A Melancholy Event
By Dan Glaister
An eerie novel of possession and compulsion, of a young woman propelled to fulfil a macabre destiny
Publication date: April 2021Buy
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When Stephanie finds a hand-written story in a box of old papers, the path her life is to take becomes clear. Haunted by the true tale of a tragic ritual, she is determined to harness its ghoulish beauty for her own ends. A Melancholy Event is a story of obsession, of the choices we make and the choices that are made for us.
The novel has two protagonists: one is a girl, Stephanie, older than her years, with the ability to gather accomplices around her; the other is the true story of a fatal 19th century duel discovered by the young woman. That story from the past has its own life and exerts a power that draws the characters in this novel into its world. Gradually, Stephanie becomes consumed by the duel, a ritual that is as tragic in its inevitability as it is in its futility.
The novel’s title comes from the phrase used by a local observer to describe the duel that took place in Stroud, Gloucestershire more than 200 years ago during the Napoleonic Wars. One of the last fatal duels in England, it involved two friends and a squabble over a woman. One died, the other fled, as did the friend they had persuaded to be their second. A reward was offered but the two were never found. The duel is a largely forgotten part of local folklore, a story that inhabits and infects the landscape in A Melancholy Event.
Dan wrote A Melancholy Event because, like its protagonist, he is captivated by the stories embedded in the landscape around him, by the traces – physical, fictional, mythical, emotional – that they leave and how they seep into our present. The duel that is the basis of this story took place just over 200 years ago, close to where Dan lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire. That event, and the hazy retellings of its story, inform the view of the hills and valleys he sees from his window.
After a career at the Guardian writing stories based on fact, with little space for literary invention, Dan was drawn to fiction, to the challenge of telling his own stories, of making his own myths. This is his first novel.
Mitzi was tired. She looked through the French windows at the patio, the loungers stranded on the paving stones, stripped of their cushions, their metal frames like skeletons. One had been blown over by the wind, its feet sticking into the air, stricken. She leaned against the glass, feeling it cold on her face, trying to expel the weariness that was consuming her. She had chosen her clothes more carefully than normal that morning, putting on a Chanel all-in-one, white with gold buttons, and had painted her nails white, marvelling at the contrast with her tanned skin. Now, watching the weather pass, listening to the slight whistling noise the wind made as it forced its way through the window frame, she felt tired again.
She caught her reflection in the glass, the white and gold of her ensemble harsh against the muted greys of the world around her. On the other side of the window the girl from school, the strange one with the cropped hair, was standing on the patio with her hand raised, staring at her.
Mitzi moved back with a start, stumbling as her leg met the arm of a chair. The girl walked towards the window and knocked on it with her fingers, her hand forming a claw, her nails tapping against the glass. Behind her, Mitzi could see a solitary magpie standing on the lawn, its mouth noiselessly opening and closing.
These people are helping to fund A Melancholy Event.
An anonymous donor
Tamsin Treverton Jones