The Albatross and Other Stories
The Albatross and Other Stories is the first book by Susan Hill that I’ve read, this edition was published by Hamish Hamilton, (detail above, photography by Beverly Lebarrow), back in 1971, the title story, The Albatross, won the 1972 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the story is collected here with four other short stories;
The Elephant Man, nothing to do directly with John Merrick, but a story about a boy whose day carer is involved with a relationship with a performance actor, the narrative captures various viewpoints, the boy’s perspective is full of circumspection, and then Susan Hill’s prose fills in the blanks but still retains the elusive aspect of the boy’s strange day out, most of these short stories come to us as visitations of individuals who are not quite sure of the events occurring around them, but despite this have a very strong intuitive nature, sensing the good and bad in those around them, many of the stories seem to imbued with a sense of foreboding.
In the story Cockles and Mussels, Miss Avis Parson is staying at Mrs Muriel Hennessy’s guest house, whose residents are mainly elderly, and the slightly, desperate to escape cook, Mrs Rourke. In the distant view from the guest house’s window, at the other end of the beach, is the Lower Bay, peopled with undesirables, Avis decides to go out one night to visit this up until now no go area that seems to represent all that is dangerous to the well-ordered life, the story uses a subtle use of symbolism in the cockles and mussels that Avis eats during her night out, the gritty taste of them seems to represent all that she has kept distant from her life, things people have perhaps told her not to become involved with, the unlived aspect of her life, a chance meeting with Mrs Rourke though has big consequences for the two women.
Another story that is seen from the perspective of a young boy is Friends of Miss Reece which takes place in a care home belonging to the boy’s aunt, the story has the almost spectral Wetherby whose character seems to evoke a palpable menace. The boy seems to find a certain amount of solace in visiting Miss Reece, an elderly woman in room seven. The last story in the collection Somerville has a fantastically realized character at its centre, Somerville, a man trying to dislocated himself from events in the past finds himself entangled with a mysterious female visitor who arrives sporadically at the garden of his rather large house where he lives alone, the prose weaves in and out of all these differing scenes from past and present conveying Somerville’s disorientation, at the heart of this story lies the enigma of the contents of two letters that arrive to him, what was written in them?. The title story is the longest in the collection and is set in Heype a fishing village in South East England, the story is mainly told through Duncan Pike, Duncan looks after his overbearing wheel chair bound mother, Duncan almost idolizes fisherman Ted, who has left the confines of the village but for reasons Duncan cannot fathom returns. Duncan begins to imagine the life that exists outside of the village, and as the story progresses Duncan finds that his routes of escape are becoming fewer and fewer. Things seem to came to decisive point after one night a storm strikes the village. After finishing the collection I’m left wondering which of Susan Hill’s novels to try next.