Thursday, 1 September 2011

Listen Close to Me

Listen Close to Me

Subtitled Hidden Lives of Love, Madness, Murder, Loss and Deception, this new collection by Catherine Eisner traces often with darkest black humour the misadventures and behavioural tics of women driven by bizarre and sometimes criminal compulsions. An asexual niece becomes the love interest of her erotica-collecting uncle; the mistress of an army Intelligence Officer assumes the modus operandi of a spy to outwit her lover; a cat-obsessed wife of a commodities broker is suckered into a human-trafficking scam in Hong Kong; an eighteen-year-old governess becomes a suspect in a notorious case of serial murder and begins to harbour suspicions about the budding sociopath in her charge, a sinister nine-year-old boy [extract below]. These are tales that probe the intimate lives and crimes of unreliable narrators to prompt disturbing confidences told in voices from the sidelines that we wouldn’t normally hear.

... A meticulous recorder of behaviour, pitch-perfect on accents and the faultlines between class, sex and age, Eisner imbues each account with an unsettling verisimilitude that reaches its peak in “An Unreined Mind”. An 18-year-old governess struggles to comprehend her nine-year-old charge ... on an isolated country estate ... When a series of murders begins, the governess falls under suspicion … Eisner shows the workings of a highly original mind.
(Review by Cathi Unsworth in The Guardian.)

... entertaining and finely spiced …
(Times Literary Supplement)

Extraordinary writing. Mesmeric reading.
(Ambit magazine)

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Salt Publishing (15 Sep 2011)
ISBN-10: 184471831X
ISBN-13: 978-1844718313

Extract from An Unreined Mind

Seeing him again after all these years, as he was led out of the Crown courtroom after the verdict, flanked by an armed police escort, I was somehow neither surprised by his notoriety nor amazed by my own prophecy fulfilled.
Because, after all, hadn’t his own governess murmured to herself with a shudder, when Skinner was no more than nine years old, ‘Well, that settles his place in history!’ as the boy perched on the wall of his reclusive animals’ graveyard and owlishly watched the hay rick burn while his squealing mice suffocated in their cages.
‘If it’s nae ane thing efter anither wi’ tha’ wickit wee daftie,’ the housekeeper squawked, wildly beckoning to me before the wind could carry the smoke and smuts to descend on her washing line.
Not that Nessie could hear those caged death throes from the haystack. She was stone deaf, and her plangent speech was oddly intonated.
‘Uch! Tha’ wretchit Pish-a-Bed cannae be dealt wi’!’ she screeched, pointing to indissoluble traces of yellowish stains on one draw-sheet.
I helped her fold the batch of single flannelette sheets the boy had brought back from boarding school; each one carried a woven name-tape:

H. L. Skinner.

Looking down at us from that distant grave-mound, the boy was now half hidden behind the iron-fenced enclosure, hands clutched upon railings, insolently sucking a sweet.
‘A’wa wi’ ye!’ Nessie screeched, and brandished a raw fist. ‘Back tae the stank ye wis spawned in! Behind bars! That’s whaur ye belong!’
Of course, whenever criminologists cite Skinner’s name, those gruesome serial killings over three decades will always come to mind; a notoriety that will be forever associated with the Skinner Principle (SP5), the five well-known signifiers of homicidal sociopathy which even today socio-psychologists still consider to be the essential ‘quintad’ for identifying in children first-rank personality disorders predictive of future criminal behaviour.
‘Cruikit weans oot o’ thair raison!’
For Nessie Macmurtagher, such wilful children were unmistakable. And any child so labelled – in her own maledictory words – was likely to be possessed by ‘a demon soul blacker than the Earl of Hell’s waistkit.’
As you’re no doubt aware, these components of the SP5 homicidal sociopathic personality consist of Enuresis (bedwetting), Pyromania (firesetting), Zoosadism (torturing pets and small animals), Necromania (a morbid attraction to dead bodies), and Zootomy (dissection of animal cadavers).
‘Well, that settles his place in history!’ I whispered to myself for, indeed, it was I who was that hired governess or, rather, since at that time I was myself little more than twice the boy’s age, it would be truthfuller to describe the eighteen-year-old factotum who drifted into Skinner’s warped childhood at that critical moment in his life as a sort of immature Universal Aunt.
It happened like this.
On the chill wintry evening I consider the Opening Act of the Skinner morality play – in fact, it was the first day of the boy’s Christmas holidays – I was ascending that very same grave-mound in search of my truant charge when, through the gloom, I discerned a bulky figure . . .

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