Saturday, June 9, 2012


"You enter a room, a street, a country road. You see a figure ahead of you, solid, three-dimensional, brightly coloured. Moving and obeying all the laws of optics. Its clothing and posture is vaguely familiar. You hurry toward the figure for a closer view. It turns its head and - you are looking at yourself. Or rather a perfect mirror-image of yourself only - there is no mirror. So, you know it is your double. And that frightens you, for tradition tells you that he who sees his own double is about to die..."
"Through A Glass, Darkly"

I already said it in my review of Roger Scarlett's Murder Among the Angells: reading English novels translated to Japanese taxing. The inherent difference between the two languages, plus the fact that the original text was already 'dated' English (as in not contemporary English), made for a reading challenge that was distinctly different from reading books that were originally Japanese. And a lot more tiring. So I really wanted to avoid reading more books translated to Japanese. On the other hand, you should imagine the temptation whenever I see translated versions of old (and out of print!) English classics in a neat row at any large bookstore. It's still strange to realize you can get most Queens new here in Japan at any decent bookstore.

Anyway, today's topic: Through A Glass, Darkly by Helen McCloy. Because apparently it is going to be discussed at the Mystery Club in a week or two. And because it was available new at the local bookstore. And it is quite a famous novel. And because I should read more McCloy. I think. Actually, this is my first McCloy (my writing has become more chaotic? It's been a while since the last post...). Anyway, young teacher Faustina Crayle is fired from her position mid-term at a girls' school for reasons the head of the school does not want to tell her. Faustina's colleague Gisela von Hohenems fears there might have been a big mistake and confides in her fiance Basil Willing about this affair. Willing discovers that students (and teachers) at the school have been seeing Faustina appearing at places she could not have been unless she could teleport, split herself into two images or something like that. Willing suspects a sinister plot surrounding Faustina and this turns out to be reality when another teacher is found dead, apparently having fallen of a staircase. One student claims to have seen Faustina pushing the teacher of the staircase, but Faustina was in another city at the moment of the accident!

One of the first notes I made while reading this book was "Carr". Because this story feels really like a Carr story, with the supernatural element of a ghost/doppelganger. The novel's theme is also reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers' short story The Image in the Mirror, which is actually one of the few Sayers stories I like. There is just something romantic, and horrifying about the theme of doppelgangers and Helen McCloy manages, as far as I can judge from the translation, to convey a really creepy atmosphere even though the prose is quite dry and down to earth. Maybe that is why it feels all the more creepy: everybody tries to think logically about it, but the supernatural events still happen.

There's apparently also a short story version of this novel, which might actually work better for this story, I think. Through a Glass, Darkly is certainly an entertaining detective story, but most of its charm, for me, was derived from its atmosphere, which would have worked just as well, or maybe even more powerful in a more condensed, shorter version. So I might want to try out the short story version in the future.

I was less impressed by the overall trick, but that might be because the solution seemed so obvious. Ignoring the 'supernatural' card, that seemed like the most likely solution. Which might be a problem with a lot of 'supernatural' settings/plot devices in detective novels. As a plot device, there is something magic to the classic locked room though that prevents it from becoming as obvious as the supernatural plot device in Through a Glass, Darkly. Usually. But like I said, the atmosphere is really good and McCloy's plot-structure really manages to support that atmosphere. Personally, I found the ending to be quite interesting too and quite fitting to the tone of this novel, but I can imagine people not being content with the last few pages.

Awful review? Yes, I know. I really should write more often again. By which I don't mean that I write masterpieces when back in a proper writing rhythm, but it would probably be a lot better than this post. Which reminds me, I really should try writing a short story myself this year, as several semi-interesting situations have been popping up in my head lately (of course, solving those situations is another problem...)

1 comment :

  1. Your opinion of this book exactly coincides with mine. It definitely evokes a Carrian atmosphere, but the solution suffered from the same problem often found in stories dealing with vanished streets, disappearing houses and lost rooms – the range of possible solutions are very limited.

    Someone who knows his detective stuff will no problem figuring out the solution before the end of the book. The story does work a bit better in short story form, but it's not as creepy as the novel.

    If you want to see McCloy tackle a more, uhm, traditional locked room I suggest you hunt down a copy of Mr. Splitfoot, which I rank among my favorite impossible crime novels.

    Don't worry about the awful review. I write them all the time and people still read them.