The Garden Interior
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Every so often, we need to find some nice, creepy stories to curdle the blood a bit. But sometimes we want stories written well and stories for grown-ups, not the common stuff of horror films or Stephen King books. And we need look no further than this slim volume, which contains three stories of about a hundred pages in total, all written by the masterful story-teller Henry James: “The Altar of the Dead”, “The Beast in the Jungle” and the Jolly Corner”. The first is about a man who obsessively lights altar candles for “his Dead” and misses out on the life around him; the second is about a man who misspends his life in dread of an evil event that he has a premonition will befall him; and the third is about a man who seeks out, and finds, the ghostly self he might have become had he lived his life differently.
All three stories are about an unhealthy obsession, an unwholesome idée fixe, which leads a man to stray from a sensible and virtuous to an evil or foolish path. The stories tell us much about the human capacity for folly, delusion, error and sin and, though they are written to amuse, they are also meant to chill, even horrify, and instruct. These stories are rather old-fashioned, and will feel very dated to a fan of contemporary fiction, but their very old-fashionedness gives them a great charm, I believe. Many writers of James’ era dabbled in occult stories, and not infrequently. Edgar Allen Poe was the master and first practitioner of the genre, but several other authors of classical literature tried their hands at this, including Wilkie Collins (whose Woman in White is a masterpiece of that time period and genre), Edith Wharton and even, rarely and experimentally, W. Somerset Maugham.
A word bout James’ style. It is famously ornate and rather convoluted. At times it seems a bit, well, auto-intoxicated and modern readers will find him rather heavy going. I had an amusing thought while reading this: wouldn’t have been great if a young Earnest Hemingway had been assigned to James as his copy editor? “Too many damned adjectives, James! Sentences much too long. Way too much punctuation. Plus, nobody gets killed ever. We need fewer adjectives, dammit, and more death!” Or, if I were a high school English teacher, it would be a good writing assignment to have my class produce a parallel text of a James short story, as you can buy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with the original version on the lefthand page and the modern language “translation” on the righthand page.
But James is what he is, the lofty an irreproachable master of style. His prose is a beautiful thicket and he demands that you slow down your ingestion of words and images and plots, and let him take control of the story-telling and do it his way. It is a surrender that is well worth it, and the reader is amply repaid in fictional dividends. Read these short stories and see if you have any obsessions in your own life, any monsters in your own attic.