The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley
Imaginative young Shirley Fearne dreams of marriage and a teaching career. She must consider her future prospects in the face of a most unusual prophecy…
Novella in a nutshell: Literary weird fiction that will get under your skin
I cannot sleep.
Today I overheard Mrs Barbery in the street gossiping with the other mothers. She said, ‘He isn’t a real man, of course, not after that injury.’ I walked past and pretended not to have heard. He limps, a little, but it does not constrain his activities. Sometimes I wonder what is under his shirt and waistcoat. I imagine something other than flesh to be found there: fine swan feathers, or a clean white space. No, Mr Tiller is not what passes for a real man in these parts, and all the better for that.
Shirley Fearne is coming into womanhood in the aftermath of the First World War, caught on the cusp of an old world filled with ancient traditions and a modern, industrial world that lies just beyond her rural village.
Smart and determined, Shirley dreams of a career in education and sharing her intellect with others. She is also infatuated with schoolteacher Mr. Tiller, a newcomer to the village with an air of mystery and tragedy about him.
Decisions need to be made, and a new May Queen is about to be crowned in the village; an annual May Day celebration that ensures the future will be born again, according to folklore. However, when Shirley takes matters into her own hands and confronts Mr. Tiller to outline her hopes of a relationship he reveals a secret she never bargained for. A revelation that will force Shirley to choose between the old ways and new.
Aliya Whiteley is one of our favourite weird women of fiction today. Jane Austen fans may see much to please them here in this novella, both in terms of the sagacious heroine and the social constraints and expectations she faces. However, as with Whiteley’s previous novel Skein Island, this feminist tale is woven into its own unique pattern.
Everything in The Arrival of Missives feels authentic yet also wondrous, as something akin to magic unfurls in both the pages and your heart.
Much like the immensely likeable main protagonist, this is fiction that will not be constrained.