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The Pain Tree and Other Stories by Charles…
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The Pain Tree and Other Stories

by Charles Wilkinson

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Recently added byniles_desperandum, bluepiano

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I was going to write that the stories in this collection could best be described as 'subdued', but actually it's more accurate to say there's a muffled quality to them, a sense that they're the equivalent of a conversation heard from two rooms away. I was thinking too that they've a relation to de la Mare's stories, but if they do it's from an inverse approach--in the most memorable of de la Mare's writings, there's little in the way of incident but in Wilkinson's book there are murders, suicide, alcoholism, mental illness, though none of these is treated as in any way dramatic or even telling. Both authors though create a strong sense of atmosphere and more obliquely an impression of the uncanny and of much being left unsaid.

Most of the stories are narrated in the first person and many of them wander back to the narrators' memories of childhood. The storylines are unremarkable and the elements wholly realistic but I'd the feeling of their being wrapped in several layers of cotton wool rather than a sense of immediacy. I'd a feeling as well that those country houses visited as a child would now all be burned to the ground, the acquaintances made in the past all now disappeared, and the narrators themselves fallen back into the oblivion from which they had barely emerged to tell their tales.

There's nothing remotely airy-fairy or precious about the book, though. Wilkinson gives the best description I've read of bedsit land--a frighteningly demanding landlady renting frigid rooms to a tenant who is dissolving into quiet despair, and a description of the stifling atmosphere of a provincial pub is very funny, one Patrick Hamilton might have used in Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse had he had a sober moment whilst writing it. (The Colonel sits at a table constructing animal figures from the pineapple chunks, olives, cocktail sausages and the like that 'the management provide in a misguided attempt at Sunday morning sophistication' until being interrupted by the Major's calling ' "I say, Crampton . . . Have you heard that old Rusty Scorer is in hospital? . . . Seems he asked Penelope to jump on him." ')

I'm giving a link to an online story by Wilksinson with the caveat that it's rather unlike the stories in Pain Tree: it has more descriptive detail and a more linear plot than they, as well as a clearly-defined climax that they as on the whole lack. It does though impart that slight sense of strangeness. http://middle-planet.com/2015/07/15/wilkinson/

The book isn't literature for the ages by any means but I'm fairly certain that scraps of it will pop into my mind now &again for quite a long time.
1 vote bluepiano | Jun 19, 2016 |
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