Ever Dundas: Goblin

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Ever Dundas Goblin
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Goblin: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Ian McEwan’s Atonement meets Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth in this extraordinary debut. A novel set between the past and present with magical realist elements. Goblin is an outcast girl growing up in London during World War 2. After witnessing a shocking event she increasingly takes refuge in a self-constructed but magical imaginary world. Having been rejected by her mother, she leads a feral life amidst the craters of London’s Blitz, and takes comfort in her family of animals, abandoned pets she’s rescued from London’s streets. In 2011, a chance meeting and an unwanted phone call compels an elderly Goblin to return to London amidst the riots and face the ghosts of her past. Will she discover the truth buried deep in her fractured memory or retreat to the safety of near madness? In Goblin, debut novelist Dundas has constructed an utterly beguiling historical tale with an unforgettable female protagonist at its centre.

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Ever Dundas


For Rachel and all Goblins

In memory of the pets

‘A story has no beginning or end.’

Graham Greene

‘Blessed are the forgetful.’


Chapter 1

Edinburgh, 17 June 2011

Bones, doll parts, a shrew head, a camera. The film, it said, is in remarkably good condition. The developed photographs are particularly valuable. Many of them record events in London during World War II. Most importantly, there is a photograph depicting the aftermath of the pet massacre, an event which remains largely undocumented. Some of the photographs, it said, could assist in identifying the photographer. There are several of what are assumed to be family members. Because of the angle from which most of the photographs are taken, it has been suggested the photographer was a child. Although, it said, there is much debate about this. It was decided the photographs of family members should be published in the hope someone will recognise them. It is hoped, it said, someone will come forward. It is said. It is thought. It is hoped. Someone will come forward. Time has collapsed and space has collapsed and they have emerged from the darkness below, Goblin and Devil and Monsta. It is hoped, it said, someone will claim these bones.

Edinburgh, 23 June 2011

Ben spits book at me. Rip, chew, spit.

‘It’s good to have ye back, old lady.’

‘It’s good to be back,’ I say, watching people come and go in the library.

Rip, chew, spit.

‘I’m glad yer feeling better.’

‘I am,’ I say, but the past is creeping in. A past I thought I held well. It was there, with all its beauty and canker, and I held it well until those images were spread out before me, before millions; the first time I see the photographs and they’re shared with the nation. But they weren’t all there. They hadn’t published them all. I knew that.

It was Ben who had shown me the article. It was Ben who had said ‘Bones and dolls and shrew heads, that means witchcraft.’

And it’s Ben who spits book at me.

‘Stop it,’ I say, eyeing the pile of spat-out book on the floor, hoping no one else will notice.

Rip, chew, spit.

‘You can’t eat every copy of Ulysses.’

‘I’m not eating it,’ he says. ‘I’m chewing on it. I’m sucking the ink off.’

‘It will poison you,’ I say. ‘That book will poison you.’

‘What kinda person,’ he says, squinting up at me, ‘buries a shrew head, bits of doll and old cameras with pictures of dead animals?’

‘What kind of person doesn’t?’

Ben looks at me like I’m old and senile, like I’m the crazy one who chews on books. The newspapers had picked up on one of the developed photographs; a mound of dead animals, mainly cats and dogs. Experts on the Home Front were wheeled out, animal rights activists were asked their opinion. How could people kill their own pets?

‘What kind of person wouldn’t bury the past, Ben? Who lives in the past?’

Ben shakes the paper at me.

‘Bones and dolls and shrew heads,’ he says, ‘that means witchcraft.’

He lays the paper on my desk and picks up Ulysses. He opens it up where he left off, over a hundred pages already missing. Rip – he tears out half a page; chew – I can see him counting as he masticates; spit – another sodden ball added to the pile.

‘I know you need this space, but you can’t eat the books.’

Rip, chew, spit.


‘Okay,’ he says, ‘fine.’

Rip, chew—



‘I’ve got to finish what I started. What kinda person just chews part of a book?’

‘Clean up after yourself at least.’

I let him be, wallowing in paper and spittle. He’s hidden by a pillar, his chew-pile down by the side of my desk. When staff come to speak with me he puts on an innocent smile and pretends to read the desecrated book.

I tear the pet massacre article out of the paper and fold it up. Stuffing it in my pocket I forget it all, lost in the simple pleasure of putting together a list of books for an author’s research.

I’ve been Reader in Residence at the library for years. It gets me by, and I write reviews for two national newspapers which brings in a bit extra. I have my own desk in a corner where I sit enjoying the smell of the books and the low hum of voices at the check-out desk.

I watch Ben, wondering how to get him to stop.

‘What’s a reader in residence?’

I turn, startled. A young man is sitting at the other side of my desk.

‘Sorry,’ I say, ‘What was that?’

‘Ms G Bradfield – Reader in Residence,’ he says, reading the nameplate on my desk. ‘What is that exactly?’

‘People tell me their interests,’ I say, ‘they tell me the kind of things they like to read and I draw up a list of books for them. I also help writers and students who are doing research.’

‘That’s a job?’

‘Can I help you with anything?’ I say.

‘I like blue books.’

‘The blues? Music?’

‘No, books that are blue.’

‘Sad books?’

‘Jesus, I can’t believe you get paid for this. How old are you anyway? Shouldn’t you be retired?’

‘There’s no need to be rude. I’m trying to help.’

‘Then why don’t you tell me where I can find all the books with blue covers?’

I stare at him for a moment.


‘The library doesn’t have a record of all the books that are blue but if you leave your details I can draw up a starter list for you.’

Ben leans over my desk.

‘So, what about that witchcraft, eh? Do ye think they found the witch? Do ye think they’d admit it? I bet they’re dead anyhow.’

‘Ben, I’m with a customer.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ the blue book man says, ‘you’re no use to me.’

‘Wait, I can—’

I watch the man walk off.

‘Ben, you can’t interrupt me when I’m with someone.’

‘He wis a right time-wasting bastard, old lady. You know it.’

‘That’s not the point.’

‘I bet the witch is dead,’ he says, tearing out another page from Ulysses.

‘Why would you say that? Why would you say they’re dead?’

‘It was bloody years ago, wasn’t it? How old would they be? A hundred and fifty I’d reckon they’d be.’

‘Eighty-one. They’d be eighty-one.’

I glance at him, and he’s squinting at me.

‘Eighty-one, eh?’

‘The Second World War wasn’t that long ago, Ben.’

‘It feels it. It sure feels it.’

‘Can you feel time?’

‘I feel it in ma bones.’

London, March 1941


So you’re back? I thought you’d died. I told everyone you’d likely died and they all said what a shame it was.

She looked away and her head swayed from side to side as she said shame, shame, shame in a sing-song voice.

And here you are. Goblin-runt born blue. Nothing can kill you.

She looked Goblin in the eye.

You’re like a cockroach.

Edinburgh, 4 July 2011

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