8.10.20

Down in the Cellar


I've been returning to some old favourites from my bookshelf lately. Down in the Cellar stands up brilliantly, sixty years after its first publication. 

The story is told by the oldest sibling, Bruce, in a style reminiscent of E. Nesbit's masterful narrator, Oswald Bastable. It begins as a fairly straighforward kids' adventure -- the four brothers and sisters discover a wounded and delirious escaped convict in a quarry and decide to shelter him in the rambling cellar of their uncle's rectory. But before long supernatural elements begin to creep into the narrative -- mostly things seen by the youngest sister, five year old Deirdre, whose creepy pronouncements about green lanterns and invisible malevolent 'Spoilers' would surely have her instantly referred to a child psychologist in these more enlightened days.

Poor Bruce can't see any of these weird phenomena, though his twin Julia and younger brother Andrew both get glimpses of other-worldly happenings. As the net tightens with the arrival of sinister witches, as well as prosaic police searching for the helpless Stephen, the children find themselves under siege. Deirdre's friend, the mysterious Lady of the Hill, is their only help -- if she really exists.

Down in the Cellar is honestly a masterclass in writing a subtle and unsettling narrative, rendered all the more powerful by the fact that Bruce himself only witnesses the magic indirectly, and doesn't believe in it himself. I get shivers whenever I read it, I wonder if it's too scary for sensitive children? I've never been able to acquire Nicholas Stuart Gray's other books, The Seventh Swan and The Stone Cage, but on the basis of Down in the Cellar I think he is an unjustly neglected talent.

Haunting!

2 comments:

  1. I've never come across this author, and this book sounds like one to look out for. I did have a peek on Abebooks but the copies of this and his other titles there have totally ridiculous prices. I will just have to keep my eyes peeled, as my dear old Dad used to say.

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