About M's Winding Path

I enjoy writing about life, books, poetry, music, pop culture, SF, feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, mental health & whatever else occurs to me.

Revisiting The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) – Hainish Cycle re-read #4

My battered copy of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin.

‘Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling’

The left hand of darkness, p.1

Eleven years ago, I published a post about one of my favourite books, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), by Ursula K Le Guin. I don’t disagree with anything I said back then, but it does strike me that in mainly focusing, as most people do, on its famous treatment of gender and sexuality, I failed to write about what it is that I personally love about this book. So that’s what I want to try and capture now, as I revisit Le Guin’s first masterpiece for my Hainish Cycle re-read.

The Left Hand of Darkness is presented to the reader as a package of documents made up of reports, diaries, myths, and legends. The narrative begins with a report from a young ‘Mobile’ named Genli A. about his experiences on the icy planet that his people call Winter, or Gethen. As a representative of the Ekumen, a peaceful federation of worlds, his job is to introduce the Gethenians to the Ekumen and encourage them to become members. Young, inexperienced, and despite his claims to objectivity, clearly unsettled by the Gethenian’s unusual biology – if you don’t already know, the Gethenians only take on sexed roles when they are in the kemmer phase of their reproductive cycle, remaining sexually neuter the rest of the time (read the previous post for more). In any case, it is apparent to the reader that Genli’s understanding of Gethen and its people is partial at best.  

He is hoping to get a meeting with the King of Karhide, which is being arranged by a Gethenian called Estraven, someone he considers an ally, but doesn’t entirely trust. Estraven is a powerful and rather mysterious individual who occupies a position something like a Prime Minister, so Genli is dismayed when he* invites him to dinner and tells him that he can no longer help him with his mission.

“I was alone, with a stranger, inside the walls of a dark palace, in a strange snow-changed city, in the heart of the ice-age of an alien world’ p. 14.

Feeling betrayed, Genli goes to the interview with the king, only to find that Estraven has been declared a traitor and banished from the domain. His ambitions in ruins, Genli sets out to the neighbouring, and highly bureaucratic, domain of Orgoreyn, where he hopes to have better luck with his mission.

The narrative is then picked up by Estraven who is trying to escape from Karhide with his life. It quickly becomes clear that Genli has many things wrong about both Estraven and the Gethenians, and is probably walking into a dangerous trap in Orgoreyn.

From this point on, there are just so many wonderful things in The Left Hand of Darkness. The haunting myths and legends that punctuate the narrative. Genli’s strange encounter with Foretellers where he gets an answer to his question, ‘Will this world Gethen be a member of the Ekumen of known worlds, five years from now?’ Then there is the horrible but riveting journey over the mountains in a prison van after Genli is arrested in Orgoreyn, followed by his dramatic rescue from the prison camp by Estraven, with everything culminating in their terrifying, exhilarating journey across the Gobrin ice sheet.

‘We stowed the wheels, uncapped the sledge runners, put on our skis, and took off down north, onward, into that silent vastness of fire and ice that said in enormous letters of black and white DEATH, DEATH, written right across a continent. The sledge pulled like a feather, and we laughed with joy’’. p. 179.

As it progresses, Left Hand’s narrative journey is really about travelling inwards, about being stripped right back to the core of who you are. It is only at the point when everything else has been stripped away, that Genli can break through his own socially constructed defences and realise the truth:

“And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man’. p. 202.

He is finally able to open himself to their relationship, ‘A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt’ (p. 203).

I think this is why I return to The Left Hand of Darkness over and over again; it is a real love story, an intense and compelling relationship between two people from which truth emerges. Genli does ultimately achieve his goal, but there is no happy ending. The Left Hand of Darkness is ultimately a tragedy, if a hopeful one.

This novel was a huge leap forward for Le Guin. Her earlier Hainish books are certainly enjoyable, but Left Hand is in an entirely different league of writing. The world building is superb. Gethen is so detailed and fully realised; Le Guin has created a world that feels alien, but also familiar. The cold, the cities, the people, the food, even the vehicles, all feel real. And then the way she conveys information about this world is so skilful. Despite having to impart an entire planet’s history and culture in a short book, there is no sense of “info dumping”.  Le Guin cleverly uses myths and legends, reports, and dialogue to tell us what we need to know.

