Read The Return by Walter de la Mare S.T. Joshi Online

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Gripping and poignant tale of psychic possession concerns Arthur Lawford, who appears to have been possessed by the spirit of a long-dead 18th-century pirate. One of de la Mare's finest occult stories, the novel also deals with domestic trauma, unrequited love and philosophical reflection. New introduction by S. T. Joshi....

Title : The Return
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780486296883
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 193 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Return Reviews

  • Shawn
    2019-01-08 20:54

    I first read Walter de la Mare's fiction in his seminal ghost story "Seaton's Aunt" (the ending of which built to such a level of menace that I still retain a visual image in my mind of the final scene). I'd also heard Erik Bauersfeld's performance of de la Mare's "All Hallows" (which concerns odd, metaphysical hauntings at a brooding, seaside cathedral) on the marvelous 60s radio show THE BLACK MASS from KPFA in San Francisco (many available here in sometimes spotty audio quality). Outside of that, I have a note that I enjoyed his story "Bad Company" but can't recall much about it at the moment.Checking The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (always a great resource for author overviews), it sounds as if I should really make the effort to read more of de la Mare's short fiction. While he's justly remembered as a fine poet and children's author, he also seems to have been quite the distinctive weird fiction author of the the early part of the 20th century - neither as "horror"-minded as E.F. Benson or Montague Rhodes James, nor as metaphysically abstract as Arthur Machen, de la mare turned out eerie fiction concerned with children, imagination, visions, and the human spirit and identity.THE RETURN (published in 1910, but revised in 1922 and 1945) is, on the face of it, a fairly simple idea for a novel. Arthur Lawford, an average man recuperating from a long fight with influenza, wanders into a churchyard and falls asleep next to a gravestone. On returning home after his nap, he discovers that his features have changed and he no longer resembles his own photograph. As he struggles to understand his situation and claim his identity (his wife and friends doubt his story, despite his being able to answer any questions they have of his past), he begins to find evidence that he now resembles the scandalous Frenchman, Nicholas de Sabathier, whose gravestone he napped near, an amorous, Rousseau-like rogue who died a suicide. As his family's doubts mount, who can Lawford turn to?What's interesting about this book is that it doesn't take a direct, DOCTOR JEKYLL & MR. HYDE-type approach to its story of (possible) possession. There isn't much action, and Lawford doesn't struggle against the cackling evil ghost of a hundred-years dead scoundrel. Instead, the book is very reflective and internalized, as we are privy to Lawford's thoughts and psychological distress, mostly over his situation. At first, only his aged vicar and his daughter really believe in him, and things start to go awry as his personality subtly changes (or is this just the expected reactions to stress?). His wife, whom he assumes to be a lynchpin of solidity, accepts his story only at first and as society's disapproval (of her housing a strange man while her husband is "ill") grows, she quickly folds and abandons him. Taken in by some interested, newly acquainted friends (Herbert Herbert and his sister Grisel), he finds out more about Sabathier and also falls in love with Grisel. But even this seeming triumph is laced with conflict and loss.I can't imagine that everyone would enjoy this book. It's brooding and methodical and those looking for a more modern type of "horror classic" will be sorely disappointed by a distinct lack of action. But it is a very powerful, if sad and moving, book. If you like the literature of the 19th and early 20th century and are interested, you should check it out. It's worth noting that The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural refers to de la Mare's prose as "less accessible" (than his poetry) and I did find it is somewhat "challenging" in longform. His dialogue - which may have been an attempt to capture the actual speech patterns of his chosen social class of characters - seems meandering, abstract and circuitous at times. It's not as dense and hard to crack as, say, Henry James but I had a similar reaction to THE RETURN as I did reading Thomas Pynchon - it takes a little bit of exposure before the rhythm of the writing really sinks in. Also, I imagine THE RETURN, which is fairly short, might go down better all in one sitting instead of piecemeal, as I've been reading it for the last month.There are some specific aspects of the book I'd like to comment on: large (view spoiler)[first of all, it's interesting that at some points in the book it almost seems as if the face-changing event hasn't actually happened (despite the obvious reaction of some characters) and instead what we are reading about is the nervous breakdown or mid-life crisis of a conflicted man. The "occultic" aspects of