Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Croquet Player: Review

It is a sort of ghost story they unfolded. But it is not an ordinary ghost story. It is much more realistic and haunting and disturbing than any ordinary ghost story. (pp. 1-2)

After all-- It is in just such a flat, still atmosphere perhaps--translucent, gentle coloured, that things lying below the surface, things altogether hidden in more eventful and colourful surroundings, creep on our perceptions....(p. 19)

The Croquet Player is, as the quote above states, no ordinary ghost story.  There are no horrible specters haunting our main characters, no otherworldly demons or goblins or any other tangible things which go bump in the night.  The atmosphere in this Wells novel relies entirely on the infectious nature of fear.  The croquet player, our narrator, is staying at Les Noupets (evidently a health-spa area with springs for a "water cure) and encounters a doctor who is in the area for a rest.  The doctor perceives our man to be a "reasonably balanced" and fairly unworried individual and begins to tell him of the source of his own distress--the countryside of Cairnmarsh.  He relates how he was slowly driven mad by the haunted nature of Cairnmarsh--how all of the inhabitants are fearful and seem almost possessed.  He tells of a vicar driven to beat his wife and of the brutal treatment of a dog...and how the atmosphere of the place finally drove him to seek the help of a nerve specialist.

The haunting is very ambiguous some of the locals fear that it is the spirit of Cain--the father of all murderers--that is haunting them and causing them to behave so irrationally towards each other.  To mistrust and even hate one another.  Others think that the ancient emotions and primitive drives of the Neanderthals (such as belonged to the bodies recently dug up in the marsh) are infecting those who live in the area.  But the fear and irrational behavior is spreading beyond the marshlands....

The most compelling part of the "ghost story" is when the doctor is telling his tale.  Even though we know that there is no real ghost, we are sure that doctor really believes that something tangible is responsible for his fear and the irrational behavior of the inhabitants of Cairnmarsh.  Wells's story really serves as an allegory for the fear and tensions that were building just before World War II.  Just as Cain was driven to kill his brother Abel; just as primitive man had to fight tooth and nail to survive--man's more primitive nature would be coming out in the conflict to come.  Mankind is--in a way--haunted by a nature that seems to compel us to conflict with one another.

As both a ghost story and an allegory, The Croquet Player rates a solid three stars.


Gypsi said...

This sounds like something I would certainly enjoy! I am going to see if I can find a copy right now. (I always seem to find books I want to read by reading your reviews!)

Bev Hankins said...

Glad to help build your TBR pile! :-)

Lynn said...

I've read a few HG Wells but never heard of this so thanks for this review.
Lynn :D

Unknown said...

This is one of my favorite Wells novels - I just loved the allegorical nature. I'm glad to see someone else reviewing it, since it seems to be one of his lesser-known works.

Ryan said...

Oooooh, this sounds really, really good.