This brings me to the conclusion that The Left Hand of Darkness is really a story about the act of storytelling itself. It is full of people telling us stories and it ends with a child’s request for a story, “Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars?’’ It is as if, at this moment, Genli and le Guin have become one. After all, she would spend the rest of her life responding to our desire for stories of other people, other lives, other worlds.

A book that I’m sure I will continue to revisit regularly throughout my life.

*I use the pronoun ‘he’ in this post because that’s what Le Guin does in the book. But there’s plenty of discussion about this if you’re interested, including later attempts to address it by the author herself.

References are to my edition published by Orbit Books in 1992.

Queer Fringe Festival

This Pride Month, venues and artists across Cardiff collaborate for the first LGBTQ+ Fringe Festival in Wales.

Headed up by the team behind The Queer Emporium, the festival spans the entire city and includes theatre, comedy, live music, film, drag, visual art exhibitions, dance and digital arts. More is still be added so come back to see whats on each day!

Queer Fringe Festival


Spring Retrospective

One of the best things I’ve done for myself, so far this year, is cut all my hair off. The shoulder-length waves have been replaced by a short pixie cut. I feel like I’m leaning into who I am right now and I love the way it shows off my grey hair.

I’ve joined the Doers and Improvers bookclub. I run a bookclub at work, which is mostly just us chatting about what we’ve read, but this is a proper bookclub with challenging books and critical discussion. I’m very much enjoying giving my brain a bit of a workout.

We went to The Rules of Art exhibition at the National Museum of Wales and, in February, saw the Welsh National Opera’s production of Don Giovanni which was heavy going but very impressive.

Live music is probably the thing we missed most of all during lockdown, so it’s been good to go to gigs again. We saw Tori Amos in London in March for the opening night of her ‘Ocean to Ocean’ tour, which was fabulous. My partner is a huge Tori fan, so it was a dream gig for her. Then we saw another big fave, Kristin Hersh with her Electric Trio, in May. Also fantastic. I admit I’ve gone a little bit wild and booked tickets for several more gigs over the next few months.

It’s going to be a busy summer though. We need to move house in July and also have a backlog of life things to sort out that didn’t get done over the last two years!

Reflections on May

May is the sound of Cetti’s warbler blasting from the bushes. Reed buntings trilling. Rock pipits. A whitethroat in song flight. Suddenly, the swifts are back, wheeling through the skies. Elegant wheatears on the rocks. Ducklings. Goslings. Signets. A tiny baby moorhen. The reed warblers have finally returned. The first peacock butterfly. Elderflower, the scent of summer.

A white elderflower blossom against a background of green hedgerow leaves

Poem of the Week, ‘Self-Compassion’ by James Crews

[...] How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.

James Crews, ‘Self-Compassion‘ at Poets.org

New website – Research into the LGBTQ+ history of Wales

I’ve been involved with the LGBTQ+ Research Group Wales for a while. I’m very pleased to report that the group now has a website, created in collaboration with Swansea University, which will provide a platform for sharing information about LGBTQ+ history in relation to Wales.

Hanes LHDT+ Cymru / LGBTQ+ Research Group Wales 

Louise Erdrich, Jacklight: Poems (1996)

A copy of 'Jacklight' by Louise Erdrich. The cover shows a black and white photograph of a farrground.

Jacklight by Louise Erdrich is a collection of very fine poems divided into four sequences, ‘Runaways’, ‘Hunters’, ‘The Butcher’s Wife’, and ‘Myths’, each of which delves into different aspects of experience. As the blurb notes, the poems ‘bring to life what it is to be a woman, a Midwesterner, and a Native American’.

There were two things that struck me particularly about these poems. First, the sense of something intangible, numinous even, emerging from the ordinary realities of life. For instance, in ‘The Lady in the Pink Mustang’, a woman driving a pink mustang car becomes something like a goddess. The effect is often quite uncanny. Secondly, the characters who appear in these poems are just so incredibly vivid, such as Hilda in ‘The Slow Sting of her Company’ which perfectly captures the way some people just get under your skin.

The poems in this collection are elusive, unsettling and haunting. Some of my other favourites were, ‘Painting of a White Gate and Sky’ (see below), ‘The Woods’ and ‘I was sleeping where the black oaks move‘.

