TagReggie Oliver

Reggie Oliver, ‘A Child’s Problem’ (2011)

Oliver takes as his inspiration for this story Richard Dadd’s painting, The Child’s Problem; he imagines a possible origin for that artwork in the childhood of Sir George St Maur, a social reformer who (says the tale’s preface) visited Dadd in Broadmoor throughout the 1850s (I’ve been unable to find any reference to St Maur online, so am unsure whether he’s a genuine historical figure, or Oliver’s creation).

Nine-year-old George goes to live in his uncle Augustus’s country house, to be tutored until he is ready for Eton. Augustus is a strange figure, forever with a problem set up on his chessboard, but unwilling to actually have a game; he sets challenges for George, but gets angry when the boy completes them – and strange figures can be glimpsed through the windows of the house.

Stylistically, Oliver’s story is closer to the classic supernatural tale than is generally my taste, but the logic underlying what happens is handed very effectively: revealed enough to allow one to formulate an understanding, but also hidden enough that it remains mysterious and creepy.

Rating: ***½

Reggie Oliver, ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’ (2010)

An artist recalls his friendship with an aristocratic photographer, and recounts the tragic fate of the model who became his friend’s chief subject. The object of fear in this story is nothingness, and ‘being nobody’; there’s also a subtext of people being driven to destruction by others in the pursuit of fame or success. It’s interesting as it goes along, but I never really felt the emotions underpinning the tale.

Rating: ***

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