Behind the Net Curtains Something Lurks…
Some authors seem to work forever below the waterline.
They can be successful in their own right without impinging on the consciousness of an attention-deficient public, whose recall-rate of viral videos featuring inadequate Russian driving skills is far above works by novelists who bring a lifetime of experience to their craft.
Equally, critics will ignore writers they consider solid and ‘popular’ in favour of current literary darlings.
Back in the 1980s a producer commissioned me to adapt Margaret Bingley’s ‘The Waiting Darkness’ for television. It’s not until you strip down a novel into its component pieces that you realise how incredibly well constructed it is. Behind the simple language was a razor-wire web of family cruelties. And behind the net curtains in ‘The Waiting Darkness’, where young Rosalind tries to be the perfect wife to her older husband, there’s something unpleasant afoot. Her daughter Anna is uncontrollable, and sets out to poison her stepfather’s mind against his new wife – but why? She has no reason to at all – unless there’s a terrible secret in the family…
The outcome took me totally by surprise. I realised that what I had here was something fresh and subversive, a viral ghost story of deviant psychology quite shattering in its implications. Now perhaps Ms Bingley’s time has come around again, because the hot new phrase in fiction is ‘domestic suspense’ and long-lost novels and short stories are coming back onto the market from authors who deserve a much wider readership. Vera Caspary, Margaret Millar and Ethel Lina White are back on the shelves, and the new stars of bestselling suspense e-books are names no critic would recognise.
The factors that go to make up the long-missing genre of ‘domestic suspense’ include a family secret, little involvement from the police, a woman in peril (often from her own imagination) and the ratcheting up of suspense as options run out. After Shirley Jackson died a pile of her manuscripts were discovered under her house and have since been published.
With Shirley Jackson’s stories back in vogue, Ms Bingley’s time is back. But those are the good ones – the problem is that in this genre are also a lot of terrible books. The trick is sorting them all out.