I haven’t read any of Louise Erdrich’s novels yet and possibly it would have been wise to have read at least Love Medicine before attempting the poetry. I suspect her fiction provides more context for the poems and I may return to them again after reading some of the novels.

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Science Fiction reading round-up

The one that really got me excited

My ereader showing the cover of The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez. It shows a space ship and a planet.

Simon Jimenez’s debut novel, The Vanished Birds (2020), is the first new voice in science fiction to get me excited since Becky Chambers published The Long Way to the Small Angry Planet. I’m not even sure how to describe this book, but I found it quite astonishing, as well as very accomplished and ambitious for a first novel. It wears its influences on its sleeve, but is also entirely its own thing. A great story, but also an allegory about capitalism, colonialism and, most powerfully I thought, about healing childhood trauma. There is an exploration of the price, in human suffering, of new technologies which feels like a response to Le Guin’s famous story, ‘The ones who walk away from Olemas’. It’s not perfect. It feels a little unwieldy and a touch self-indulgent in places, but what an imagination and wonderfully vivid characters. His next book, The Spear Cuts Through Water (2022), is epic fantasy, which is not at all my thing, but based on The Vanished Birds, I’ll be giving it a go because I really want to see what Jimenez will do next.

The one that I finally got around to reading

My ereader showing the cover of The Martian by Andy Weir. It shows a picture of Matt Damon in the movie version wearing a space suit.

I’m always a bit wary of books that have been overhyped, but in the case of The Martian (2014), I was not at all disappointed. I found it a delight. Hilariously funny, emotionally engaging, exciting and interesting too. The narrative shifts between Mark Watney on Mars, Nasa and the perspective of his crewmates on the ship, do feel a little clunky, but who cares when you’re having this much fun. I can see The Martian becoming a comfort book to return to on rainy days when I’m feeling a little under the weather. And I enjoyed the film adaptation too.

The favourite series

My ereader showing the cover of Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells. It shows Murderbot in its armour walking beside a much taller 'bot'.

I re-read the entire Murderbot series three times during lockdown. The sixth instalment, Fugitive Telemetry (2021) is a prequel to the previous novel and a little murder mystery. It’s not one of the best in the series, but I enjoyed it.

The favourite author

Three books by Becky Chambers! The Galaxy and the Ground Within (2021) is the last (hmm we’ll see) in the beloved Wayfarers series. If you liked the others, you should enjoy this one too. If you don’t like Becky Chambers, it will not persuade you otherwise. It’s a lovely story about a group of strangers who are thrown together by circumstances. Her novella, To be Taught if Fortunate (2019), is something completely different. This is a much harder, darker story about space exploration. It’s the first book by Chambers to really upset me in places and the ending is ambiguous. It’s very good, though, and the themes reminded me a little of the movie, Interstellar, only it’s much better. A Psalm for the Wild Built (2020) is the absolute opposite of ‘To be Taught’, a gentle parable about a monk and a robot. This is the first book by Chambers that hasn’t chimed with me. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s thoughtful and comforting, but somehow didn’t engage me and I probably won’t read the rest of this particular series. But it’s good to see Chambers trying different things.

The one that pleasantly surprised me

My ereader showing the cover of Embers of War by Gareth Powell.  It shows a space ship flying towards a planet with a smaller moon.

I think I bought this because it was cheap on Kobo. I didn’t expect much, but ended up enjoying Gareth Powell’s Embers of War (2018) quite a lot. I do like a sentient warship and this is just an entertaining, fast-paced space opera.

What next?

So that’s my last six months in science fiction, apart from re-reads of The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin, which I’ll write about separately.

I’ve got some slightly older stuff on the go at the moment, Downbelow Station (1981) by CJ Cherryh (this one is serious business!) and two books from 2005, the second in Julie E Czerneda’s ‘Species Imperative‘ series and the first in Jody Lynn Nye’s ‘Wolfe pack‘ comedy military SF series.

Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (2019)

A copy of Underland by Robert Macfarlane. The cover is a painting of a tunnel through bare trees with golden light at the end.

I read Underland by Robert Macfarlane last year. At the time, it certainly tested my poor lockdown-addled, zoom-fatigued brain. But it was well worth the effort and is definitely in the running for the best book I read in 2021, which is why I want to mention it here several months after I finished reading it.