the possession are never heavily expounded upon (in fact, almost nothing is ever examined as factually occurring, so much as we get opinions on it from various characters). Even though the vicar and others confirm the exchange, Lawford worries he is going mad (he feels as if he is "speaking out of a mask"). There are (only) occasional moments where he suffers odd visions and voices ("Who the devil are you" he asks his reflection, only to see his eyes open in surprise. Later - "'Brazen it out' a jubilant thought cried suddenly, 'follow it up, play the game! Give me just one opening. Think - think what I've risked!'").That last bit ties to another interesting aspect - that the supposed "possession" is never directly presented as an "evil" occurrence except as judged by society (because Sabathier is a suicide and a notorious roue), although it does upturn Lawford's life. There is very little direct suggestion of the kind of "creeping domination" that implies occult possession and Lawford remembers his own past clearly. This leads me to wonder about how the book starts. Lawford is recovering from influenza ("influenza dispirts one so") and his invalid state has reignited dreamy, reverie-like qualities from his youth (along with a feeling of "something not quite reckoned with"). In a way, Lawford seems on the verge to returning to a life he isn't very satisfied with - he refers to himself as "rather a dull creature" and refers to his "monotonous, restless, stupid life" which he will be resuming "for good" (post-transference, his wife refers to how he used to "dream and idle on" and he refers to "how feeble a hold I had on life").This melancholy, comtemplative state in the churchyard then takes a darker turn. It seems that there are strong hints that Lawford is contemplating self destruction: "What is the good of it all?" he asks himself, spying a memorial to a young mother and her baby. Reading Sabathier's tombstone, he says "he killed himself. That seems to hint at brains."There seems to be indications, to me at least, that Lawford's change is not actually a possession by evil, but that it can be viewed as something like a supernatural/divine intervention to save or change his life. Upon awakening from his reverie, he seems energized ("as if I had a real long rest" he tells his wife) and in the course of the novel the transformation, while traumatic (he obtains a poison from an apothecary but never uses it), also causes some positive changes: it leads to his meeting with and eventual love for Grisel, it severs him from his wife who seems only to tolerate him, and exposes the hypocrisy of his social circles (who judge him by his face and cultural signifiers, not his character or actions) as it opens up new worlds for him (his new face allows him to mix and identify with the lower classes, for one). In fact, his reaction to his new face is laced with interesting descriptions - at first it is the "tense, sinister face of midnight", the "rotten bad face", a lean, long, sallow, hungry, keen face. But then it is also "a face he no longer bitterly rebelled at, nor damned with scrutiny, but a face that was becoming a kind of hold on life, even a kind of refuge, an ally". It is a "fearless, packed, daring, fascinating face" with "a spice of genius in it." "What would he not do," Lawford wonders "when the old moods and the brains of the stupid Arthur Lawford, whom he had appreciated so little and so superficially, came back to him?"This change of direction in life is not without pain: he loses his daughter, his home and his new love (which makes me wonder whether, since Lawford's regaining of his visage corresponds to his rejection of Grisel's love, that that pivotal action may also be what the spirit of Sabathier - assuming he is actually involved in the proceedings - sacrifices in reciprocity for his suicide and licentious life). But the change itself is the important thing. The vicar, sensing thoughts in this direction from Lawford, loudly exclaims "you can't begin again!", just as he denounces the character of Sabathier and those who "stray from the flock" only to meet wolves, not angels, in the wilderness. Lawford's wife and friends are convinced that this divine "punishment" must result from some secret sin. The vicar, meanwhile, defines the dead man from his memoirs as "Rousseau with a touch of Don Quixote in his composition, and an echo of that prince of bogies, Poe!" and as an "amorous, adventurous, emotional Frenchman" - both sets of qualities to be looked down on by civilized, respectable Englishmen. Yet Herbert Herbert, who first supplies information on Sabathier, expounds the alternate view on the situation - "anything outlandish, bizarre, is a godsend in this rather stodgy life." Later, Lawford "awoke out of reverie to find himself smiling at the thought that a changed face was practically at the mercy of of an incredulous world, whereas a changed heart was no one's deadly dull affair but its owner's." (hide spoiler)]. This is a poignant character study of existential dread and the loss of identity. In the end the novel seems to reinforce that mere human compassion and love, honestly given, is the only way for an individual to weather the vicissitudes of life. Quite well done.

