Saturday 15 September 2018

The Blank Wall

And then I spotted a novel called The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Neither title nor author's name rang any kind of bell, but as it had been reprinted, in a typically handsome edition, by Persephone Books, I decided to give it a go.
  It turns out that Elisaberh Sanxay Holding is indeed an all but forgotten author, one whose best work was in the rather surprising genre of suspense fiction. Raymond Chandler praised her as 'the top suspense writer of them all', and her biggest success, The Blank Wall, was filmed twice – in 1947 (by Max Ophuls) as The Reckless Moment, and in 2001 as The Deep End, with Tilda Swinton. Reading the novel, it's easy to envisage it as a movie: there are plenty of cinematic set-pieces, the dialogue is sharp, and the narrative is well paced.
  For a suspense story, it's unusually homely and down-to-earth, and its characters are perhaps unusually well drawn. Lucia, through whose eyes we see the action and through whose sensibility we experience its impact, is a housewife valiantly keeping her household going while her husband is away fighting the Pacific war. What sets events in train is a commonplace enough situation: Lucia's anxiety about her teenage daughter's relationship with a dubious older man, and her clumsy attempt to put an end to it. When her daughter's suitor meets a grisly end in the boathouse of Lucia's lakeside property, she finds herself in an impossible situation, and the decision she makes at this point is the 'reckless moment' from which all else springs.
  Holding builds the action, and the tension, expertly, entangling the unfortunate Lucia in a terrible situation from which there seems to be no escape. Caught between low-life blackmailers and a clearly suspicious police officer, while trying all the while to maintain her regular domestic life, she discovers that she is tougher, more resourceful – and indeed less scrupulous – than she ever knew. But still she is caught in an ever tightening net...
  All this was fine, but I found the denouement – heavily dependent on a criminal belatedly discovering his virtuous side – less than fully convincing. I guess that's the trouble with suspense novels: it's always going to be something of an anti-climax when the screw stops turning and the tension finally breaks. For most of its length, The Blank Wall is an engrossing read, tense and psychologically convincing, something a good deal more than a genre page-turner. It deserved its reprint.


  1. I enjoyed the movie The Deep Endfor all the qualities that the late Roger Ebert lays out in his review. (I really miss Mr Ebert. His reviews for the most part were what I would’ve written if I were as smart as he was and as good a writer.)

  2. Thank Dave – sounds like a good film, and pretty faithful to the gist of the book. Love the idea of Tilda Swinton as an ordinary housewife!