Underland isn’t an easy read and I’m not even going to attempt to write about it at any length – there are numerous excellent reviews out there if you’re interested.

It’s a dense book that demands close attention. A guided tour of deep, underground places on Earth, it’s a book about the past, the present, and the journey we are on as we move further into the Anthropocene, the first period on Earth when human activity will be the dominant influence on the climate and environment.

Awesome, sublime and in places, quite frightening. This is a book to save for the autumn and winter, I think. Light some candles, curl up under a blanket and enter the dark places.

I’m looking forward to more journeys with Macfarlane. The Old Ways is next on my list.

Queer Short Stories from Wales

New from Parthian Books, Queer Square Mile: Queer Short Stories from Wales edited by Kirsti Bohata, Mihangel Morgan and Huw Osborne

This ground-breaking volume makes visible a long and diverse tradition of queer writing from Wales. Spanning genres from ghost stories and science fiction to industrial literature and surrealist modernism, these are stories of love, loss and transformation.

In these stories gender refuses to be fixed: a dashing travelling companion is not quite who he seems in the intimate darkness of a mail coach, a girl on the cusp of adulthood gamely takes her father’s place as head of the house, and an actor and patron are caught up in dangerous game-playing. In the more fantastical tales there are talking rats, flirtations with fascism, and escape from a post-virus ‘utopia’. These are stories of sexual awakening, coming out and redefining one’s place in the world.

Parthian books

Ursula K. Le Guin’s biography gets a publisher and a release date

Mark your calendar for 2026. That’s when the first and only authorized biography of the late Portland literary legend Ursula K. Le Guin is scheduled to be published by Virago, a British publisher that focuses on women writers.

The Oregonian, Ursula K. Le Guin’s biography gets a publisher and a release date

Little book-buying spree

My colleagues gave me a book voucher for my birthday. I used it to buy The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale because I’ve enjoyed her previous books, Ancestors: A History of Britain in Seven Burials by Alice Roberts, because I wanted to be an archeologist when I was a kid, and Hungry by Grace Dent, because I like food and it just looks like a fun read.

We also went to the Troutmark bookshop, where I got a couple of mystery/thrillers. I read Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke last year and thought it was excellent, so picked up another one her her books. I LOVE Ruth Ware and grabbed this copy of The Death of Mrs Westaway.

Finally, we paid a visit to the Oxfam bookshop, where I was pleased to find a copy of C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor which won the T.S Eliot Prize in 2021.

I also couldn’t resist this copy of Cranks Recipe Book, originally published in 1982 (reissued in 2013). I love old vegetarian recipe books. They are full of recipes for things like ‘savoury carrot layer’, ‘apple and peanut butter soup’ and ‘carob blancmange’. Not sure how much use I’ll get out of it really, but it takes me back to the vegetarian food of my teenage years and that’s comforting somehow.

Good Listen: Backlisted, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

My favourite literary podcast, Backlisted, has a new episode about Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

I read this book last year and loved it. The bit at the beginning of the podcast, where they talk about their recent reading does go on a little too long I feel, but after that, there’s a really interesting conversation about the novel, so stick with it.

I was also really interested to hear about a book by one of the guests, Francesca Wade, Square Haunting: Five women, freedom and London between the wars. That’s definitely going on the list.

January Cooking Round-Up

Ah, January, month of big soups, stews and leftover root vegetables.

My January was pretty miserable, but one thing I did enjoy was cooking and taking part in #Cookjan. I made a lot of good things, if I do say so myself.

A green bowl containing parpardelle ribbon pasta in a tomato sauce sprinkled with crumbled feta
Crispy caper and slow roasted tomato parpardelle from Anna Jones’s ‘One’

The rest is below a cut because I know not everyone enjoys seeing pictures of food!

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Happy LGBTQ+ History Month!

There’s a rundown from Queer Welsh Stories covering what’s on in Wales in the National, LGBTQ+ History Month 2022: events and highlights in Wales

A couple of books, if you’re interested in the queer history of Wales:

Norena Shopland, Forbidden Lives: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Stories from Wales

Daryl Leeworthy, A Little Gay History of Wales

End of January Reflections

A view from Cardiff Bay barrage at dusk looking out to the sea at low tide. The town of Penarth can be seen on the right.

