Death and the Hedgerow (and Alice Thomas Ellis)

I’ve been rereading a few Alice Thomas Ellis novels, which I always enjoy – they are constantly malicious, funny and astonishing. There are a lot of hedges in her stories, especially when they are set in the Welsh countryside – characters hide behind them, emerge through gaps, and see strange things on the other side of them.

This quote from Unexplained Laughter caught my eye. I should explain that these are the thoughts of Angharad, a rather strange wraithlike girl who spends her days roaming the mountains and observing the ordinary people below:

They think that death is waiting at the end of the ride, that life is like the lane and that death waits at the end. Listen. That is death on the other side of the side of the hedgerow. And that swift shadow that is gone, before you turn, from the corner of your eye – that is death. And the whisper you scarcely hear through the sounds of the birds calling and the wind in the leaves – that is death. Not waiting, but there beside you within reach, within earshot, so close that if you should look you would see your breath cloud on his presence. There he is, just out of sight behind the wild rose and the blackthorn, not behind you, nor before you, but beside you…

Which all reminds me of something I read once about Pan hiding behind the hedge.

Anyhow, another Alice Thomas Ellis quote, from The Sin Eater, just to reassure you that she is not always quite  as morbid as the quote above:

‘Where’s Rose?’ asked Angela…  Ermyn glanced sideways. Farther down, where the hedge widened into a small thicket, was a dying alder, its low branches fabulously bowed and twisted, snowed over with lichen, eerily green. Rose stood in its indifferent embrace, a finger to her lips.

‘She’s there,’ said Ermyn hopelessly. Rose stamped ineffectually on the mouldering earth, but she came forward.

‘How lovely to see you,’ she said, pinching Ermyn on the arm. ‘I’ll come through.’ The hedge was suddenly stiffly hostile, as though it had had enough of this to-ing and fro-ing. It ripped Rose’s jacket spitefully. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘A hedge tear.’






Filed under Literary Hedges

3 responses to “Death and the Hedgerow (and Alice Thomas Ellis)

  1. I confess to not knowing any Alice Thomas Ellis but I shall look her up after reading this – thanks

    • That’s good to hear – she’s a wonderful writer, every page has at least one sentence that you want to read out loud to whoever is sitting beside you – very interesting life story as well, though not without some tragedy. There’s a nice obituary somewhere online by Beryl Bainbridge (many of whose books she edited), which gives a good impression of what she was like. Most of the books are currently out of print, so you might have to resort to or similar. I’m currently trying to get them republished, which is why I’ve come back to them in the first place.

  2. betsy barker

    I wonder if Philip Pullman in the Northern Lights Trilogy got his idea of death always being with one from Alice Thomas Ellis?

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