Celia Fremlin - Uncle Paul
"Fremlin’s brilliance is in recording the minutiae of daily routine and turning them into small spiteful acts."
‘Uncle Paul’ was Mildred’s husband for a very short time before being arrested for the murder of his first wife. Now, fifteen years later, Mildred has escaped to the small seaside cottage where they honeymooned and the scene where Paul was arrested. She has not seen him since being sentenced and with good behaviour, Mildred believes that Paul could be released any time now. As Mildred seeks refuge from humankind, she believes she hears footsteps outside on the gravel path. Is it Paul? Has he come for her, to kill her for abandoning him all those years ago?
Mildred’s half-sisters, Meg and Isabel were very young when ‘Uncle Paul’ briefly entered their lives. Now Isabel has asked for Meg’s help in rescuing Mildred from herself. Isabel, husband, Philip and their young children are holidaying at a caravan resort just down the coast from Mildred’s cottage. She begs Meg to come down and help her sort Mildred. But Mildred’s paranoia is infectious and soon all the sisters are ‘seeing’ Uncle Paul in all the men they know.
People always credit Fremlin’s first novel, ‘The Hours Before Dawn’, mainly I feel because it did win the Edgar for Best Crime Novel in 1960. However, her second novel has always I feel been slightly overshadowed by her first, which I feel is a shame, as I feel it is stronger than its predecessor despite it winning the Edgar.
Fremlin shows wonderfully in ‘Uncle Paul’ her talent for creating menace and claustrophobia regardless of the setting. By day, Fremlin gives us frolicking children running and playing in the rolling sea, the sun beating down and ice-creams eaten by the truck load. But by night Fremlin delivers a whole new landscape, one of horror, of dark imaginings, of potential evil and malevolence. I have described her other works as ‘light and shade’, but here Fremlin shows us the two definite sides of the coin with panache. Fremlin’s brilliance is in recording the minutiae of daily routine and turning them into small spiteful acts. She can turn a tiny gesture into a threat, a leer.
The power of self-suggested hysteria rings like a warning bell, vibrated by every carefully chosen word. I could write about this fine writer for hours. I have certainly bent many people’s ear's about Fremlin’s work, and ‘Uncle Paul’ is one of her finest. I am so chuffed that finally, after many years, that Fremlin’s work is back in print and available to all. Start with this one and I guarantee you will be hooked on this author’s small, yet powerful body of work.
Reviewed by: C.S.