  • Alexandra
    2018-12-23 20:49

    Angela Carter put it well, if bluntly: "The Return is not a good novel”. The premise is interesting – a man falls asleep in a graveyard, and becomes possessed by the spirit of an eighteenth century Frenchman. But having come up with the idea of demonic possession, de la Mare doesn’t really know what to do with it, so the rest of the novel is spent with the middle-class protagonist (although is there is any other kind of protagonist in de la Mare?) debating over whether he really is possessed or not. He becomes estranged from himself, isolated from his wife, and alienated from everyone but an eccentric brother and sister, with whom he has lengthy, rather abstract conversations. The plot never really gets going, and the narrative seems to drift, much like Lawford himself, from one place to another, without ever getting anywhere. It would have been much more effective as a short story, and doesn’t come close to the quality of Memoirs of a Midget, which is a more successful exploration of isolation. Yet reading The Return is still an interesting experience, as reading anything by de la Mare always seems like the closest one can be to dreaming while still awake. Even if his plots sometimes disappoint, de la Mare is always good at creating a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere.The Return seems, on one level, to be about the limitations of language. The same conversations and arguments are repeated without ever coming to any resolution. Lawford fails to communicate not just with his wife, but with everyone he comes into contact with. Even his newfound friends don’t seem to make much sense to him, and the wonderfully named Herbert Herbert launches into long, convoluted speeches more for his own benefit than anything else, as they often seem to have little relevance to Lawford’s situation. However, they’re often interesting in their own right:“ … ‘surely genius is a very rare thing!’‘Rare! The world simply swarms with it. But before you can bottle it up in a book it’s got to be articulate. Just for a single instant imagine yourself Falstaff, and if there weren’t hundreds of Falstaffs in every generation, to be examples of his ungodly life, he’d be as dead as a doornail to-morrow – imagine yourself Falstaff, and being so, sitting down to write “Henry IV”, or “The Merry Wives”. It’s simply preposterous. You wouldn’t be such a fool as to waste the time. A mere Elizabethan scribbler comes along with a gift of expression and an observant eye, lifts the bloated old tippler clean out of life, and swims down the ages as the greatest genius the world has ever seen. Whereas, surely, though you mustn’t let me bore you with all this piffle, it’s Falstaff is the genius, and W. S. merely a talented reporter.‘Lear, Macbeth, Mercutio – they live on their own, as it were. The newspapers are full of them, if were only the Shakespeares to see it. Have you ever been in a Police Court? Have you ever WATCHED tradesman behind their counters? My soul, the secrets walking in the streets! You stole them at every corner. There’s a Polonius in every first-class railway carriage, and as many Juliets as there are boarding-schools. What the devil are you, my dear chap, but genius itself, with all the world brand new upon your shoulders? And who’d have thought it of you ten days ago?”For all its weaknesses, I still enjoyed The Return, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s read Memoirs of a Midget and some of the short stories. De la Mare may not have been a good novelist, overall, but he had a fantastic imagination, a beautiful style, and an unusual way of looking at the world. Rather like the protagonist in his short story “At First Sight”, who is physically incapable raising of his head, and so spends his life staring at the ground, de la Mare’s perception could be said to be limited. There are some obvious things missing from his writing (ie: politics, sexuality, well-structured plots, significant characters that aren’t middle-class etc). But I think he’s all the more interesting for that, and works like The Return show how being effortlessly, uniquely strange can make a story rewarding in its own way. Having a distorted perception of the world needn’t be a bad thing, particularly for a writer with a predilection for the supernatural.

