Wednesday, 25 January 2012
Author: Irene Handl
Year of publication: 1965, Flamingo edition 1986
Back cover blurb: 'Strange and unforgettable... Highly original and oddly haunting'
French, feudal, fabulously rich and fiercely tribal, the Benoirs call themselves The Sioux. The latest addition to the tribe is Vincent Castleton, a genial, short-tempered Englishman, and now third husband to the elegant, autocratic Marguerite, still in her twenties and very much née Benoir. The impending arrival of Marguerite's son George is making Castleton very nervous.
When the boy does arrive, his trappings - servants, two Rolls Royces, a bodyguard - seem to confirm Castleton's worst fears. Yet far from being the spoilt brat he expected, George turns out to be an intoxicating, delightful child who quickly wins Castleton over and who must be protected from his mother. She is beginning to prove more than Castleton bargained for...
Reading reveals: Great British character actor Irene Handl, who can be found playing an assortment of landladies and grandmothers in such landmark films as I'm All Right, Jack, The Rebel, Morgan, A Suitable Case For Treatment and of course, TV's Metal Mickey, is possibly not the first person you would suspect of having written two works of slightly strange literary fiction, but nevertheless, in the mid-sixties, she did exactly that, winning over Daphne du Maurier and selling a few copies too. When reissued twenty years later, her novels also garnered praise from Fay Weldon, Doris Lessing and Margaret Drabble.
Although The Sioux is quite original, and cleverly shows how acts of abuse can be concealed under a facade of rationality, it suffers from a play-like quality with characters wandering on and off-set that gets unpleasantly claustrophobic after a while, and there's no sense that they actually are in New Orleans like they are meant to be. That, coupled with the plot's dogged determination not to ever move forward to any significant degree makes me doubt that this book is going to rise from the grave again in a hurry. Still, a great curio that's worth a look.
Random paragraph: 'O, no, they were not chouchou at all. "They are serpents, papa." The Dauphin says that every spring his brothers-in-law, the Davis boys, were severely discommoded by a huge writhing mass of water-moccasins monopolising their swim-hole. "It wasn't anything you could do about it. They were in love, those serpents." The Dauphin adds simply: "C'était comme ça à Shiloh."'