Mrs. Charbury At Eltham by Max Porter, 2017
The magic trick:
Giving the reader backstory through a recurring series of memories
I’m very excited about this month. We’re doing British scary stories all throughout October on the SSMT site.
We start with one from 2017, which isn’t really what I picture when I picture British scary stories. But, trust me, this is a good place to start. Max Porter cooks up a classic-style ghost story here.
Mrs. Charbury, as the title correctly leads you to believe, has returned to Eltham Palace after many years and the trip brings back a string of old memories. The narrative alternates most of the way between memories of a party here that she attended decades ago. It also happens to be the last time she saw her little sister alive.
So we go back and forth between her trip to Eltham as a student and her trip to Eltham today as an old woman. It’s a great way to get the reader up to speed on the backstory. Creepy and effective.
Eventually, we drop the memory threads and focus solely on pushing the present plot forward. It’s a very elegant transition.
And that’s quite a trick on Porter’s part.
‘I don’t like it’ said Delia.
‘Oh do shut up.’
And there we were, drying our hands and prettying ourselves, when we heard Virginia say to someone or other ‘Yes, and I’ve just seen the Charbury Sisters arrive. Ye-e-e-es, exactly. One beautiful and silly, one strange and ugly. One Flaming June berry, one burnt brûlée berry.’
And I know Delia heard, because she blushed and hastened her efforts with the handwashing. Poor peculiar Delia. Dumpy and glum.
I step through into the domed room with its fly’s eye roof; the pride and joy of New Eltham.
‘Hello? Is anybody here?’
Back then I called it the Temple of Questionable Taste. I was jealous, I suppose.
‘Hello?’ I call. The building hums.
I think I can hear footsteps approaching so I peer expectantly down each corridor but nobody comes.
There was champagne, so much champagne. Chatter and shrieks of laughter. Cigar smoke. Jazz. Silk.
‘I don’t like it here’ Delia said to me. ‘I have a very bad feeling.’
I flounced off to flirt and dance and get sloshed.
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