I’ve always had a penchant for books which appeal to both children and adults. As a child, Roald Dahl evoked mischievous delight as I tottered upon his gruesome, wicked and at times provocative tales, always wondering whether I really was reading a children’s book.
Which is why, when I picked up and started reading Ten Sorry Tales, by Mick Jackson, at the grand old age of 23, I was transported back to that same sense of naughty pride, thinking I was one step ahead of my unknowing teachers. Surely this isn’t suitable for little’uns!
The book comprises of, as the title suggests ‘Ten Sorry Tales’, with each short story detailing the eccentric escapades of its dissident characters. Each character varies wildly, each character has a mission to fulfil, each character profoundly human.
The macabre ‘Pearce Sisters’, Lol and Edna, kick start the ten gothic merriments.
After spotting an unfortunate fellow, struggling out at sea, they haul their boat into the black, choppy waters and lug the unconscious chap back to their damp abode, perched alone, atop a wind battered cliff. Having become quite taken with their sleeping guest, they pump his lungs, preen his hair and swaddle him in Edna’s pink dressing gown.
Suffice to say they do not take kindly to the high pitched scream and subsequent one finger salute their untowardly lodger offers them upon waking up and darting for the shore. After charging and lumping him one on the shingle, they haul him back out to the choppy, black waters and dump his once again, comatose body, back into the ocean.
The tale proceeds as the sisters find their visitor washed up on the shore. Much more charming as a corpse, they ensue to gut and smoke him like a fish and sit him at the old piano. Their new taxidermy gent however, is soon to be joined by silent card playing companions as the Pearce sisters’ feverish slaying of male stragglers straying too close to their smoke house escalates!
The lines are truly blurred between reality and surrealism. However, Jackson’s matter of fact writing and subtle endings make each story truly believable. Once again I revert back to a child-like state when I realise I am reading fiction and my heart pangs at the fact that the characters are not real. From lovable Baxter the lepidoctor and collector of all things strange, who has a vengeance against the murderous Milton Spufford whom sacrifices butterflies for art, to Finton Carey who makes his mother a lost soul and becomes one himself when he runs away into the woods, never to return.
However, my absolutely favourite sorry tale is ‘Hermit Wanted’. It documents the disgustingly splendid and over-privileged life of Giles and Ginny Jarvis.
Having found a cave located upon their grounds, Ginny races home to inform Giles that they simply must employ a hermit for it. The sheer aristocratic quirk of this notion fills me with a scoffing joy!
They implement their plan by submitting an advert in the paper and occupying a mumbling bum, whom agrees to a life of solitude and silence for an expense of a barren cave, sandwiches and fresh fruit.
As time passes, however, Ginny’s enthusiasm for her naturist brute diminishes as does his food supply and the sandwiches and fruit are gradually replaced with mouldy bread and rotten apples. Ginny and Giles’ attention is now behest to their unborn child.
As a reader the choking isolation of the hermit becomes very apparent and a terrible sense of menace begins to creep into the story. The hermit starts sending rambling, yet disturbing notes to the house, he leaves his cave and livestock starts to go missing. Then the Hermit himself goes missing…scared off by Giles aimed gunshots.
What the Jarvis’s are unaware of is that the Hermit knows their grounds better than they do, for he is not missing, he is plotting…and the fate of their beloved offspring lies in his callused hands!
The book addresses morality, bereavement, love, friendship and individualism. It bears the questions I asked as a child and the answers I thought I’d hold as an adult. The stories make me want to be different, they make life’s oddities and the people’s abnormalities fine…The biggest feat of this book is that it instils a great empathy.
As I finished Ten Sorry Tales, I did not feel sorry, but sad. Sad, that the book had ended. Sad, that there were not Eleven Sorry Tales. And so as a way to cheer myself up, I did what I have done over the years, many a time. I flipped the book over, opened the cover and began to read…again!
What’s your favourite ‘Sorry Tale’?