Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book Review: Nocturne; Nine Stories, by Peter Marshall Bell

       Peter Bell was born in 1959 and died from the complications of HIV in 1994.  He studied languages and traveled extensively, served in the Peace Corps, and taught at the French American International School in San Francisco for a number of years.  He wrote both fiction and poetry but never published his writings.  Now his former partner, Raymond Boyington, has taken on the task of editing and publishing his works.  Jack A. Urquhart’s insightful review states all the pertinent facts about this collection, so I will turn immediately to my own eminently favorable impressions.

       Four of the stories in the collection particularly stick in my mind.
       First, the title story, “Nocturne,” a study of a psychologically troubled child forced to exist among parents and others who are indifferent to his psychic difficulties.  The story reminded me of Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” where another child gradually descends into psychosis unnoticed.  In both stories the child makes every effort to dissimulate, to hide his strangeness from everybody, and in both the child succeeds so well that the only possible outcome is one that shakes and shocks the reader.
       Second, “The Enemy,” where an Arab fighter (a mere boy) and an American (we presume) are thrown together in a shed during one of our current wars.  Somehow even in these brutal circumstances they manage to achieve a certain level of the empathy that makes us human, something war attempts to destroy.  The Arab says it: “We are only taught to have enemies,” whereupon another shocking ending ensues, one which only reinforces this intense tale’s denunciation of war.
       Third, “The Wound,” an understated, unsentimental, yet hauntingly emotional story of waiting for death.  The story was originally written in French and is here translated with beautiful sensitivity by Jack A. Urquhart.
       Finally, the strange ghost story, “We Have Always Been the Same Person,” which is the longest tale in the collection and the most ambiguous.  Told in the first person in a quite formal literary style, it contains meticulous description.  The narrator meets with a ghost who appears to be the same person as himself, only in female form.  Perhaps that’s the key – coming to the realization of one’s sexual identity.  The end seems to imply that the purpose for the continuing existence of the hotel where most of the story is laid has now been realized.  However, the last paragraphs of the tale explain nothing; they purposely leave it up to the reader to interpret the meaning of what has happened.  One can even quote the last few lines without giving anything away.
       “What am I supposed to believe?" I blurted in desperation.
       “You should believe what you think is the truth," Laurent answered, quickly and decisively.
       “And how am I supposed to know that?" I finally queried.
       Laurent said nothing.
       He still has not answered my question.

        I recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys well-written short fiction.  Peter Bell displays a true affinity for his craft and it is indeed a sad loss to literature (and on many levels) that he lived only to the age of 35.  Now, however, thanks to the collection’s editor and publisher Raymond Boyington, Peter Bell’s achievements will not be forgotten.

       You can buy Nocturne (Kindle edition) on Amazon.  I also recommend Jack A. Urquhart's collection of short fiction entitled So They Say, also available at Amazon.


  1. I am so very grateful for your kind and thoughtful review. With my deepest thanks,
    Raymond Boyington

    1. You're very welcome! I don't know if I have enough followers to get you any sales, but we'll both keep hoping!