The weird fiction being discussed over at Library’s Thing’s The Weird Tradition group a couple of weeks ago.
Review: “Reading in Bed”, Joan Aiken, 2011.
A genial story that’s kind of a tall tale and almost a deal-with-the-devil story. Our protagonist is Francis Nastrowski, a young Polish officer. And the story right up front tells us that being fond of wine and reading in bed may be “Harmless pursuits, one might say, but they nearly led to his downfall.”
He was once rich but now stationed in former hotel by the sea in a small fishing village. One night, after drinking burgundy with friends and becoming “if not drunk, at least very, very friendly”, Francis retires to do some reading.
He hears a noise outside the balcony and gets up with a “torch” (the only approximation of a time period for setting). He sees, in its beam and on the nearby pier, the Devil – whom he recognizes because of the “impeccable cut of his evening suit and his horns”. The Devil invites him across the water.
Francis dresses, dives in the water, and swims to the pier. The Devil, smoking a cigarette and smelling of brimstone (which Francis isn’t particular about), offers Francis a hand up. The Devil puts a black fur coat on Francis which fits quite well and is warm. The Devil asks Francis if he would like to meet his niece. Francis says he would be honored to meet a relation of the Devil’s.
They go to a waiting boat, the Devil carrying his tail negligently under an arm. Francis rows them across the water and compliments the Devil on his “very ingenious idea”. Disembarking at an unfamiliar part of town, they walk through “dark cobbled streets” and Francis sees an old man very weirdly swallowing poker after poker.Continue reading