Saturday, 28 May 2016

MALEFICE, LESLIE WILSON and LIFE CHANGES by Enid Richemont

The invisible bookshelf - do you have one? I do.

     There are writers you know about, whose work you are definitely going to read 'one day' because, yes, you know it will be rewarding, which is why you put them on the invisible bookshelf in the first place, but somehow, you never get round to it. Leslie Wilson, who wrote the poignant Young Adult novel, set in Hitler's Germany: 'Last Train From Kummersdorf' has been one of these. She's a colleague, no, a friend, and I'd never read her - shameful.
     I will, I will, I promised myself - but never did. Then her new book: 'Malefice', was posted on Facebook. I was intrigued by its cover image, seduced by hints of evil, witchcraft, magic, impressed by its recommendation from the illustrious Hilary Mantel, and hey! it came in a Kindle edition - irresistible! Dear readers, I bought it.

     There are times when a work of art - a novel, a poem, a painting - seems to echo perfectly, and uncomfortably, and disturbingly, with stuff going on in your own life, and this has been one of them. The story's set during the English Civil War, in a country riddled with superstition, where fairies and witches are real, and Satan an evil to be dealt with, and feared. The story's told through the words of many characters - villagers, country people, a clergyman interrogating a supposed 'witch' - so it's often chaotic and quite challenging to understand, but for me, it seemed to mirror the chaos, darkness and confusion in my own life at present.

     Part of this is the very real possibility of moving house. Mine is a very familiar story - a fairly penniless young couple with two small children manage to buy a family-sized house in North London. Only squillionaires can afford to do that now, and at the time we were crippled with a mortgage. Expensively 'doing it up' was out of the question, so we made things ourselves, and I painted, painted, painted - obsessed with stripes and arches. The result has been something very personal.

     When the children left, four people became two people, the house an oversized couple's house. Now, sadly, there is only me, and so much maintenance needs doing - hair-raisingly, the wiring, which is antique and potentially dangerous - and big decisions have to be made. Recently I've been photographing some of our very personal bits of decorating, knowing that sometime soon, they'll vanish for ever, victims to upmarket vandalism (but then, didn't we do the same?) This is my small, upstairs 'Hall of Mirrors' (Versailles, eat your heart out)

     And welcome to my downstairs hall (the staircarpet's ratty and faded, so glad it doesn't show), and our dining room beyond, which I painted in watercolour washes using artist's paint, which is why it glows. This, by the way, is an extremely economical way of decorating, because the expensive pigment is so diluted, the colour built up in layers.

And lastly, our fake Art Deco mirror in the front room - glass cut by our local glazier, surrounds painted by me, then mounted on to cheap chipboard and attached over the fireplace. That one I will certainly take with me.

www.enidrichemont.org.uk



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4 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

I can understand your trepidation, Enid, at the idea of leaving such a lovely (and clearly unique) house with so many memories stretching back so far.(That blue wall is stunning.) I wouldn't dream of offering advice or guesses at what that future might be because I have no idea what choice I'd make myself in such a situation. I hope you find a way to decide and that it turns out to be a positive experience.

Dennis Hamley said...

Yes, isn't Leslie a fine writer. 'Malefice' is a strong and gripping book, as is 'Kummersdorf'. And Leslie, being half-German, was hugely helpful to me about what it was really actually like to be German at the end of WW2. Not very nice, is the answer.

Leslie Wilson said...

Thank you, Enid! What you point out here is that there are always two people involved in the production of the book - the one who has written, and the one who is reading (as authors, of course, we hope that there are many of the latter). But unless our work resonates with something in the reader, we might as well not have bothered. I'm so glad it did resonate with you, and also I wish you all the best in the process of leaving a much-loved home (and a beautiful one).
I was still pretty young (late 30s) when I wrote Malefice, and I didn't actually think of it as a novel about ageing, and yet so it is. We carry so many past selves within us (they are also contained within our homes), and that is maybe another key to the structure of the novel - it tracks back through the past selves, not just of the witch, Alice, but of all the principal actors in the catastrophe.

Leslie Wilson said...

And thank you, Dennis. I did so much enjoy your novel about Germany.