When her younger sister, Daphne, commits suicide, Iris Tennant successfully applies, under a pseudonym, for the job of personal assistant to Lord Melfort, the Under-Secretary of War. This takes her to his estate in the Scottish Highlands and to the place of her sister’s death, where she encounters a intricate net of sibling rivalry, sexual jealousy and political treachery.
Alice Thompson’s 132 page novella is bursting with ideas, biblical and classical allusion, the foreboding strangeness of a beautiful yet sinister Scottish glen. Elements of magical realism and glorious C21st gothic.
Lord Melfort’s family is a conglomeration of dysfunction: The sibling rivalry of his sons, Louis, a psychologically disturbed WWI veteran, and Edward, Daphne’s former lover, who kept her in decadent splendour. Lady Melfort, a strong, rational woman, with eyes of granite and an undocumented bitterness. Her sister, Agnes, chooses to remain in her room, ostensibly due to agoraphobia.
The employees are as colourful, including Iris and her mysterious motivations, who
refused to feel pain. Refused to feel anything. She had never felt love for her sister. Her eyes felt dry. Full of the opposite of tears. Grief had not occurred to her. It was not what she would allow herself. Grieving was the letting of everything else fall away. Grief was the shedding of hope.
And the falconer of the title, who fell for the charms of the delightful, though promiscuous, Daphne. Through him, Thompson introduces a layer of subtext regarding the differences and similarities between man and the natural world. Unlike the birds of prey he trains, the falconer is scrawnily built and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top to reveal a hairless body, pale brown skin like the hide of a young animal. In contrast the falcon, a perfect airborne killing machine. The pages are packed with avian metaphor and simile. Agnes is waiting for her bird of paradise, her erotic pleasure, to find her; Iris, is planted like the cuckoo in the Melfort nest; Edward is the eagle, upright, strong and impenetrable.
But what of the Beast of Glen Almain? A creature, unseen yet heard stalking the woods of the estate, demanding periodic sacrifice and appeasement if the residents of the glen are to find peace. Is it folklore? Or the beast in all of us. The part of nature in us we like to hide. Why was Daphne so afraid and why did she plead not to be allowed into the woods the night she died?
Or could the beast be something else entirely? It’s 1936 and Lord Melfort, Under-Secretary of War, in appeasing the eagle of National Socialism is bordering on the edge of treason …….
Further information and an interview with the author at Two Raven’s Press.