Publisher Michael Walmer kindly sent me a review copy of his reprint of Howard Sturgis’ “On the Pottlecomble Cornice” (see it on his website here) which was originally printed in the Fortnightly Review in 1908 and hasn’t been in print since, until it’s appeared in this rather handsome hardback copy. It landed on my doormat on 4 November, just before I went on holiday, so here we are having read it, and of course it fits beautifully into the Novellas in November challenge, being a slim volume. Sturgis is best known for his novel, “Belchamber” (which I haven’t read, but would!) and I think this was his last work. Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings has reviewed it here.

Howard Sturgis – “On the Pottlecombe Cornice”

(04 November 2022, from the publisher)

Day after day and week after week did those two human souls advance, and meet, and pass, and retreat from one another, in this long leisurely country dance, without any thought of becoming acquainted. Probably, in no country but England could such things be. (p. 12)

This quietly devastating novella / long short story (Walmer calls it a novella so so shall I) reminds me of Elizabeth Fair’s “The Marble Staircase” or an Elizabeth Taylor short story.

The seaside small town setting is attractive and we first see how it’s grown into a middle-class establishment, complete with an arty gothic house on the hill and a new road, the Cornice of the title (which the locals regard with amazement, a word for a bit of a ceiling getting pronounced in cod-Italian), and coming with those things, lodgers and home owners looking for some sea air.

Major Mark Hankisson lives in two rooms and takes a walk in one of three coats, rain or shine, along the road every day. He encounters a small woman, dressed in grey, walking in the opposite direction, most days, but pays her no attention until one windy day when he’s concerned she’s going to get blown away.

Once his chivalrous intentions are aroused, there’s no stopping him – but this is turn of the century England so he watches for where she sits and lives and asks his landlady who lives in that house. It’s only when she disappears once … twice that he’s forced to take action and actually speak to someone.

I’m not going to spoil the story, but it’s so sweet and eventually sad, a tale of a last (or first?) chance not taken, and I’m very glad to have read it.

Thank you to Michael Walmer for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

This was Book 5 for Novellas in November, and not one of the original 15 possibles!