At the wedding I attended this weekend gone Rob handed me a small collection of short stories from the early 60s, including one by G. D. Holbourne of which I’d never heard! This is not so very unusual as he never seemed to stick with a single publisher for more than one piece until they were briefly collected in the early 70s. Even then these reprints were heavily, some might say horribly, edited. The book doesn’t even have a cover, but still a Princely present and given the rarity I expressed my delighted surprise.
Rob had found it in the bottom of a suitcase at some book fair. He actually found the very same edition of the same collection in much better (but not apparently anything that would include words like ‘fine’) condition. Two Holbourne’s in one day, quite a find, albeit the same book.
The Holbourne story isn’t very long and not unusually seems to begin in the middle of a much longer piece that in all likelihood doesn’t (and never) existed. In the same post-never-described-catastrophe of some decades before, Oldman follows a sad old chap living out his days in picturesque rural England whilst all about him goes to hell. Life is starkly (if entirely corrupted) normal and Oldman reads old papers in strict rotation each day. As the stack runs out so it seems to count down his days remaining.
Oldman is the sort of retired civil-servant that features in all manner of later spy novels of the Freddie Forsythe mould. A wily old fox with his day regimented exactly the same this leaves him only twelve minutes each day to escape the routine and investigate what happened, or will happen, or is happening in the village.
There’s no exposition, typically. No grand reveal. I read it that he is either the cause of it all; or that where he worked was. He certainly isn’t troubled by the horrors alluded to. But time is running out as the newspapers do in this Groundhog Day story where every day is the same, albeit not repeated (but for that short twelve minute window). I suspect about half the clues are there, but you have to make your own mind up. This is fine as it means it’s something to discuss, even argue about. Not that you generally have that benefit since almost no one else will have even heard of the author it seems, let alone this particular story.
Holbourne as ever concentrates on atmosphere, allusion, and paints the pictures extremely well whilst not indulging in the purple prose. Oldman for example is described when seeing himself in the mirror as looking like a ‘hangover’ and that’s all you get, having to presume his age only through mention of his retirement from said civil service.
Ten minute sketches are the theme for these pieces. Ten minutes it was.