Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Poundland Gothic

Nothing says Gothic like... a leek?
The tale of how I discovered the two particular texts I want to briefly discuss today is somewhat of a Gothic story in and of itself. It was a day wreathed in mist and cold, when I found myself driving to Meadowhall to meet a friend (a shopping centre lovingly dubbed ‘Meadowhell’ by those who have experienced the frenzied rush of crass consumer-culture worship within its walls).I fled from the mist of the car park and the twisted shadows that seemed to chase me, pausing only a moment to gather my courage and gird my wallet before plunging into those hellish halls, a twisted temple to capitalism that stank, as usual, of human.Still, steeling myself, I ploughed on through the denizens of this terrible place, only to find myself, somehow, outside of Poundland (“Yes! Everything is £1!!!”). I moved in, I couldn't stop myself, tempted as I was by the promise of a giant Toblerone for only £1- surely, the devil's work. 

Pictured: The Devil's Chocolate
Still, I was pulled inexorably to the back of the shop by forces unknown only to realise – with a start – that, at some point, they had began to sell books! For a pound? Oh yes, and what treasures I found in that bargain bin of stunned looking paperbacks and huddled hardbacks; some books slightly scuffed, others oddly stacked, all of them staring at me and begging for release from this nightmare. Don’t worry, dear friends, I thought (hopefully internally) I will save some of you. Sixteen of my fine English pounds later I left, heavily laden with books and a single over-sized Toblerone. And what a Toblerone it was. But we are here for the books, are we not? So let me begin with the first of these Poundland texts:
In This Way I was Saved, by Brian DeLeeuw, is an interesting, and Gothic, text exploring the dynamic of the imaginary friend as transposed onto the doppelgänger trope; we are presented with the story of Luke and his imaginary friend Daniel, all from the latter’s point of view. Daniel, however, is not merely an imagined personality. He knows facts that Luke does not, is able to analyse situations from a more adult perspective and harbours secret desires distinct from those of his ‘creator.’ 

The story plays with the idea of this common childhood ideal, having Daniel play the part of imaginary friend, possessing spirit, family ghost, and split personality throughout, with no explanation being offered as more viable than the other, which is the true charm of the text- we are left with only the unknown.The text is littered with Gothic tropes, from Daniel appearing as Luke’s doppelganger to his possession of his host's body. Daniel is a fluid entity throughout, fulfilling a myriad of roles. 

He is the character able to most clearly analyse Luke’s Mother’s psychotic-seeming episodes, he is the one who convinces Luke to poison the dog, to force himself sexually onto a crush, and, eventually, to kill. While each episode of Daniel’s control over Luke slowly becomes more and more aligned with the idea of a family curse or possessing spirit, we are also constantly presented with Daniel as a sexually perverse character as he lusts after Luke’s half-sister, touching her in her sleep and groping women while Luke looks on helplessly, for the most part. 

There is an interesting argument developed throughout that Daniel is merely an expression of Luke’s warped psychosexual development, or that he is merely a manifestation of Luke’s own psychological issues (Daniel is subdued by Luke’s medication).In this way I was Saved merits reading, and certainly merited saving from the Poundland shelves. It drives the reader towards multiple interpretations, providing evidence for each and allowing us to follow our favoured theory each time. Well written and well-plotted, there are plenty of moments of genuine shock, of the grotesque, of warped psyches and choices that, once wrongly decided, cannot be retaken. An easy recommendation here. Seventy four and a half Cthulhu tentacles up.

While DeLeeuw’s text provides us with an uncanny look at the common, J.B. Aspinall's Sycorax at first seems to tread ground that has already been well and truly trodden. It is framed as a found manuscript of written by a 15th century Monk, tempted by sin and sentenced to the penance of writing up the history of a local Witch who is still thought to be at large. 

I was worried that Aspinall would provide a familiar reading of the sympathetic witch, one who was falsely accused, whose only failure is that of being intelligent in an unenlightened age and, at first, we follow this pattern. Told parallel to the story of the lustful Monk, brother Edmund, Sycorax’s main narrative is that of Sukie Trothers, nee Dobson, as she is persecuted to the point of mutilation before ‘becoming’ the fiend Sycorax and terrorising Yorkshire. Brother Edmund, in tracing this tale, gives in to his own personal demons, recalling a youth spent in the company of woman before condemning an ale-house wife, Alys, to a Witch’s death after she refuses to sleep with him.

Aspinall presents a world of grotesque men- filled with transgressive priests, sadistic gaolers, apathetic clergymen, and dithering nobles and the text experiments, interestingly, with a ‘human Gothic’ in which the setting takes a back-seat to (or is supplanted by) those who occupy it. The dominating castle is gone and every man is a Gothic villain, determined to steal away the innocent and break them, as Sukie is dragged from each ‘castle’ to the next, each situation as inescapable as the last. The sublime appears only in the form of the cruelty and apathy of those who could have stopped the tragic treatment of Sukie Trothers; we see these figures as terrifying and their seeming sociopath tendencies prove awe-inducing.

The ending of the text, though, is the true tour-de-force, as an insane priest drags Edmund (transformed into something of a Gothic Heroine here) up into a snowy wilderness and certain doom. What follows is murder, madness and death, and an intensely Gothic finale. The perversity of his captor, the murder of his fellows, and the wrath of the witch all combines to leave poor Brother Edmund, like many of Poe’s narrators, desperately telling his tale despite his apparent madness. I would recommend this to read if you do enjoy a good Priestly romp, some bastardised Yorkshire dialect (“Heyoop, Feyther”) and an ending that is definitely spoiled by the blurb! I'd give it a solid 7 found manuscripts out of 10.

Yorkshire and Proud

So, these are the first two of Poundland’s Gothic offerings and perhaps I shall share more, in time. Still, both are well worth a read and do attempt to do interesting things with the Gothic form. And, if you find yourself in any reputable pound stores, dollar stores, or [insert currency here] stores, then do take the time to have a look around, and spend your well-earned Gothic Money to save a book from certain sadness on those sorry shelves. And get yourself a Toblerone, on me. You’re welcome.

Danny Southward is a third year researcher at Sheffield University. His work focuses on Toblerones, the proper consumption thereof, how great Yorkshire is and also some contemporary Gothic and metafiction stuff, but that's not important. 

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