  • Sandy
    2019-01-03 18:04

    In Prague-born author Franz Kafka's 1915 novella "The Metamorphosis," a man named Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and discovers that he has somehow been transformed into a cockroach. But this, it seems, was not the first time that a human being had undergone a baffling overnight transformation. I give you, for example, British author Walter de la Mare's novel "The Return," which was initially published in 1910, when the author was 37 and just recently retired, and which subsequently saw two revised editions, in 1922 and '45. To tell you the truth, I'm really not sure which version of this classic tale of psychic possession I just experienced, but can say that it was in a Dover edition that came out in 1997, with a scholarly introduction by S.T. Joshi. And I can also say that my uncertainty as to which version of the novel I read was just the first of many head-scratching posers that I encountered in this book. In his intro, Joshi calls "The Return" "gripping and poignant...a masterpiece of brooding horror," and while I'm not sure that I would concur with that statement, I will confess that the novel was both fascinating and unique...if a bit frustrating, at times.In the book, the reader encounters a middle-aged man named Arthur Lawford, who lives in...well, come to think of it, we are never actually told where in England Arthur resides; just that it's in the suburbs, near the fictitious town of Widderstone. Lawford works as a...um, come to think of it, we are never told that, either; just another bit of vagueness, in a book filled with so many. While convalescing after a bout with the flu, Lawford strolls into a church's graveyard one fine September afternoon and falls into a reverie by the grave of a Frenchman named Nicholas Sabathier, a suicide who had died in 1739 or thereabouts (the writing on Sabathier's tombstone is effaced and, er, vague). After awakening from strange imaginings, Lawford manages to stumble home, but receives the shock of his life when he looks into his bedroom mirror: He now wears the face of a stranger...a man he has never seen before! His wife, Sheila, is scandalized, and indeed believes Arthur to be an impostor, insisting on keeping Arthur's physical change a secret from their daughter, Alice, as well as from their servants and neighbors. Several days later, Arthur returns to Sabathier's tombstone in desperation, only to meet a very unusual man there; a bookish recluse named Herbert Herbert (the possible name inspiration for Nabokov's Humbert Humbert character in 1955's "Lolita"?). Arthur goes to Herbert's ghost-haunted abode, meets his sister Grisel, and is shown an old pamphlet with Sabathier's picture in it. It is the very image of his own newly acquired face, it seems! Sabathier, who had been a dissolute rake, a libertine and all-around free spirit (why the back cover of the Dover edition, as well as Joshi in his intro, refer to Sabathier as a "pirate" is beyond me; no mention of his being a pirate could be found in the version that I just read), has not only placed his leering mug on Arthur's body, but soon (seemingly) begins to exert a malign influence on him mentally, as well. And when Sheila and Alice move away, leaving Lawford to fend for himself, his problems are only magnified....Those readers who are curious enough to tackle "The Return," anticipating a shocking and frightening thrill ride (as was I, to be truthful), might be disappointed in how de la Mare's book ultimately pans out. Indeed, incidents in this book are minimal; mood, language and philosophical ideas are everything. The book is talky in the extreme, and after Arthur's transformation in Chapter 1, there is virtually nothing in the way of "action" to be had. Characters go on forever about the ramifications of Arthur's change, and the language that de la Mare utilizes is literally elliptical, employing ellipses and dashes as thoughts and statements trail off ("I can hardly believe how…."; "We are so used to tramping that…."; "I do still love you, just as I….") into...yup, vagueness. Not for nothing has Joseph Campbell, writing in "The Guardian," called de la Mare's technique one of "gothic whimsy and goblin language"!And adding to the book's vagueness is the fact that we never learn for sure how Sabathier has managed his trick, or even if this change might be possibly psychosomatic on Arthur's part. Herbert is of the belief that the Frenchman has returned as a revenant, and then, unaccountably, he reverses his opinion in the very next chapter. Indeed, the author keeps things so hazy that we aren't even clear when Arthur's face begins to return to normal, and are never even told Alice's age until the final pages of the book. (Until then, we weren't sure if she was 6 or 36!) Similarly, character descriptions and landscapes are only perfunctorily sketched in. The net effect of all this deliberate obscurity, thus, is one of dreamlike otherworldliness that requires the reader to exercise his/her imagination to the full ("not that there’s anything wrong with that!").And before I go on, I should certainly mention that the chief selling point of "The Return" is its deft use of language and its sustained creation of mood. The book may be frustrating and borderline annoying in parts, not to mention occasionally overwritten ("I am afraid you are exactly what the poor fellow in his delirium solemnly asseverated"; "She's all sheer Laodicean"), and was a bit of a labor for me to slog through, but the author's writing skill, fortunately, always kept me hanging in there. It came as no surprise to me to learn that de la Mare was also an accomplished poet, and many sections of his novel do read like prose poetry. Thus, we get lines such as: "At death’s door...have you ever...seen that door...its ruinous stone lintel, carved into lichenous stone heads...stonily silent in the last thin sunlight, hanging in peace unlatched...."And, "The last swallows filled the gold air with their clashing stillness...."; and "Darkness lay like the hem of an enormous cloak, whose jewels above the breast of its wearer might be in the unfathomable clearness the glittering constellations...."; and "the child whom Time's busy robins had long ago covered over with the leaves of numberless hours...."; and "His eyes shone dark and full like those of a child who has trespassed beyond its hour for bed, and sits marvelling at reality in a waking dream...." Whew!Likewise, de la Mare offers up many wonderful bits of ruminative philosophy in his book, and thus, we get such gems as "After thirty, my dear boy, one merely annotates, and the book’s called Life...."; and "What a haunting, inescapable riddle life was...."; and "America--that land of jangled nerves...."; as well as this marvelous statement from Herbert: "...one by one drop off the truisms, and the Grundy-isms, and the pedantries, and all the stillborn claptrap of the market-place sloughs off. Then one can seriously begin to think about saving one's soul...."Of course, de la Mare also offers up the occasional abstruse nugget, such as "There are only two kinds of happiness in this world--a wooden post's and Prometheus's...." Uh, yah, OK. I would be lying if I told you that I understood everything that the author was trying to get across here; "The Return" is surely a book that must be read slowly, carefully and savoringly, if at all possible. It is also a book that would surely reward a repeat perusal, for those whose patience levels are greater than mine. "But what does it all mean?" Arthur asks himself at the beginning of his ordeal; "The more I think of it...the less I understand," he tells us toward the end, and the reader will most likely share in his befuddlement.In short, "The Return" is a mystifying journey, a challenging one, but surely not without its rewards. The book was well liked and praised by no less a figure than H.P. Lovecraft, and today, more than a century since its release, there exists the Official Walter de la Mare Society on the Internet to help spread the word about the author's works. Personally, I just might be willing to tackle some of this writer's short horror fiction one day, or perhaps his most well-known novel, 1921's "Memoirs of a Midget" (written well before that last word was deemed un-P.C.). Perhaps Herbert was speaking of someone very much like de la Mare, when he tells Arthur, "As for literature, and style, and all that gallimaufry, don't fear for them if your author has the ghost of a hint of genius in his making...."(By the way, this review originally appeared on the FanLit website at http://www.fantasyliterature.com/ ... a most ideal destination for all fans of Walter de la Mare....)