The first two weeks of January were cold and wet. Miserable weather, plus the ongoing COVID situation and general state of the world, really brought down my mood. A few issues with our flat also triggered my depression about being a middle-aged private renter. And then something else happened that set off even more difficult emotions.

No, this is not, by any stretch, the worst January I’ve ever had, but it’s been a mean one nonetheless.

I did a lot of cooking, burned through a lot of scented candles, read and huddled under blankets with hot water bottles. I managed to keep up my daily walks, but not much else.

The weather began to improve mid-month. We made it out to the park for a walk. At the cafe, I ate a slice of ginger and apple cake which was the best cake I’ve had in a very long time. Heavy, moist, generous, not stinting me on anything.

The birds re-appeared. Song thrushes and robins have started to sing from the trees. Blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, blackbirds are all getting busy. Other birdwatchers have spotted a group of black redstarts in the area, but they continue to evade me, no matter how often I walk around the places where they’ve been seen.

Last week, I noticed that I was outside in the light after 4pm for the first time since November. January has been emotionally gruelling, but it’s good to see the light returning at last.

Song of the month – Ron Sexsmith’s beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Heart with no Companion’

Agatha Christie, The Complete Short Stories of Hercule Poirot

This collection brings together all fifty one of the Poirot short stories in chronological order of publication, plus one story ‘not seen for over 70 years’.

My third January book is one that I’ve been reading for a long time. At least a year. Possibly more! I’ve been keeping it on the go as a bedtime book for ages, often just reading a few pages on my e-reader before nodding off. There always seemed to be ‘four hours left’, until suddenly, there was only 30 minutes left, so I made a big effort and finally finished it.

There isn’t much to say. If you like Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot, you will enjoy this collection. The stories are a bit variable in quality. Some are forgettable and were clearly written quickly for magazines. Others are classics. A few of my favourites are ‘The Chocolate Box’, ‘The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb’, ‘The Adventure of the Clapham Cook’ and ‘Triangle at Rhodes’.

But the stories I enjoyed most were from The Labours of Hercules, originally published in 1947. These twelve interlinked cases, which show Poirot at the end of his career, are weirder, more grotesque and gothic, than the earlier stories. They feel more fully realised and complex somehow. These stories felt fresher because, aside from ‘The Erymanthian Boar’, they were not used in the TV series and were new to me. Rather a shame, I think, because some are excellent and could have made good adaptations.

‘The Nemean Lion’ is a delightful tale involving a pekingese dog. ‘The Arcadian Deer’ is a strange love story. ‘The Erymanthian Boar’ is an atmospheric mystery set in a remote swiss hotel. My two favourite stories, ‘The Stymphalean Birds’ and ‘The Cretan Bull’ contain elements of gothic and horror fiction: a civil servant finds himself embroiled in a sinister situation whilst on holiday, and a young woman recruits Poirot to help discover why her fiance believes that he is going mad. ‘The Capture of Cerberus’ features Poirot’s old friend/antagonist Countess Vera Rossakoff and doesn’t show Poirot in a very flattering light. Definitely one where Christie’s dislike of her own character peeps through.

Now I’ll have to find something else to read at bedtime.

Rebecca Wragg Sykes, Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art (2020)

I’m hoping to read more nonfiction this year and Kindred, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, feels like an excellent start towards that goal.

I’ve always been interested in Neanderthals, and palaeoanthropology more generally, so I was pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this book. Kindred aims to summarise and explain the current evidence and research about Neanderthals and make it accessible to the general reader. It’s a huge, complex field, so this is quite a feat and clearly also a labour of love for the author.

From the discovery of the first fossils one hundred and sixty years ago, Kindred delves into what we know about their bodies, the tools they created, the world they lived in, what they ate (a lot!), their homes and use of fire, to their aesthetics, love lives, death rituals and, of course, the question that most fascinates us now, their interbreeding with homo sapiens.

The book finishes with a discussion of how western ideology has shaped the way evidence of the Neanderthals has been interpreted and the journey from otherisation to accepting them, as different, but closely related, people.

A fascinating and tender book about the other humans that didn’t survive except in our DNA.

‘Read on and meet your kindred’.

