There’s a lot of people out there who are doubtful about sci-fi. Isn’t it all weirdly phallic spaceships flying about and aliens shooting at each other using an assortment of weapons that look like someone took the contents of a kitchen drawer and went bananas with a can of spray paint and some furniture polish, they wonder? And, yes, there is that. But kitchen utensils notwithstanding, I’ve always been an unabashed lover of the genre. So it was a source of endless delight to me to discover that one of my favourite early 20th-century writers had written a short story set in a dystopian world run by something known only as the Machine.
“I do declare, these spoilers are simply shocking!”
The essence of this review is basically that I loved Hester and I’m not even sure if there’s really anything more to add.
That’s partly because I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked this book in the first place. One of my least-favourite topics in the world plays a large role in this book: banking and finance. For me, this is about as interesting a topic as a book about the finer points of Watching Paint Dry.
But something about Hester grabbed me right from the very beginning. Set in a small town where the Vernon family own a prosperous and seemingly stable town bank, it begins with a crisis that could see the bank collapse and the family lose all their wealth and status in one fell swoop, because the head of the family is a bad businessman. But along comes his cousin Catherine Vernon and despite suffering from a rather terminal case of Being Female, nevertheless manages to save the bank using her own money. She goes on to raise the bank back up and rule the entire Vernon clan with an iron fist.
Warning: murder, mayhem, and spoilers ahead!
A man walks onstage holding a skull. He starts to speak.
No, you’re not watching Hamlet – though there’s little doubt that it is a cheeky reference to one of the most recognisable scenes in English dramatic history.
The play is The Revenger’s Tragedy, written either by Cyril Tourneur or crowd favourite Thomas Middleton, depending on which scholar you believe. It is a confusing, bloody, and at times hilarious look at the revenge tragedy genre and, like all good revenge tragedies, there are gory deaths aplenty.
The story’s protagonist is Vindice, the aforementioned skull-handler. The skull belongs to his love, Gloriana, who was murdered by an unscrupulous Duke some nine years ago. As you can probably guess (based on the weird and obsessive hoarding of his beloved’s bones) Vindice has had a little bit of trouble getting over it. So he devises a scheme to avenge Gloriana by disguising himself as a servant and insinuating himself with the Duke’s son, Lussurioso. The usual murder, mayhem, and sexual escapades ensue.