  • Jim
    2019-01-03 20:03

    A man who has been ill takes a walk to a distant churchyard, falls asleep for an hour or two on a large tombstone, and wakes to find himself a different person. We are several years before Franz Kafka's tale, "The Metamorphosis," and what we get in this story is a very different picture altogether.The Return by Walter de la Mare is the story of Arthur Lawford. He returns home from his walk feeling better, even younger, but when he looks in a mirror, it is not his own face he sees. Returning to the cemetery, he finds a local named Herbert Herbert, to whom he recounts his strange change. Herbert shows him a book with a picture of Nicolas Sabathier, the Frenchman (and suicide) whose tomb Lawford rested on. It is almost identical.What de la Mare does with the story is several notches more sophisticated than what most horror/fantasy writers would do. He deals with he resulting marital problems with his wife Sheila and daughter Alice. The serving staff also thinks him a different person altogether. Even after he has dredged facts from his memory that could only identify as Lawford, there is doubt.In the meantime, Lawford spends a lot of time with Herbert and his unwed sister Grisel. He is strongly drawn toward the grey-eyed beauty, and tells her that he loves her, but he returns home to overhear his wife complaining about his transformation to several of her friends. The Return ends with no outright resolution. Will Lawford return to Grisel or to Sheila? My bet is Sheila. It's just that we don't se the reconciliation scene occur.

  • maricar
    2018-12-24 14:58

    Insidiously horrific, unrelentingly disturbing…This story of ‘psychic possession’, as other reviews state, is the first of its kind that I have encountered; so much so that, several chapters on, I was still half-believing that what the main character, Arthur Lawford, was experiencing was nothing more than a nightmare. But, really, it wasn’t.Deeply psychological, this ‘transformation’ that he went through – that of suddenly and mysteriously taking in the face, form, and voice of someone named Sabathier (long-ago dead) – posed upon Lawford the nature of existence that he has had (back when he was still…well…Lawford). It was upon seeing the reaction of the people around him that he realized who among his friends were worth trusting. He even began to have doubts as to the faith that his wife holds for him, and ultimately saw the many cracks that were there all along in his marriage. There were also copious moments wherein the story touched on the philosophical, exploring questions on the nature of life, one’s purpose for living, the presence of another plane of existence, reincarnation, and the power of evil.Frankly, this is quite a depressing story, with the main character often deliberately derided or abandoned by those whose understanding he was hoping to count on. During those times, he questions his sanity and his very identity – is he still Lawford? Or has Sabathier taken over him completely? Is there still a remnant of his old self?There is subtlety in the way the author took the horror factor up a notch in every chapter or new day that Lawford found himself still stuck with Sabathier’s face. A face that provokes disquiet within anyone who chances to see it. Here, then, the gothic aspect emerges, as Lawford is forced more and more to stir only in the night when there is less chance of bumping into an old acquaintance. Sounds from the night, whisperings in the dark, and stealthy voices from another part of the house also collude to constantly drive him on the edge of sanity.Though a bit difficult for me to wade through, what with the long dialogues and constant debates on whether he really is possessed or not, there is an unmistakable mastery in the way de la Mare presented a horror story with the evil not even wholly present or even completely explicable. It is more of the unease within that gives this story force.

