon sitting in front of a fire while he listens to the story of a shipwreck about two men, one a trumpeter, another a drummer who are washed ashore. The drum and trumpet are locked together with one of those little combination locks(this one has letters and spells a word to unlock it) and has hung above the fireplace for a long time. Now I confess, I got a little lost towards the end, mainly due I think to it wanting to be a story about the military first and a ghost story second. Anyway, even though I finished the story it pretty much vanished from my head the moment I did so. I remember the trumpet and drum, and the lock, and also one of the shipwrecked men(now a ghost) putting in an appearance at one point too, but the only other thing I recall is the man changing the word on the lock to a holy word(he turned out to be a holy man of some sort as I remember). Everything else is a bit vague I'm afraid.
Probably better(or at least not as forgettable) as I'm making out, but it didn't grab me. Perhaps a re-read at some point?
Coincidence! Off the back of Haining's The English Highwayman, last night I exhumed Q's non-supernatural short story, Statement Of Gabriel Foot, Highwayman, which includes a macabre grave-robbing episode. It's a lot more fun than Roll-Call Of The Reef, or, at least, I thought so. As for his ghost stories, The Seventh Man is my favourite.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
I read Q's ROLL-CALL OF THE DEEP a couple of months ago in the R. Chetwynd-Hayes collection Cornish Tales of Terror, and I really liked it. There were some surprising elements. It struck me more as a tale of the uncanny than a tale of terror, if that distinction isn't too hair-splitting.
The atmosphere and literary style were the elements that made the tale appealing to me. I could easily see that the story wouldn't add up to much at all to someone of a different temperament.
Michael Cox & R. A. Gilbert (eds.) – The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (Oxford University Press, 1986)
Introduction – Michael Cox & R. A. Gilbert
Sir Walter Scott – The Tapestried Chamber Amelia B. Edwards – The Phantom Coach Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu – Squire Toby’s Will Mary Elizabeth Braddon – The Shadow in the Corner F. Marion Crawford – The Upper Berth Vernon Lee – A Wicked Voice Bram Stoker – The Judge’s House E. Nesbit – Man-Size in Marble Sir Arthur T. Quiller-Couch – The Roll-Call of the Reef Henry James – The Friends of the Friends H. G. Wells – The Red Room W. W. Jacobs – The Monkey’s Paw Mary E. Wilkins Freeman – The Lost Ghost M. R. James – “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” Algernon Blackwood – The Empty House Oliver Onions – The Cigarette Case Barry Pain – Rose Rose E. F. Benson – The Confession of Charles Linkworth Richard Middleton – On the Brighton Road E. G. Swain – Bone to His Bone Ingulphus (Arthur Gray ) – The True History of Anthony Ffryar W. Somerset Maugham – The Taipan May Sinclair – The Victim L. P. Hartley – A Visitor from Down Under John Buchan – Fullcircle William F. Harvey – The Clock H. Russell Wakefield – Old Man’s Beard Edith Wharton – Mr. Jones Ex-Private X (A. M. Burrage) – Smee Hugh Walpole – The Little Ghost A. E. Coppard – Ahoy, Sailor Boy! Thomas Burke – The Hollow Man Charles Williams – Et in Sempiternum Pereant L. T. C. Rolt – Bosworth Summit Pound A. N. L. Munby – An Encounter in the Mist Elizabeth Bowen – Hand in Glove V. S. Pritchett – A Story of Don Juan Christopher Woodforde – Cushi Walter de la Mare – Bad Company Simon Raven – The Bottle of 1912 Robert Aickman – The Cicerones T. H. White – Soft Voices at Passenham
Notes Select Bibliography
its a beauty, ain't it? monker, i recommend Old Man's Beard to you: it catches Wakefield on top form and you know how good that is.
Here's an obscurity. The back cover of my copy of the hardback edition is embossed as 203. I've never seen anything like this before.
Henry James – The Friends of the Friends. We start with the diary entry of an unnamed woman. She see's an apparition of her Father at the moment of his death. A friend tells her of someone else who's had a similar experience and that the two should meet. Things get a little unsure for me here, due partly to the fact that the author insists on relating the entire tale without naming a single, solitary person. This makes things unnecessarily tricky to keep track of. It's all, 'She...', and 'he...', and 'her friend...', and 'the husband...', and it just serves to make the characters less singular or defined, than they might have been. It's a good trick if it comes off, but I'm not sure it quite did here, but then again I may change my mind after a re-read(whenever that may be).
Anyway, from what I could make out, after the main protagonist(the unnamed woman of the diary entry) hooks up with her friend, they marry and her female friend dies and begins appearing to her husband. You can see already I think how unnecessarily the 'not naming' is going to get a little trying. The two of them try to work out what's going on(I know the feeling) and bad feelings are unearthed, jealousy ensues and the two eventually split up, her husband and the now ghostly, dead female friend meeting several times before he too cops it, or does he actually do himself in? It's purposely left unclear at the end here, which I quite like.
This was a strange one. I admire the attempt to go through the whole story without naming anyone but it made following what was happening that bit more tricky. It seems like a fun thing to try to pull off, but I just felt in the end like it hindered my enjoyment of the story and the characters. I found I had to really, realllllyyyy concentrate on who was being referred to and even then found myself going back over entire sections to try to decipher who was being spoken of etc... I also found the whole story a little overlong, and feel it might've benefitted from being a little less sprawling, especially towards the middle. There seemed to be quite a lot of building of jealousy and such, which again, I feel might've just worked perfectly if I hadn't had to work extra hard to keep track of the unnamed characters all the time.
A nice enough story, but felt drawn out, and please Mr James, next time please think of a name for some of your characters.