The Quickening, The Song of the Sea, Loving Imogen, Summer by Mari Biella
How does she do it? Channel Henry James, I mean.
While it is grossly unfair to Biella to include all of her Amazon offerings in one review, I want you to read ALL of them.
Like the ravenous sirens in The Song of the Sea gobbling up a hapless sailor (spoiler alert), I read all the above in succession. They are that good! “Poor old Jake,” the fishermen say, looking up from their nets as he walks along the harbour wall on chill grey days when the wind is up and the clouds are low…” “He ain’t been right since the accident.”
“It was just that, he said: singing, pure and high and sweet – the sweetest sound he had ever heard or could ever have imagined. There were no words, for this song was too ancient for language.”
James, noted for psychological thought experiments, hovered over my shoulder as I read Loving Imogen, a tale of twins of questionable origin and a schoolmaster, growing old and irrelevant alone, suddenly cohabiting the same small house. What Maisie Knew came to mind, too, because of the precocious nature of Biella’s young characters.
“And so here he is, amidst the debris of a spent life and a dead love, an ageing man for whom no one cares. “An unenviable position,” he admits, standing by the kitchen door and watching the dusk gather over the hills. “Most unenviable, indeed.”
Are you getting the picture? This is seriously good writing.
The Quickening put me in mind of The Romance of Certain Old Clothes in that Biella’s story is certainly Gothic, a story of the revenge of the dead and another thought experiment about the effect upon a remaining sibling and parents when a child dies.
It is also unfair to doggedly compare Biella to James, because she deserves her own place in modern writing. She is imaginative, meticulous in her choice of words, creates amazingly atmospheric narrative and utterly enchanted this reader. Somehow she manages to write in an almost-19th century voice, acutely aware of the consciousness of her characters. She has mastered point of view and interior monologue whilst writing about the supernatural. She creates the conflict, nostalgia, the notion of the sublime we sometimes associate with the past – a kind of romanticism which forces us to deal with her characters’ terrors and intense emotions on their terms. We are pulled into their inner worlds. “Back then, I thought that houses were but stone and wood, and had no power other than that which we chose to bestow on them. I thought that abandoned houses were only pitiful, the haunts of mice and spiders and beetles, and believed that nothing could quicken in empty rooms and silent spaces.”
Summer brings us another ghost story in a village outside of London. “An old house and excitable women ,” one paper blared the next day, alongside an unflattering photograph of Peter scowling at the camera. According to the rectory’s owner, Mr Peter Anderson, the supposed ghost is an all-too-human prankster.” “She loved walking through the rooms at dusk, watching as the darkness took them in its arms and rocked them to sleep.”
Biella is also a very good story teller.
So, gentle reader, if you’ve grown weary of the usual modern vapid offerings, spice up your literary appetite with a hapless sailor or two; maybe a tasty spectre; maybe these wonderful ghost stories.