Celia Fremlin

Uncle Paul

"Uncle Paul’ is one of her finest novels."


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 and her family 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.

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People always credit Fremlin's first novel, 'The Hours Before Dawn', mainly because it won the Edgar for Best Crime Novel in 1960. However, her second novel has always been slightly overshadowed, which is a shame, as I feel it just as strong as its predecessor. Here, Fremlin shows wonderfully 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-cream's eaten by the truck load. But by night she delivers a whole new landscape, one of horror, of dark imaginings, 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. The power of self-suggested hysteria rings like a warning bell, vibrated by every carefully chosen word. 'Uncle Paul' is one of her finest novels. I am chuffed that finally, after many years, 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.

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