  • Ela
    2019-01-16 13:38

    'Once a man strays out of the common heard, he is more likely to meet wolves in the thickets than angels.'Lawford has a dilemma. He's wearing someone else's face. He now faces the difficult task of convincing his wife he is still himself, whilst attempting to maintain a grip on his own sanity.This is essentially the story of a midlife crisis, but instead of coming home with a absurdly expensive car, the protagonist comes home with a French pirate's face. His relationships become strained as those close to him struggle to deal with this change.A interesting gothic psychological thriller, with maybe less emphasis on the thriller aspect than I was expecting. I loved the fact that the focus lay on middle class, estrangement of affection; it made the whole novel much less fantastical since the main cause of strife was the protagonist's relationship with his wife, rather than the fact that he couldn't understand why he'd woken up with a new face.Of course there was also the psychological dilemma presented later in the book: has he really got a new face, is this a metaphorical change, can he reverse said change at will? The prose was lovely and compelling if a little copious and dislocated at points. The vague drifting narrative made the book really relaxing to read although I did feel the ending was a little directionless. On the one hand I liked how open ended it was but on the other hand it makes it a little hard to define the book.I agree with the reviews saying that, structurally, this is not a good novel, but it is interesting and compelling and a little different. So on the whole, it has my recommendation if you want to read a gothic novel that lies a little of the beaten track.

  • Sonia
    2018-12-24 12:38

    "What the hell?" I obviously either have a much greater imagination than the average reader or was so bored by the lack of plot in this book that I invented a completely different scenario than anyone else on goodreads.Okay, I do agree that The Return has multiple interpretations. Did Lawford's appearance really change or was it all in his imagination? de la Mare continually leads this open-ended by hiding Lawford away, by having him viewed in gloom and half-light. Was Lawford really possessed by Sabathier? Any allusions to the occult in this novel were very quickly touched on and then dismissed, once again leaving this open-ended.Now here is where my opinion begins to differ from most of the reviews I've read. Were Herbert Herbert and Grisel even "real"? No one seems to know of them. When Lawford describes the wooden house, no one seems to know of it. And the awkward way in which Herbert Hebert and Lawford meet is not only questionable, but Herbert's behavior always odd. One almost has to wonder if Herbert and Grisel are the ultimate occult aspect of this novel, pulling Lawford away from the safety and mundanity of his boring, middle-class existence. One almost has to wonder at the end if Herbert and Grisel serve as a representation of the after-life and Lawford's whole struggle, an existential crisis.

  • Jim Smith
    2019-01-05 19:44

    Walter de la Mare's mature horror short stories (Seaton's Aunt, All Hallows, A Recluse, Mr. Kempe, Crewe, Out of the Deep and A:B:O) were among the finest and most stylish in the genre. This novel length ghostly portrait of a man's midlife crisis is more rambling, verbose, repetitive and diffuse (it would probably have worked better as a tight novella or short story), but the story is nevertheless a strange and moving one, somewhat presaging Kafka's Metamorphosis in its story and themes.The theme of psychic possession is the original conceit, but it is more of a moving tale of a man facing his depression than the horror story it is labelled as here. I am fine with this, and there is much to enjoy here, despite the flawed structure. Characters seemingly have the same exact conversations about the same few events over and over, talking through one another and being clouded with doubt. The effect is a dream-like, eerie and worthwhile one, despite the near complete lack of narrative momentum and irritating repetition. Not as strong as the practically peerless twenty or so best of de la Mare's short fiction or his masterpiece novel Memoirs of a Midget, but still powerful, admirable, troubling, moving and very strange.

  • Spotsalots
    2018-12-30 19:55

    Once upon a time I read and enjoyed various of Walter de la Mare's short stories, possibly because I had enjoyed the poem or two of his that had appeared in my grade-school English textbooks. (The fact that as a child I encountered de la Mare's poetry in schoolbooks must render me next to antediluvian.)Thus, when I ran across this novel in a London bookstore, I thought I should take it home, as the chances of seeing it in the US seemed negligible.The story line involves an average, stolid, middle-class Englishman who falls asleep on a rural grave while recovering from the flu. When he awakens, he finds that he has apparently been possessed by the spirit of the suicide whose grave he slept on, and the rest of the book involves his problems with changes in his appearance and behavior, which his wife and associates take poorly.There is disagreement among readers as to whether this is a wonderful book with flaws or a rather bad book with a great premise. There are good arguments to be made on both sides. I doubt that anyone who dislikes the premise will read the book, so the question is how well the author handles it, and I'm not so sure of my opinion there. At its best, characters such as Sheila are splendidly and unflinchingly delineated, and states of spiritual searching and terror are sensitively evoked. At its worst, dialog and action become opaque and remarkably hard to follow. I like the fact that de la Mare resists writing a merely spooky or thrilling tale, and delves into the psychology of his protagonist and philosophical ponderings about life and the nature of reality. On the other hand, while I was willing not to know to what extent Arthur was actually possessed by Sabathier, I felt annoyed that so much of the action is as vague as it is. In general, Charles Williams is a much better novelist when it comes to this kind of tale, because he is equally poetic and equally insightful but shows a wider understanding and definitely has a better sense of drama while remaining subtle.I think, on the whole, that I should reread the short stories and that someday I should look for the author's Memoirs of a Midget.

  • Grady Ormsby
    2019-01-01 17:50

    The Return by Walter de la Mare is an occult tale of possession. Written over one hundred years ago during the dawn of Modernism this novel is definitely not part of the Modernist Pantheon. It is more of a Gothic work, nebulous and dark, in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe. In this story Arthur Lawford, a thoroughly average and undistinguished man, stops to take a rest in a cemetery and falls asleep near a grave. After awakening he returns home feeling somewhat distressed. He tells his wife, “I think I was taken ill or something - my heart. A kind of fit, a nervous fit. Possibly I am a little unstrung, and it’s all, it’s mainly fancy: but I think, I can’t help thinking it has a little distorted – changed my face; everything, Sheila; except, of course, myself. Would you mind looking?” Thus begins Lawford’s downward spiral. Spurned by his wife, denounced by his friends, estranged from his beloved daughter Alice, Lawford experiences a profound trauma of doubt and fear. It is not until he encounters a stranger with the unlikely name of Herbert Herbert that he begins a philosophical and psychological journey toward what is not actually recovery, but perhaps at least a reckoning with his new reality. Herbert is a scholar of sorts and exposes Lawford to a variety of arcane and esoteric manuscripts. Perhaps more important for Lawford’s path to stability is the solace and understand extended to Lawford by Grisel, Herbert’s sister. Lawford’s emergence into a new life hinges on the realization that, indeed, things are not always what they seem. De la Mare helps the reader to understand that this realization is a point of comfort and validation and not one of fear and dread.

  • John
    2019-01-05 19:54

    De la Mare is exquisitely skillful at his prose.This is a tale, a misadventure of a possessed man - chiefly by a peculiar spirit, a phantom perhaps - we are never quite given an explanation - and secondarily, by a certain inner circle that is hastily exiling him; in essence, it is a cul-de-sac, as the protagonist carefully notes himself. I very much analogised Lawford's account to that of Josef K. While Kafka's prose doubles (or even triples) as pragmatic political satire, De la Mare's is more conventional, in that it most often is concerned with rudimentary things, oftentimes waning, thus for a less tolerant reader it would prove labourious even reading the book. Nonetheless, I appreciated it myself.

  • Chris
    2019-01-02 12:56

    Oh the potential, and oh the disapointment. This book began with a great premise about a man who falls asleep on a grave and wakes up with the face of the man buried in said grave, but that's about the entire story. Seriously, there's very little plot to this story. Usually the main character just mopes around thinking about how sorry his life has become. I wish I had not wasted my time on this worthless book. It has no redeeming value other than having an intriguing premise. Avoid it and read something else.

  • Lucy
    2019-01-14 16:39

    I like to read books that characters in other books are reading. In Sir Hugh Walpole's 'The Secret City', the narrator refers to 'The Return' several times, including quotes, and praises it unequivocally. I can't quite do that - the end is weak, and the plot (such as it is) wavers and almost falls down when the love interest takes centre stage - but the premise is spine-chillingly convincing, the atmosphere evocative, and the characters are beautifully drawn, especially the uptight wife. So 4 stars, highly recommended but don't expect to feel satisfied at the close.

  • Emily
    2019-01-14 14:08

    Hallelujah! I finally finished reading this book. Hard to believe it was only 193 pages - it seemed to go on for hundreds of pages. The basic premise of the novel was engaging, but the story itself was definitely NOT. It's like de la Mare kept mentally going, "Now what?!" as he was writing it.

  • Eddie Watkins
    2018-12-27 15:45

    Wonderfully written account of a man who leans against a tombstone and becomes possessed by the dead man's spirit.

  • Perry Whitford
    2019-01-07 13:48

    Convalescing after a spell of influenza, Arthur Lawford goes for a late evening stroll and finds himself in the cemetery at Widderstone churchyard, musing in a melancholic vein about the bones of the dead and reading some epitaphs, the most evocative of which is in memorial to Nicholas Sabathier, who 'fell by his own Hand on ye Eve of Ste. Michael and All Angels.'Lawford falls into a momentary reverie, yet when he awakens he feels refreshed and somehow different. Returning home invigorated he goes into his bedroom, looks into a mirror and discovers, to his shock and horror, that he is, in fact, different. Darker of hair, deeper of voice, more penetrating of appearance, Arthur Lawford looks like someone else entirely.An ambiguous ghost story which merges two souls to investigate the ideas of differing possible realities, lost love, and a vision of the afterlife. Walter de la Mare was also a poet, so the prose is loftier than your usual supernatural yarn, though occasionally it overreached and ran the risk of sliding into an ornate sort of hamminess.'Magic, witchcraft, possession ... an affair of the nerves', Lawford is bewildered by the transformation that has beset him. He can prove by shared memories to his wife and the local priest that he is still Arthur Lawford, yet he hears a questioning voice in his head and seems subject to uncharacteristic 'caprices'.An interesting premise, the first half didn't entirely convince me, but the narrative improved after the introduction of a shadowy stranger, Mr. Herbert, and his sister, Grisel, whose presences enriched the situation and narrative potentialities immeasurably.I'm not convinced either that the theme was completely satisfied, but it was fascinating. As Mr. Herbert observes: "As for what we call the laws of Nature, they are pure assumptions to-day, and may be nothing better than scrap-iron tomorrow."

  • Brian
    2019-01-04 12:55

    A very, very strange book - not for its central concept, but for de la Mare's writing style, which is initially borderline unreadable, but which soon settles into a disorienting pattern that mixes elliptical action (it's often unclear where characters are, and who is present) with philosophical dialogues on life, death, age, and identity. Appropriately, too, as the "plot" of the book is secondary to its protagonist's reckoning with what "he" is, and the ways in which his past, "real" self drew him into a comfortable but stifling complacency that has now left him a broken failure. Reading Lawford, the "changed" man, explore these thoughts with companions new and old is a disturbing and sad experience, all the more for de la Mare's stylistic obfuscation.I've really never read anything like it; highly recommended.

  • Cathy
    2018-12-22 17:40

    You wouldn't think a story about a guy falling asleep in a graveyard and awakening with the face of a dead man instead of his own would be so ... tedious. but The Return mostly involves our hero skulking in his room, and everyone's conversation is maddeningly elliptical, so that it's difficult to tell what they mean even when understanding them is crucial to the plot. Not bad enough to stop reading, but lord I'll be glad when I limp across the finish line.I think this would have made a fine short story, and should never have been stretched into a novel.

  • David
    2019-01-02 17:43

    The premise is really exciting for the early 1900s, and there are portions early in that are beautifully written. Slowly, the book turns into a bit of a rambling mess which is more about prolonged conversations and debates.What can I say, I am a reader who is overly fond of plot.

  • Mark Carver
    2018-12-28 13:06

    An exhausting read - cynical, nihilistic, and bleak. Beautifully descriptive and atmospheric but almost smothering in its gloom, and a bit meandering and aimless at times. This book requires a very specific frame of mind and mood to be enjoyed.

  • Don
    2019-01-07 19:39

    I thought this would be a good throwback macabre horror novel. After getting in to the story, I found it moved very slowly and the dialog was majorly lofty and bloated. This kind of cerebral introspective could appeal to some, just not my bag - hence the 1-star.

  • Susie Beesley
    2019-01-14 20:01

    Intriguing beginning. Enough to make me persevere. But I'm afraid not enough to get me to the end. The book starts well but seems to then meander around in circles. Bit disappointing really.

  • Biblio Curious
    2019-01-07 16:43

    Read the original version, 1910. It was reworked and 'cleaned up' after the original publication. The original 1910 version has all the creepiness still included.

  • Jolie
    2018-12-20 16:01

    I think I've overdosed on Victorian gothic mysteries. This was just ... just so painfully boring...

  • Sarah
    2018-12-22 13:55

    Many reviewers rate this strange little plotless book poorly but I enjoyed it immensely! Weird mix of ghost story and philosophical discourse.

  • Adam
    2018-12-27 17:42

    Good premise but very boring.

  • Rose
    2019-01-05 14:43

    I read the 1911 edition which was pleasingly atmospheric but no explanation is ever given and sometimes characters seem a little forced.Still, must have been shocking in its time.

  • Brent
    2018-12-18 14:50

    some of the descriptions were so flouncy as to lose the impact of important plot twists, but overall good gothic imagery.

  • Sarah Sammis
    2018-12-16 12:57

    Borrowed from the South Pasadena Library.


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