Neither The Sea Nor The Sand
Pan, London, 1971
first published Hutchinson & Co, 1969
(price: 30p; 224 pages)
dedication: To the memory of my mother and father
The blurb on the back:
'Horror in the best Poe tradition ... Compulsive reading for the hours of daylight. After that, you are on your own' - Birmingham Evening Post
When obsessive love animates a no-longer-living body, the result can be gruesome beyond human believing...
In this wholly original novel, mind-chilling terror is the fruit of a passion that survives beyond the grave.
'Told with a fine macabre flourish by an author well known alike as an ITV newscaster and a BBC dramatist' - Daily Mail
Gordon Honeycombe 'comes menacingly near frightening us rigid' - The Scotsman
'Hugh!' She called his name up the slope of the hill to the sky, against the swooping downrush of the wind. 'I can't go on.'
This is an extraordinary book.
Just to clear up the authorship for younger readers: Gordon Honeycombe was a newsreader, who worked for ITN between 1965 and 1977 and in the 1980s for TV-AM. In case that doesn't sound too impressive in a world where 'TV news' refers to the likes of Sky News and the neutered remains of post-deregulation ITN, do remember that things were better then: Honeycombe was a broadcaster of impressive integrity as well as authority. His departure from ITN, for example, was occasioned by a dispute between him and his employers over the coverage of the momentous fire-fighters' strike - he supported the strikers, they (as ever) did not. So he left and became a full-time writer.
By that stage he was already a published author, and amongst his work was this phenomenal piece. The set-up is deceptively simple: a couple fall in love and decide to celebrate their union by having a 'honeymoon' (they're not actually married) in the wilds around Cape Wrath, the far North-Western tip of Scotland. He has a heart-attack on holiday and is pronounced dead, so she takes the body back to their home in Jersey. The twist, of course, is that in the meantime he's come back to life. Well, not exactly life: he doesn't breathe, has no heartbeat and can't speak, but he can walk and follow her instructions as though he can hear her. He is, in short, some kind of zombie, kept animated simply by the power and ferocity of her love.
The close observation of human behaviour is immensely impressive and, despite the comments on the back about Poe and the like, this is not really a true piece of horror, so much as a Gothic love story. Both literate and literary, it's a slow-paced slow-burning tale that sucks you deep into its intense, oppressive atmosphere, and reveals Mr Honeycombe to be a very fine writer:
About herself and her childhood she talked readily and with little reserve. This he could not do, and even when talking about what he knew and what intrigued him he spoke with the slight awkwardness of someone unused to making long statements. But he had none the less a command of language and expression that never rested on clichés. He was conscious of this, and proud of his carefully acquired knowledge and its ordered integrity. (pp.26-27)
He could be writing about his own style.
Mr Honeycombe and Rosemary Davies later adapted the story for a 1972 movie from Tigon starring Susan Hampshire, Frank Finlay, Michael Petrovitch and Tony Blair's dad-in-law, Tony Booth. I really wish I'd seen it so I could enthuse, but I haven't, so instead I'll steal the comments of the Radio Times Guide to Films, which calls it 'a genuine oddity that was sadly overlooked at the time'. Sounds good to me, and faithful to a book that's also a genuine oddity, but it's so obscure that it doesn't even get mentioned in Halliwell's Film Guide. It was also known as The Exorcism Of Hugh.