Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Paymon's Trio - Colette de Curzon
Paymon's Trio by Colette de Curzon is one of two newly published booklets from Nicholas Royle's Nightjar Press. I had the opportunity to read this story beforehand, and I provided the message of encouragement to readers on the front cover.
This is what I said: "A story of music and the dark arts to compare with The Lost Stradivarius. Resonant with the allure of the forbidden, this is a tale told with distinction and grace. Enthusiasts of the great tradition in supernatural fiction will be delighted."
As my comment suggests, the theme of music and the supernatural has been explored before by some experienced hands. I touched on some of these when I wrote an introduction to the Tartarus Press edition of J Meade Falkner's The Lost Stradivarius. I said:
"...the theme of music and the soul was in the air. Edward Heron-Allen, an expert on violin-making and on the history of the instrument, had published the sardonic A Fatal Fiddle in 1890; Madame Blavatsky’s posthumously collected Nightmare Tales (1892) included a somewhat crude precursor in the supernatural field, ‘The Ensouled Violin’; Count Stenbock’s morbid tale ‘Viol d’Amor’ had been included in his collection of decadent fantasies, Studies of Death (1894); Stanley J. Makower’s The Mirror of Music, about a tragic young pianist, appeared in 1895, in John Lane’s fashionable and faintly scandalous Keynotes series; and in the following year F.W. Bourdillon’s exquisitely delicate Nephele depicted an enervating spiritual bond between a young man and woman, formed when they play a piece of haunting music together
....the reader of the day would not have been surprised to find that the rare, beautiful and magically-charged instrument of Falkner’s novel was not only physically lost, but lost also in the sense that a soul is lost: damned, that is. The idea of a macabre affinity between the violin and a damned soul is old in Romance. The most flamboyant and feverish masters of the instrument have often been linked to the powers of darkness: such legends clustered around Tartini, Sarasate, Paganini, and others."
So does Paymon's Trio compare well when it follows in such a rich tradition? Yes: it certainly does. Indeed, in many ways it is an advance on those somewhat hectic and decadent tales. This is a reflective, modern version of the theme. The story is subtle and assured, introducing us to characters we find engaging and interesting, in a prose that is observant, nuanced and calm: I was put in mind, indeed, of the writing of Elizabeth Bowen. This is just such a story as Robert Aickman, alert to the ghost story or strange story that is "akin to poetry" would have chosen for his Fontana anthologies. Part of the reason why this is so is because of the background to the story, which appears from the brief biography of the author:
"Colette de Curzon was born in 1927. The daughter of the then French Consul General, she wrote ‘Paymon’s Trio’ in 1949 in Portsmouth, at the age of 22. Having no knowledge of available routes to publication, she tucked it away in a folder of her work, where it remained until 2016. Now recently widowed, she is the mother of four grown-up daughters and has three grandchildren. She lives in a rambling Victorian house in Hampshire."
It is surely to be hoped that the encouragement of this publication might prompt some other stories from the author, soon.
Just a word finally about the second publication from Nightjar in this season's offering, The Automaton, a story by David Wheldon. This author achieved success with his first novel, The Viaduct (1983), and a second, The Course of Instruction (1984), both of which impressed me a good deal at the time. He was then described, as I recall, as an English Kafka, and in fact there was a lot of justice in this claim.
I remember that I was actually on a course of instruction when I read this second book in the rather dreary digs where I was staying. This was possibly not a good move, as I started to feel that the book and what then passed for reality were beginning to overlap a bit too closely. Nevertheless, I got each one of the following books as they appeared, each getting stranger and somehow more remote, until they seemed to stop altogether. So it is good to learn of this thoughtful author's return to publication, and I will seek the story out with a keen appreciation, not to say apprehension.