9781860497223 / 1860497225

The Haunt, The


Publisher:Virago Press Ltd



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About the book:

This short, snappy thriller winds to its climax like a high-hedged country lane which leads suddenly over a steep cliff. Set in Cornwall, its main character is undoubtedly Nature, with its fecund woods, choking weeds, copses full of wild flowers that shelter half-devoured dead birds and beautiful creeks which hide forms ressembling incomplete foetuses. Elissa and Owen Grierson retire to a Cornish bungalow to escape the dirt and noise of SW19 and disguise the unsettling nature of their change in life. Unable to cope with the feral garden and dusty house, they employ Mrs Latimer, who equips them with all the local gossip necessary for full functioning in a small village. Owen is befriended by a young boy who lives next door, hoots like an owl and is neglected by his mother, Angela. This does not deter Owen from expressing dormant lustiness for her. Also lusty is artist Charlie Olssen, whose work is yet to find fiscal appreciation. He heads to Cornwall in his clapped-out car, hoping to sell a nude of his ex-wife Nina to her current husband and rekindle carnality with her. Nina was lured away from Charlie by a house, a Manderlay of a thing set amid a "webby dark of yews", where she now lives. Charlie watched her go, "struck by the thickening and thinning, running out and replenishing of the darkness under the yews. It was surreptitious." When Charlie's car breaks down, he holes up in the Bellechasse Hotel, among a cast of characters worthy of any Cluedo game.

There's a novelist-cum-agony-uncle whose real identity behind "The Listening Ear" will be revealed by an over-zealous investigative journalist called Senga, (Agnes spelt backwards) whose fate is sealed by her sartorial taste for duck print shorts early on. There's the Wallingtons, who are drained of empathy for each other and the Soulsbys who have come to Cornwall to enhance their "rapport with supernature". Then there's Gilbert Eashing, who needs a new nurse and Miss Midred Gascoigne who longs to inspire love.

A.L. Barker is a great wit with a delightful ability to evoke the quaint benevolence of English eccentrics. The plot is carefully wrought and the conclusion mapped discretely throughout. A knowing, wry read.--Cherry Smyth

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