Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Recommended Weird Tales: Wingstroke by Vladimir Nabokov

Wingstroke is a fabulously strange and over-looked piece of weird fiction from a writer, of course, not usually associated with the horror or speculative genres.

It concerns a man named Kern who, reeling from the suicide of his wife, finds himself at a European ski resort where everything appears to be loaded with meaning and coincidence.  There is also a touch of the fantastical about his surroundings, aswell as with his fellow skiers.  Marooned in the hotel, he notices himself being watched by ‘some pale girl with pink eyebrows’, and at dinner he encounters a ‘man with goat eyes’; whilst his creepy acquaintance, Monfiori, is described as having ‘pointed ears, packed with canary-coloured dust, with reddish fluff on their tips.’  Kern appears to have entered a new reality, one where when it snows the hotel seems to ‘float upwards’.  The perfect setting then for a supernatural encounter.

Also at the hotel is Isabel – known about the resort as ‘Airborne Isabel’ - an attractive and popular young woman whom Kern befriends and quickly becomes obsessed with.  She inhabits room thirty-five, the room next door to Kern’s, thirty-five also being Kern’s age.  Much to Kern’s disbelief, Isabel likes to stay out on the slopes after dark, leaping, as she says, ‘right up to the stars’ and encountering who-knows-what in the snowy darkness.

One night, unable to sleep, Kern hears guitar music, laughter and strange barks coming from Isabel’s room.  The next night – drunk, half-crazed, and suicidal himself – Kern notices that Isabel’s key has been left in the door.  What Kern does next, bursting into the room and telling Isabel that he needs her love, sets off the chain of bizarre and unexplained events which reach their sad conclusion the next day when Isabel takes part in a skiing competition.

The sudden, although in no way jarring, intrusion of the supernatural into this story is what, for me, makes it such a great read.  There’s a chance, obviously, that what Kern encounters in Isabel’s room could be a figment of his increasingly unhinged mind.  Told in vivid and descriptive prose and packed with unsettling imagery, Wingstroke is one of the finest weird fiction tales I’ve read.

Find it: The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov.