Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Gateless Barrier

In Victorian England, women of good breeding were not encouraged to stand out for much more than their pretty looks or fashionable parties. they definitely were not encouraged to become authors, much less popular authors.

Therefore Mary St. Leger Kingsley became Lucas Malet, author of some fourteen books from the late 1880's to 1930. Her father was author Charles Kingsley (Water Babies) and several years after her first book was published she married William Harrison, Minor Canon of Westminster, and Priest-in-Ordinary to the Queen.

To protect her identity, she remained Lucas Malet in print.

Lately we have come across The Gateless Barrier, Lucas Malet's seventh book. It is a paranormal historical romance, with an Preface to the reader discussing a belief of the Zen Dyhana sect, specifically Mu-Mon-Kwan, which means "The Gateless Barrier".

Malet's subject, Laurence, has had a blessed life - everything has gone his way, family, fortune, education, even recently he has acquired the perfect wife. As the book opens we meet him leaning on a ship-railing, traveling to the bedside of a dying uncle in England. His thoughts dwell on how easily everything has gone for him, without much exertion or interest on his part. And how empty it seems, when he should be delighted.

In his uncle's brooding old mansion, Laurence encounters a beautiful ghost, one who seems more intriguing than familiar. After several glimpses, he finally manages to approach her:

"Listen to me," he said. "We are strangers to one another - so strangely strangers that I half distrust the evidence of my senses, as only too conceivably, you distrust the evidence of yours. I don't pretend to understand what distance of time, or space, or conditions, separate us. I only know that I see you, and that you are unhappy, and that you search for something you are unable to find. Look here, look here - listen to me and try to lay hold of this idea - that I am a friend, not an enemy; that I come to help, not to hinder you. Try to enter into some sort of relation with me. Try to cross the gulf which seems to lie between us. Try to believe that you have found someone who will keep faith with you, and do his best to serve you; and believing that, put sorrow out of your face."

And then, hidden away in a dusty pigeonhole of an old desk, he finds the letters, dated some eighty years earlier, some still bearing rusty red stains. On his deathbed, Laurence's dying uncle asks if he has seen the spectre...

Written along the lines of Peter Ibbettson, and during the time of Spiritualism's great popularity, this book remains surprisingly readable, with a twist at the end.

The Gateless Barrier, by Lucas Malet, offered for sale, as of September 29,2009 by Chewybooks at: http://www.amazon.com/shops/chewybooks

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