Published by Valancourt Books on April 28, 2013
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Gothic, Suspense, Thriller
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'[An] artful first novel, reminiscent of the tales of Poe . . . Gregory uses a low-key style and subtle lyricism to build an atmosphere of nightmarish horror in a tale that could become a classic.' - Publishers Weekly
'[A] first-class terror story with a relentless focus that would have made Edgar Allan Poe proud.' - New York Times
'[N]o summary can do justice to the subtlety of Gregory's first novel, with its fresh, vivid, sensual prose and its superb descriptive and evocative power. An extraordinary novel - original, compelling, brilliant.' - Library Journal
'A work of tremendous self-assurance that leaves the reader with a lingering sense of unease and announces the arrival of a considerable new talent.' - British Book News
A young family receives a welcome surprise when old Uncle Ian dies and leaves them a cottage in north Wales. For Ian's nephew and his wife Ann, it seems a stroke of incredible good fortune, enabling them to leave their unfulfilling lives in the city for a newfound freedom in the remote seaside cottage. There's just one catch. Uncle Ian's will has a strange condition: the couple must care for his pet cormorant or forfeit the bequest. They think nothing of it at first: Uncle Ian was eccentric, and the bird is amusing in a way. But when the cormorant begins to show a violent and malevolent side, they soon find that Uncle Ian's gift may not be a blessing, but a curse.
Stephen Gregory's first novel, The Cormorant (1986), received widespread critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award and earning comparisons to the works of Poe. This edition includes a new introduction by the author, in which he reveals how this enduring and haunting tale had its origins in his own experiences during a bleak Welsh winter.
THE CORMORANT was the first book I had read by Stephen Gregory. My first reading was so long ago, that I had forgotten virtually everything (with the exception of one scene). This re-read years later felt like reading it for the very first time.
The writing in this book is simply brilliant! While very adept at creating the perfect atmosphere, Gregory is at times almost poetic in some of his descriptions. This story begins with with the death of reclusive “Uncle Ian”, who leaves to a young couple his cottage in North Wales–contingent upon the condition that they take care of his pet cormorant.
For those not familiar with a cormorant, Gregory’s words truly bring it to life in every sense of the word. “A large, black scavenger bird with a vicious horned beak capable of breaking fingers; with the exception of its grace when diving in the water, this bird had virtually no redeeming qualities.”
“The cormorant was a lout, a glutton, an ignorant tyrant. It affected nothing else.”
One of the descriptive passages that I found most enlightening was the telling of what the other sea-gulls thought, upon seeing “Archie”: “It came and went in the company of a man, not his slave, for they had seen him retreat from the wild beak, but in the company of people. It was more than the cormorants along the shore….immeasurably more than the biggest of the black-birds or the oldest raven. The gulls swooped down to see. They recoiled from something they could not understand.”
The tension in this story starts up from the very first page, and seductively lures you in. Even in the lulls created by “Archie’s” unpredictable behavior, you know that something horrible–yet not quite namable–is on the horizon. I won’t give away any of the plot for this novel, except to say that it was an engaging, even compulsive, read all along; one that had me unable to guess its ultimate conclusion at any point.
In summary of the “pet” cormorant: “But this bird made an art of being vile.” .
That, very accurately, sums it up.