Posted in Books I have read

A Hank of Hair – Charlotte Jay

Novella (psychological) 4*'s
Novella (psychological)
4*’s

I chose to read A Hank of Hair following Margot of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist inclusion in her wonderful ‘In The Spotlight’ post back in September 2014 because I was intrigued by the fact that this book is concerned with an obsession, but not any common garden obsession, our protagonist has become obsessed by a hank of hair.

Mr Gilbert Hand tells the events leading up to this unusual tale in his own words after the event, a device that has the consequence of making the reader feel as if they have been taken into his confidence and after all there is a lot to sympathise about with him. Gilbert’s wife died at sea in a boat accident and until her untimely death he hadn’t realised how much he loved her. Having inherited her money he leaves his job and moves to London with no real aim, with time on his hands he spends many hours at the British Museum researching their Japanese prints. To make his daily trips to the museum easier he moves into a local hotel. The room he inhabits has a davenport, an antique desk, and within its drawers he finds a hank of hair wrapped in some green silk. Having handled the hair he determines to find its owner which leads to a weird, yet compelling series of events leading to much darker places than you’d expect.

This is a concise book compromising of only 125 pages of the small paperback size that used to exist back when this book was first published in 1964, my copy has red edged pages which only adds to the feeling that this book promises something quite extraordinary.

A Hank of Hair is populated by strange people, made stranger perhaps because of the way our narrator paints them, seemingly morphing into different characters, maybe to fit the tale he tells us? Surely not? After all he seems genuine, from the beginning he doesn’t hide the contempt he feels for Mrs Sinclair but uses her to gain information about the other occupants of the hotel both past and present. Most convincingly he confesses to his fascination with the hair but later on strongly resists returning it to Mr Doyle, who asserts he is the owner of this strange object, going to great lengths to persuade himself, and us, that something awful happened to the person whose head it was originally attached to. In fact his obsession with the hair is soon overtaken by that he has for the mysterious Mr Doyle. By the end of the story, it becomes apparent why.

Charlotte Jay was an Australian author of nine crime books under this name, A Hank of Hair being the latest. It was the travel she undertook with her husband, an Oriental specialist which led her around the world which explains why the descriptions of London seem so realistic, even though they depict a time firmly in the past.

This was an intriguing read as I tend to assume that an unreliable narrator was a more recent device and yet this is one of the more skilful examples I have ever read.

For more insight into this book I strongly suggest read Margot’s fascinating post here

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

13 thoughts on “A Hank of Hair – Charlotte Jay

  1. Cleo – Thanks so much for the kind mention. I’m glad you enjoyed A Hank of Hair. Like you, I found it fascinating to watch as the characters changed (or did they?) in the course of the novel. And I thought the setting was done quite effectively too. And as you say, the whole ‘unreliable narrator’ plot device was used brilliantly.

    1. This really highlighted some of the differences with the characters all addressed as Mr … or Miss… and a time when renting a room in a hotel wasn’t extraordinary… it is a very cool read! 🙂

  2. After stealing a couple of older books from my parents’ (Not really – they’d been left by guests when my mum did bed and breakfast. My Dad has a real book obsession so I think she was glad to get rid of a few!) I can totally agree with you about the small size of print in older books – did people have much better eyesight back then, I wonder?! This book sounds fascinating….re the unreliable narrator, isn’t Holden from Catcher In The Rye seen as an early example??

    1. I do love the dinky little books and I suppose they were designed to save paper? You are quite right about Holden who unreliably narrated for us a decade or so before this book, and I’m quite certain there are other examples, although the device was used much less frequently than in recent years.

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