Monday, April 18, 2016

Is It All In Our Heads?

A quick stop at the library with an hour to kill between appointments resulted in flipping through an easy read in Paul Torday's 'Two Eerie Tales of Suspense'. There're two novellas in the book titled 'Breakfast at the Hotel Déjà vu' and 'Theo'.

Don't compare it to his 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen'. That's really enjoyable and it's a different sort of story from 'Two Eerie Tales of Suspense'. These novellas are 'eerie' not in the sense of the supernatural. Not quite. They're more of a matter of psychological imbalances. Can't seem to find many reviews. I suppose they're more of a digital release even though I read this in hard copy. (More information here and on goodreads.)

Using Telegraph's 2009 exposé of the scandal of UK's MPs' (Members of Parliament's) expenses, 'Breakfast at the Hotel Déjà vu' begins the protagonist former MP Bobby Wansbeck seemingly on a holiday in an idyllic Mediterranean isle without his wife Margaret White. He's recuperating from a major illness, getting away from the stress in London and wanting to write his memoirs. Somehow he has memory lapses. The same scene of a mother and her child every morning triggers déjà vu, but he can't recall what and how. The book weaves in and out of his recent past and his downfall as an MP. Towards the end, we learn that he's indeed not well. I was a tad confused as to whether he has pancreatic cancer or is a misdiagnosed gall bladder stones instead. Whichever it is, the end tells us that he hasn't actually recovered or gotten out of hospital. Bobby Wansbeck has simply been drifting in and out of his sanity.

'Mr Wansbeck?' the doctor asked again. Then he heard somebody else say, 'His blood pressure is dropping.' 
But Bobby couldn't be bothered to answer. Enough was enough. He was on a journey, on a train, then bumping along somewhere in a taxi—or was it on a gurney—and he knew he was nearly there again, after all these years. The sunlight was strong and warm. Checking in was a mere formality. He went up the stairs to his room, and it had not changed a bit. he walked across the room to the window. 
The view was just as he imagined it would be, just as he remembered it.

In 'Theo', we learn how the vicar of St Joseph's Church in a small town parish- John Elliott and his schoolteacher wife Christine stumble upon young student Theo Constantine who seems to have constant bruises on his body that fade away quickly. Theo lives with his mother Mary, and her boyfriend George. The doctor of the town, the council's domestic violence officer and school headmistress all seem to have seen the bruises. The wounds keep disappearing and reappearing. The adults suspect domestic violence and abuse, except that when the police are called in, they can't see a thing on Theo. Stigmata is mentioned. Somehow in the end, Theo went missing and a huge local search ensued.

John Elliot is haunted by the prior events and Theo's ultimate disappearance. Apparently the little boy is not found. He quit his job and left town with his wife. Then he spirals downward into what seems to be depression. He went to a psychologist Professor Thornton because John needed to get his life together before his 'illness' overwhelm him and divorce happens. It's never quite clearly concluded what exactly the matter with Theo's bruises is about.

'Doesn't it strike you as a strange coincidence that in a town you describe as being quite uninterested in the church—I think you said you had a congregation of sixteen—a miracle should appear in front of your eyes, in the form of Theo? 
The professor expounds his thesis in a calm and courteous voice. John Elliott has merged his worries about his inability to fill his church with worshippers with his worries about his inability to produce a child. Theo, a child who was real enough, had somehow become the locus of these anxieties. The miraculous wounds, the strange ability of Theo to get inside John Elliott's head, were all projections of his desire for evidence that God was real, his need for something to sustain him in his thankless task as a parish priest. 

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