Saturday, 20 July 2013

Whitstable - Stephen Volk (Spectral Press, 2013)

You like Peter Cushing, don't you?  Of course you do.  Only a fool wouldn't.  From Winston Smith in Orwell's '1984' in 1952 through Star Wars and Doctor Who, Hammer and Amicus, Shakespeare and Space 1999 there can't be many people in the western world who don't have a favourite Cushing role. By all accounts he was a lovely man too; a perfect gentleman of the old school, with impeccable manners and a never-ending fund of kindness.

Stephen Volk highlights every part of Cushing in this all too brief novella (all too brief because I could have read Volk's Cushing for another 100 pages with pleasure, not because the author misses anything out or leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied - far from it!).  The well known facts - that Cushing attempted suicide on the night of his wife's death by running up and down stairs in hopes of bringing on a heart attack - mix with the lesser known (to me at least) - that he invariably wore a single white glove when smoking, say, in order not to stain his fingers for film roles.

But it's not as a bare recital of quirks and idiosyncrasies that 'Whitstable' excels.  It's the way that every word uttered by Cushing resonates in the head in Cushing's voice, and feels completely right. It's not a cheery read - this, after all, is a faux memoir of the actor immediately after the death of his beloved Helen when, in his own words,
the heart, quite simply, has gone out of everything. Time is interminable, the loneliness is almost unbearable and the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that my dear Helen and I will be reunited again some day. To join Helen is my only ambition
But it's not a depressing read either.  There's a plot in there too, a wholly fictional one I assume though the voice of Cushing is so spot-on that every action feels like something the man would have done in real life.  If the ending is just a smidgin too pat and convenient, well, what sort of celebration would it be which ended with Van Helsing defeated and the vampire triumphant?

As moving and intelligent a portrayal of a much loved actor as anyone could have hoped for, this is a book which anyone who loves Peter Cushing should read, in this the centenary of his birth.

Amazon: ISBN : 978-0957392724

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