It has been a long week at work (our Sundays count as the start of the week which is a common but weird retail thing, so I feel like I've worked six days this week - because I have, with a late finish tonight to try and get some Christmas prep in). I had hoped to read E. F. Benson's 'Paying Guests' for Simon and Kaggsy's 1929 book club, b ut it didn't happen.
That was partly because I've also been reading two really excellent collections of weird\ghost stories which I was disinclined to put aside. The first was Helen Simoson's The Outcast and The Rite which covered stories dating from 1925 - 1938, the other The Little Blue Flames and other Uncanny Tales by A. M. Burrage which again covers the 1920s -30s.
I haven't looked up the specific dates for any of the stories included but some of them must have come from 1929 and overall the mood of both books speaks of the era. The Great War may be a decade or more in the past but its shadows are still being cast. Simpson and Burrage are distinctly different writers and I didn't choose to read these books side by side for any similarities I assumed I might find but it's there in the sense of loss, of crumbling certainties, of people living by their wits and class barriers breaking down.
Houses become malevolent, or anachronisms that must exert their charm to survive - much like those who would inhabit them, and as Burrage points out in one story there's a pervasive superstition born in the war that still had its claws in the popular imagination. It's not unusual to find plots in detective fiction from the 20s and 30s which revolve around witchcraft or devil worship - they mostly prove to be a front for something else, but there's a readiness for the characters in these books to believe - something. Anything perhaps that helped make sense of the war they'd been through and the destruction it bough, as well as the sometimes miricle-like fact of survival.
It's hard to look around at the moment and not see parallels with the uncertainties and upheavals of the 1920s - perhaps this winter will bring out some future tales of the weird - I don't read enough contemporary fiction to know if there's a pervasive mood beyond a thirst for paranormal smut amongst young adults (and that's because I sell so much of it at work).
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