Emma Stonex, The Lamplighters (2021)

My second January read is The Lamplighters (2021) by Emma Stonex.

In Cornwall in 1972, three keepers disappear from their lighthouse. When the relief boat arrives on New Year’s Eve, the door is found locked, the clocks are stopped and the table is laid for a meal. The Principle Keeper, Arthur Black, Assistant Keeper, Bill Walker, and their junior, Vincent Bourne, have all vanished. Arthur Black’s weather log describes a terrible storm which is not recorded anywhere else …

Twenty years later, a writer sets out to interview the women who were left behind: Arthur’s wife, Helen, Bill’s wife, Jenny, and Michelle, Vincent’s girlfriend. Three women whose lives are still constantly haunted by this unsolved mystery.

As the narrative moves back and forth between the experiences of the lighthouse keepers and the stories of the women who loved them, layers of truth slowly unravel. What drove Helen and Jenny apart? Who is the writer who wants to interview them and what is his agenda? What role was played by the rather sinister company, Trident House, that runs the lighthouse network? And, of course, what really happened to the men on the lighthouse during that last Christmas?

The Lamplighters crosses genres. It can be read as a mystery, a ghost story, and a psychological thriller. I did find the resolution slightly disappointing, but I’m not going to complain when the book is so compelling and beautifully written. In the end, it’s a story about love and grief and the difficulty in ever truly knowing another person.

With its ambiguities and genre blurring, I do think this is the kind of book that people will either love or hate, but give it a try if you enjoy the likes of Shirley Jackson, Hilary Mantel, Emily St John Mandel and Tana French.

The true story that inspired The Lamplighters is just as fascinating.

Daphne du Maurier, The House on the Strand (1969)

My e-reader showing the cover of The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. It features the title surrounded by drawings of bottles in a laboratory.

My first completed read of 2022 is The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier (1969). I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It reminded me that I really should read more of Du Maurier’s work.

The narrator, Dick Young, finds himself between jobs and borrows his friend Magnus’s ancient house in Cornwall, Kilmarth, while he decides what to do next. In the meantime, Magnus, who is a scientist, persuades Dick to act as a test subject for a drug he is developing which, he claims, allows the user to experience the distant past. Dick takes the drug and does indeed find himself transported back to the fourteenth century where he is able to witness, but not interact with, people who lived in the area at the time. This ‘time travel’ only occurs in the mind of the subject, so while on a trip, Dick is actually wandering around his physical environment, unaware of what’s happening in the present. This is clearly dangerous, but he quickly becomes obsessed with the drama unfolding in the lives of the people he follows in the past and feels compelled to keep on taking the drug. His addiction soon starts to cause problems when his american wife, Vita, and his two stepsons arrive back from the States earlier than expected. The situation esclates, as you might expect; there is a shocking death, violence, and everything eventually culminates in a suitably ambiguous ending.

The House on the Strand has all the elements that I’ve enjoyed in the other stories by Du Maurier. There is the unreliable narrator. There are elements of the gothic and science fiction. There are strong queer undertones: Magnus is gay and Dick’s relationship with him is far closer than with his bewildered wife. There is a narrative that can be read in at least two completely different ways. Is Dick really time-travelling, or is it all a drug-induced hallucination, a ruse practised on the suggestible mind of a man in denial about his life? There is the unresolved ending, which leaves Dick’s fate up to the reader.

The story can be read as an allegory about addiction and/or repressed sexuality, but I finished The House on the Strand with a feeling that it’s also about being a writer of fiction. Dick’s predicament represents the sense of conflict that being a writer can create between reality and the world of the imagination, where the writer would perhaps prefer to dwell, without finding themselves constantly being pulled back to the demands of ordinary, daily life.

An enjoyable start to my reading year. I think The Scapegoat is next on my du Maurier list. It sounds right up my street.

Like this? Try Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Food in Gothic Literature?

I very much enjoyed listening to this episode of The British Food History Podcast on Food in Gothic Literature.

The book that inspired the episode, A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino, is forthcoming from Unbound and looks gorgeous.

Unbound is a crowdfunding publisher so, if you’re interested, you can go and back the project. Since it’s on two of my favourite subjects (Gothic literature & cooking), this is something I’ll definitely be doing.