The Man With Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger
This is science fiction and I don’t normally do science-fiction, but, unlike the normal space stuff, this novel concerns extrasensory perception.
Ralph Standering has been asked to write the story of Michael Bristowe – the man with six senses – by Hilda, Michael’s widow and the woman Ralph had always believed he would marry. Of course, what is produced is not a true account of Michael Bristowe’s life but focuses upon Ralph’s thwarted wooing. This forms an interesting overlay on the narrative. Is Ralph an unreliable narrator? No, because he sits down the facts, but possibly not the most salient facts and always with his bias.
Michael’s sixth sense allows him to be aware of objects he could not perceive using his other five senses, also to pick up thoughts of other people and to discern whether jewellery is real or fake. With the help of Hilda, he attempts to make use of his sixth sense for the benefit of the world in general and thereby to make his living. Michael is a difficult person to be alongside, wrapped up in himself. He has, so Ralph tells us, the quality of absorbing all the attention.
In my Kindle edition of this book, there is a long introduction by Mike Ashley and, at the end, a long ‘afterword’ by Susan J Leonardi. The ‘afterword’ makes much of the narrator’s attitude towards women’s education, seeing as the author, alongside Dorothy L Sayers, was amongst the first generation of women to attain degrees, both of them at Somerville College. Hilda also is university educated and, although Ralph believes himself to be strongly in favour of university education for women, the reality is that he sees women only in a domestic role and tries to impose upon Hilda romantic narrative, with himself as her suitor. Certainly his tone in the narrative is pompous and condescending towards Hilda, describing her frequently as “immature”.
The text is mostly prose with very little direct dialogue. Also, Ralph writing his account as he is sailing to South America, tells us the outcome before the reader starts reading. If you accept, as you have to, that this book was written pre-war, this does not detract from it at all. A solid three stars from me!
Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene
“My aunt’s apartment was on the second floor. There was on the first floor small sofa, so that she could take a rest on the way up.“
This sets the light-hearted tone of this book. You don’t often associate Graham Greene with relaxing reading but this, published in 1969, was it.
Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager in London, grows dahlias. Although superficially quite content with his life, Henry is a little bored. Even attending his mother’s funeral is a welcome distraction. There he meets his mother’s sister, Aunt Augusta, whom he cannot remember seeing before, an eccentric who does what she likes and devil take the hindmost. She likes attention – she expects attention – and she’s had lots of lovers. She can occasionally be cruel, as she was to Henry’s fathers lover in Boulogne, who had tended his grave for several decades. Aunt Augusta keeps a servant, who she calls Wordsworth, a man of colour, who is also her lover. Within the first few chapters, Wordsworth has added cannabis to the urn containing Henry Pulling’s mother’s ashes, and these are taken away by the police for investigation. The sort of thing that happens all the time!
Aunt Augusta takes Henry off to Istanbul on the Orient Express, then to Boulogne, then to South America. In between the travels, Green takes us around a very conventional England, which people who were around in the period in which he was writing will recognise, of dahlias and Omo, far removed from the Swinging Sixties. Ironically it is the older aunt who is the groovy one. The storyline meanders but the characters are real and engaging. The aunt calls the shots all the time, and, even at the end of the story, poor Henry may have transformed his lifestyle but he’s still running around after Augusta.
Thoroughly enjoyable. Five stars from me!
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