Originally published in 1999, The Haunt, set in a seedy, decaying hotel on the Cornish coast, was to be the final entry in A.L. Barker's brilliant fifty-year writing career. "The Haunt is the novel that A. L. Barker had just finished [in 1998] when she was struck down by a disabling illness...[It] is probably her best...It is an examination of what being haunted means, and whether we can do anything about it. Auden once said that there is nothing to be done about it. We must sit it out. This is grim advice. But if A. L. Barker is saying this too - and I think she is - she doesn't say it grimly. She says it lightly, not cynically but hilariously. She understands that there can be pleasure alongside unease: the delicious first stirrings of infidelity, the comforts of offered love to the old and ridiculous. She knows us all." (Jane Gardam, Spectator).
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A. L. Barker (1918-2002) was a short story writer and novelist. Born in St Paul's Cray, Kent, she lived in the same milieu where London borders on Kent and Surrey, for the rest of her life. As her Oxford DNB entry says it was 'the chief setting for her work, which often seemed to partake of the quotidian mysteriousness and even abandonment of these areas.'Her first selection of short stories, Innocents, won the Somerset Maugham award in 1947. Of her short stories, Robert Nye has written, 'stories as carefully composed as poems, quiet and delicate and reserved perhaps, but oddly lingering in the mind.'Although a stranger to commercial success, she never wanted for admirers, Jane Gardam, Francis King, Auberon Waugh, Evelyn Waugh, Rebecca West, John Sutherland, Deborah Moggach, Ronald Blythe, Susan Hill, A. S. Byatt, Adam Mars-Jones, Nina Bawden and Victoria Glendinning being just some of them.A. L. Barker deserves to be better known. Faber Finds is proud to be reissuing her entire oeuvre, six volumes of short stories - Innocents, Novelette with Other Stories, Femina Real, Life Stories, No Words of Love and Element of Doubt - and thirteen novels - Apology for a Hero, A Case Examined, The Joy-Ride and After, Lost Upon the Roundabouts, The Middling, John Brown's Body, Source of Embarrassment, A Heavy Feather, Relative Successes, The Gooseboy, The Woman Who Talked to Herself, Zeph and The Haunt.From Publishers Weekly:
A rather chaotic hotel on the Cornish coast, Bellechasse is the gathering spot for a large cast of characters, haunted by their own eccentricities and troubled relationships, who assemble for a weekend of, as the brochure proclaims, "peace and plenty." Keeping track of everyone is the only real challenge to readers of this charming, cozy book. Gilbert Eashing, an antiquarian in a wheelchair whose interest is in funerary sculpture, and Mildred Gascoigne, an elderly spinster by choice ("One might choose without being offered a choice"), have come for a holiday, while Pam and Antony Wallington are there to bandage a failing marriage. Charlie Olssen's car has broken down midway on his mission to sell a nude portrait of his ex-wife to her present husband, while Piper, the author of an agony column for those in need of "the knowledge that someone, somewhere cares," busily avoids the attentions of a young freelance reporter called Senga (Agnes backwards). Nearby live Owen and Elissa Grierson, new residents who have moved to Cornwall after Owen's retirement and, in the next cottage over, red-haired Angela Hartop and her small son, James. Barker conveys the intermingling of these well-meaning middle-class folk with a combination of sympathy and gentle wit; the result is funny and intermittently touching. Adultery and even death are treated with a light and forgiving touch; this is a good book to read when in need of serenity. Especially well rendered are the characters over 60; often overlooked in modern fiction, these elderly men and womenAthe creations of an author who was born in 1918Aare more vibrant and vital than the minority of younger characters. (Jan.) FYI: Barker, author of 20 books, won the first Somerset Maugham Prize in 1947 for her collection of stories, Innocents, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1969 for her novel John Brown's Body.
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