‘The Beauty’, Aliyah Whiteley’s previous novella with Unsung Stories, is one of my favourite novellas of the last few years, delivering as much story in the shorter form than some novels manage in four times the length. ‘The Arrival of Missives’ is similarly rich in narrative, although is so different in style and tone as to seem at first to be the work of a different author entirely.
Instead of a creepily insidious post-apocalyptic tale of unexpected redemption amid one of the most persuasively hopeless situations I’ve ever read, we have an English village in summertime soon after the Great War. The narrator this time is young Shirley Fearn, whose very name conjures images of the countryside as she yearns ardently for the schoolmaster, Mr Tiller, left mysteriously damaged by his experience in the Trenches.
Shirley is a wonderful narrator, at once youthful in her naïve certainty and preternaturally wise in the face of the unknowable. For change is coming to the village, but not the change Shirley had in mind. Suffice to say that reference to the value of the village in the Domesday Book (£4), always a rather ominous title, here takes on a more sinister meaning as the weight of dreadful history collides with an unthinkable future via timeless traditions of country weddings and, most of all, the May Day celebration of renewal.
Even Shirley’s rich imagination cannot do justice to the situation in which she finds herself when the true import of Mr Tiller’s condition becomes known. This revelation and its awful implications give Shirley a number of impossible choices and it is to the author’s credit that any solution is taken neither lightly or easily. Such is the density of the otherwise fluid and easy-to-read narrative that to say more would give things away that I really recommend you discover for yourself.