Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Two #RetroHugo 1943 novels: The Uninvited, by Dorothy Macardle; Grand Canyon, by Vita Sackville-West

These were the two books that particularly jumped out at me from my list of sfnal 1942 novels by women, so in the name of informing my nominations I got hold of them and read them. I expect that the eventual finalists will probably be from the ranks of those originally published in the genre, but I hope I won't be the only voter to look beyond Heinlein, Siodmak and E.E. 'Doc' Smith. Spoiler: I will be nominating both of them.

(Incidentally, it has been pointed out to me that The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is only 31,000 words long, so technically falls into the Novella bracket.)

The Uninvited, second paragraph of third chapter:
On the nineteenth of April Cliff End became ours, equally and jointly, free of rent forever –‘from the centre to the sky,’ Pamela added. About the sky, in these days of aeroplanes, I was not so sure.
As a former student of the period, I knew Macardle's fiercely partisan The Irish Republic, a strongly pro-de Valera account of the Irish War of Independence, Civil War, and subsequent political developments. A committed feminist, she was deeply disillusioned with Dev's treatment of women in the 1937 Comstitution, and her experience covering the League of Nations for the Irish Press gave her a sympathy for other small nations that Ireland's wartime neutrality failed to deliver. Her first novel, Uneasy Freehold, was published in 1941 but renamed The Uninvited for its American release the following year, and is therefore eligible for the 1943 Retro Hugos under that name. It was filmed in 1944 - here's a trailer:

The narrator is a young but upper-class Irishman living in London, who decides to move to Cornwall with his sister after a relationship break-up; they buy an empty house from the nearby retired military chap and his cute if troubled grand-daughter. The house turns out not to be quite as empty as they had been led to believe...

It's a ghost story, but a ghost story with a couple of interesting wrinkles. The book casually treats ghosts as a scientifically proven phenomenon operating according to implicitly well-understood laws, with the Irish protagonists (and a Dublin lawyer who is dragged in to help near the end) naturally better equipped to deal with the problem of the haunted house than their English neighbours on the coast of Cornwall. This makes it all a bit less scary - though the moments of terror are still well conveyed - but also more comprehensible. There is a jolly good twist at the end, which I should have seen coming but didn't, linking to interesting issues of sex and gender. I'm not surprised that it made a decent film, and am a bit surprised that I hadn't heard of it before. You can get it here.

Grand Canyon by Vita Sackville-West, second paragraph of third section (there are two parts to the book, each broken into quite short sections):
She wished she were back in Mrs. Temple's room. The grace of the older woman gave her comfort. Mrs. Temple's possessions seemed to share her gracefulness. The silver looked so serene, and some of the highlights had been pink and amethyst where the sunset reflected in them. Loraine wished she could stay and bathe for an hour in that assurance; she would not have asked to be allowed to talk, only to sit and heal.
This is a rare sfnal venture from the Bloomsbury group (the author herself was the basis for Orlando by her lover Virginia Woolf). It is the near future (as seen in 1942). Sackville-West tells us in her foreword:
In Grand Canyon I have intended a cautionary tale. In it I have contemplated the dangers of a world in which Germany, by the use of an unspecified method of attack, is assumed to have defeated Great Britain in the present war. Peace terms have been offered on the basis of the status quo of 1939 and the Germans have made a plausible appeal to the United States Government (who have meanwhile satisfactorily concluded their own war with Japan) to mediate in the name of humanity to prevent a prolongation of human suffering. For the purposes of my story I have allowed the United States Government to fall into the Nazi trap and to be deluded into making this intervention as "the nation which, in its hour of victory, brought peace to the world." The terrible consequences of an incomplete conclusion or indeed of any peace signed by the Allies with an undefeated Germany are shown.

Such a supposition is by no means intended as a prophecy and indeed bears no relation at all to my own views as to the outcome of the present war.
The setting is, surprise surprise, the Grand Canyon, where a tourist hotel hosts a number of European exiles have ended up fleeing the devastation of the other side of the Atlantic. The first half of the book sets the scene of a sedate romance between Helen Temple and Lester Dale; but the inevitable German attack happens, and in the second half of the book, the hotel guests flee to the bottom of the canyon, on a journey that is not at all what it seems to be at first. The metaphors are obvious but not laboured, and the situation of Helen, Lester and the other characters is rather well conveyed. A new paperback is coming out next week; Canadians can read it here.

Tags: bookblog 2018, hugos 2018, retro hugos 1943

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