THE CORMORANT by Stephen Gregory


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In an eerie, effective but puzzlingly withholding first novel, a young English couple and their toddler son move to a cozy Welsh mountain cottage inherited from a distant uncle--and are unstrung by the raucous power of a pet sea crow that the uncle's will demands they care for. It's the old Mephistophelean bargain: the narrator, a disillusioned high-school teacher from the Midlands, exchanges freedom to write in lush, comfortable surroundings for intimations of evil, in this case brought on by young son Harry's increasing fascination with the glittering, cold stare and menacing cries of Archie, a cormorant old Uncle Ian, himself a disaffected teacher, once rescued from an oil slick. The narrator is fascinated by Archie, too--he begins taking the bird on long seaside expeditions, teaching it to fish for him, even inviting it into the warm cottage--which causes wife Ann to flee with Harry to her parents for a week. When she returns, Harry does something that alarms both parents: he finds a molted black feather from the bird and, mimicking its predatory stare, tries to stab his mother with it. Soon other things go wrong: gulls flock by the hundreds into the yard, poised for attack; a drunken accident ends with the bird attacking the narrator; and the narrator begins to think he sees and smells old Uncle lan hovering around, playing dirty tricks from the grave. Finally, during the narrator's grisly, drunken murder of the bird, Harry runs to join his avian soulmate in the flames of its funeral lyre--and dies, presumably joining Uncle lan. Hard to say what this is all about--a case study in magic or psychology? Still, interesting, if finally elusive, reading.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's