Monday, November 20, 2017

’All The Beloved Ghosts’

There’s nothing creepy about Alison MacLeod’s ‘All The Beloved Ghosts’ (2017). It's not horror. 12 short stories evoke dreams, regrets and ghosts from the past. The stories clevery weave fictional characters with re-imagined factual historical figures and current-day politicians and celebrities (say, Sylvia Plath, Anton Chekhov Princess Diana and Tony Blair).

I was keen to see where the stories go, but I was a a tad bored. These stories aren't quite my cup of tea, so it took me a while to get into her writing, which is excellent, and the tone of these stories and their prose. (Reviews here, here and here.)

The last story in the book is the eponymous ‘All The Beloved Ghosts’ is set in Charleston and focuses on Angelica Garnett, drawing on the actual Angelica Garnett (1918-2012), an accomplished painter, musician and author of the family that runs Bloomsbury Group. Her aunt is Virginia Woolf. In this story, it tells of Angelica in her twilight years who attended an event at the old house in Charleston, and was overcome by her memories of the past.

She wanted only to be alone with the house, her old family home, to be where visitors, where others, were not. She wanted to feel again the warmth of its floorboards beneath her feet; to see the bright chintz curtains blowing in the breeze. Perhaps she'd unearth her earliest sketches, drawn with lumps of chalk her brothers had gathered for her on the Downs all those years ago. She'd dawdle over memories of poached eggs made from daisies for her rag doll; of the River Cuck icy between her toes; of the old bay tree in whose branches she once balanced, small but queenly.

'In Praise of Radical Fish' is an intense and almost funny look at three would-be jihadists in Brighton whose fears about an upcoming mission surfaced. It would be funnier if it isn't hitting so close to the bone when the world is in this state of flux.

I never knew it till the day Omar asked me to flee with him to jihad, but I wanted to know what fulfillment meant when Amazon wasn't number-crunching the shit out of it. 
At the police station, Omar and Ham weren't detained for more than a few hours, but they were cautioned for public disturbance, and now were known to the police. It was difficult to say how much the cops know about Omar's jihadi boasts to his father, but the truth was, he'd been giving it large there on the beach.

My favorite story would be 'The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov'. It draws from uses renowned Russian playwright Anton Chekhov as a subject, and tells of his later years when he was suffering from tuberculosis. It uses the first person narrative to indicate that Anton Chekhov was a ghost and witnessed his own funeral and eulogies. It's hilarious.

In the corridor outside our room, the doctor and the Maître d'hôte are arguing. Finally I am removed from the hotel under the cover of darkness in - how fantastic! - a hotel laundry basket. At 6'1", there is nothing for it: this corpse can only sit up. 
Olga and a small procession of acquaintances bear me to a nearby chapel. The light from the two lanterns plays upon my face, and I seem to wear a most inappropriate smile.  
You couldn't make it up. 
Of course travel arrangements for the dead rarely achieve the gravitas of the grave. In the end, the Russian Embassy commandeers a train - or, to be specific, a refrigerated car marked 'Oysters'. 
I never subscribed to any heroic ideal. 
I am happy to be mistaken for an oyster.

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