Friday, October 29, 2021

The Villa and The Vortex - Elinor Mordaunt

I have a lot of weird collections on the go at the moment - I'm dipping in and out of 3 of the British Library series titles in a way that is deeply unhelpful as I can't remember who wrote what at the moment - but they're all so irresistible. Thanks then are due to Judith (again) at Handheld who is really good at chasing up review copies she's sent out, which in turn keeps me on top of my schedule as far as her books are concerned. 

I'd read two of Elinor Mordaunt's short stories before, one that is repeated in this collection (edited by Mellisa Edmundson who also edited the very good Women's Weird collections from Handheld - I think there's a 3 for 2 offer on them until Sunday...) and one that is not. Hodge is the story that is repeated, it's filled with a particular sexual menace that sadly still resonates and I hadn't forgotten it. 

It's sometimes hard going to read a whole collection by a single author, but whilst Mordaunt has a series of themes and issues she comes back to, there's enough variety, and she's so very good at what she does that it works really well here. The first stories in the collection are almost novella length. The Weakening Point is interesting with an ending that's sort of signposted but is non the less unsettling for that. The second - The Country-Side is the longest and also my favourite in this collection. 

It mostly deals with a  marriage that has gone wrong - the husband is not all the wife had hoped (a recurring theme in Mordaunt's stories) and the women in the village who everyone thinks is a witch knows altogether too much about it. There's something about the characterisation of everyone involved in this one that works particularly well, and the ending wasn't quite what I expected, and what I got in some of the other stories - it was more ambiguous and the better for it. 

The other stand-out story for me is Four Wallpapers which makes excellent use of domestic space to unsettle the reader. It's an excellent companion to The Villa, both of them strip the home of its character as a haven for its inhabitants. Altogether it's a really strong collection by an author who doesn't deserve to have been forgotten. 

These stories are definitely weird rather than horror, although sometimes they cross over - so The Villa is frightening in its way, and so is The Fountain, but The Landlady is charming with a bittersweet ending, and Four Wallpapers has a similar mood. Both have interesting takes on what a ghost might be. Altogether it's the perfect sort of book for this time of year - thoughtful rather terrifying, with enough atmosphere to give the occasional chill and lots to chew over. Highly recommended. 

Also - do have a look at Handheld's website here - order books from them and they come delightfully wrapped Homepage - Handheld Press 



  1. Love the sound of this, especially if it's weird rather than horror. I love anything that unsettles the domestic space.

  2. It's much more weird than horror and I think you'd like it a lot along with both the Women's Weird collections edited by Melissa Edmumdson. She's very good at finding stories that unsettle domestic spaces.