Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Undying Monster - Jessie Douglas Kerruish

This, the latest in the British Library's weird collection and, I think, their second foray into a full-length novel, has been a wild ride. Jessie Douglas Kerruish threw everything at at - do you want speculation about Vampires, Werewolves, necromancy, Norse legend, grave robbing, a hand of glory and unexpected applications of William Morris and Wagner - because if you do you're in luck. 

It is by any measure A Lot, it's also a lot of fun if you don't take the excesses too seriously, underneath those excesses there are some interesting ideas at play, and this overall is what I love about this series. The Undying Monster is a tale of the fifth dimension - it's only a very small spoiler to say that Kerruish thinks of that as the human mind and its unconscious power here. The fourth dimension is a more mundane spirit realm easily detected by dogs, cats, and supersensitives such as our heroine, Luna Bartendale. 

The Hammands are an aristocratic family of great antiquity, reduced by the War to a brother and sister. There is a curse or Bane upon the Hammonds that has lasted a millennium and more, the head of the family, if they find themselves under pines and firs on a clear frosty night see a monster - those that survive the encounter go mad, and commit suicide. The locals think that Hammonds who have died prematurely remain behind as Vamoires, for entirely unclear reasons no one has thought to get rid of any pine or fir trees in this part of Sussex. 

When Oliver Hammand survives an encounter with the monster his sister Swanhild calls in the help of Luna, the white witch - can she save Oliver from his seemingly inevitable fate? Despite throwing almost everything at the plot there's an internal logic that makes sense (mostly) and as a splendid yarn with some frights along the way it all works very nicely. 

Given the continued, if passing, references to Oliver's service in France, and that the book was written in 1922 it's hard not to find metaphors for shell shock and the deep collective trauma the war left behind. Even the spiritualist and folklore elements tie into this and the renewed interest in them during and after the First World War. It's this that I find really interesting about 'The Undying Monster' - the question at its heart is how do you reconcile a great horror in such a way that you can go on living with it?

Hammand ancestors could not, the Hammand who got through the trenches just might be able to with the right help. 

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