Dust falls on Eugene Schlumburger

Robin has gone into overdrive on his new blog, Include me out.  It’s great to be able to read his writing again and catch up on what he’s thinking.  As well as highly refined and more than occasionally provocative takes on music and film, he’s been posting all sorts of imagery, including some much loved covers from his book collection.  This and our recent Fire Raisers escapade have prompted me to post one of my favourite covers:

Dust falls on Eugene Schlumberger

More than a little ragged round the edges – it was a 1980s Holloway Road second-hand bookshop find – but William Belcher’s design is very possibly one of the earliest examples (1964) of a book or magazine with two front covers and right-way round and upside down text meeting in the middle.  I’m sure there’s a technical term for that in graphic design.

Dust falls on Eugene Schlumburger / Toddler on the run was Shena Mackay’s first book, published when she was just nineteen.  It’s far from the vivid, synaesthetic grace of her best work, but it contains flashes of the brilliance that was to come:

Abigail broke loose from the encircling arms and began sliding and spiralling down the hill until all Eugene could see in the moonlight was her red hair spinning into the white eternity.  He started to run but his legs were heavy with cold and snowflakes melted in his eyes blinding him.  He ran, heavy and lost, his hard feet pounding the slithering ground.  Then he tripped on a lump of ice and fell, hitting his face on the kerb.  The sky flashed round his head and he lay there for a minute, his cut face bleeding into the snow, and desolation in his heart feeling he had lost her forever.  He raised his weak legs and tried to walk, but his steps degenerated into a slide.  As he cruised unsteadily round the corner, he saw himself as she would in a second – ‘I am a man of thirty sliding in the snow with blood on my face.’

She stood at the bus stop, her hair spiked with snowflakes, waiting for him.  She wiped his face with her hair because she had no handkerchief.  As the bus drew away a street lamp lit the face of a battered mole.

You won’t be surprised to hear that it ends badly for Eugene.

Shena Mackay

5 responses

  1. I tried hard to resist commenting. Honest. But … I will never forget reading these for the first time. And becoming a prize bore on the subject of Shena …

  2. I have just this minute gone onto the net to see if I could find “Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumburger” (sic) and “Toddler on the Run by Sheila (sic) Mackay.
    I bought the Panther edition–at least, I’m sure it wasPanther–back in the late 60s. It was also a Finnegans Wake kind of book that you could start either way! Though unlike FW, it didn’t go round in perpetual circles and each story was readable. The cover, though, was a blue spine with a blue bordered picture photograph either side–one inverted, depending on which side you viewed it from. The topsy turvy novellas must have been a printing phenomenon back then.
    Those two novellas were the only things I’ve ever read by Shena Mackay and it was a pleasant surprise to find they’re still available.
    I got my hands on two copies back in the early 1990s but stupidly gave friends a read never to get them back.
    I remember how nostalgic I felt at the time re-reading both stories.
    Shena wrote at a time when two other young woman hit the British literary scene with excellent writing–Viz., Sheila (got it right that time) Delany and Nell Dunn.
    I had also been wondering what Shena had written since, so it’s nice to find there’s information on her on the net.
    Thanks for the info.

  3. I’ve just noticed it is Schlumburger: It’s coming up Schlumberger on the net.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Martin. Most of what she wrote she wrote subsequently is great – especially her short stories – and even if it isn’t, it always has something about it. But if I had to point you in the direction of one novel, I think it would be Heligoland.

    1. Thanks for the tip.I must look out for it. I didn’t know if she was still writing. I must try to get Heligoland.

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