What’s Under The Pylon all about?:
A group of young children spend their last summer before secondary school playing under a gigantic electricity pylon which appears to have strange and unnerving properties.
What did I think?:
Graham Joyce has a real talent for finding the creepiness and darkness in everyday objects which usually results in stories that stay with you long after you have finished them. In Under The Pylon, as you may suspect from the name, the narrative revolves around a large electricity pylon which provides a source of shelter and amusement for one particular group of friends as they negotiate the difficult years of adolescence. Our male narrator is never named but this isn’t really necessary for the story and we do hear about his friends in some detail from his point of view.
We have Joy, a precocious young girl who despite her tender age of eleven years old, sports a full face of make-up at all times and delights in flirting with the male members of their group even if they don’t seem particularly bothered by her behaviour having grown bored of her constant need for attention. The second girl in the group, Tania, is in our narrator’s class and we sense he has a bit of a soft spot for her. She ends up becoming an integral part of the story when strange things start happening beneath the pylon. Lastly, we have two boys – Kev who tends to have favourite words for the month, this particular month’s being “Crap,” which he tends to over-use slightly. We don’t really hear much from him apart from, you guessed it, the occasional “Crap!” at various times. Then there is Clive, who our narrator describes purely as “a bit strange,” and who “stared at things,” but who also plays a pivotal role in events. Clive claims that he can hear whole conversations from just standing the pylon. For instance, he swears blindly that Mrs Astley is cheating on her husband and sleeping with the local pub landlord and this may be verified by our narrator seeing the aforesaid woman sneaking into the pub by the back entrance which he finds slightly odd.
The kids have been warned not to play under the pylon, in wet or dry weather but as with many parental rules at this age, they are disobeyed. Nothing really awful goes on when the group meets however, simply your typical teenage rebellions like passing round cider and sharing cigarettes. It is only when our narrator attempts to hypnotise his friends for a laugh that the really strange things start occurring. The pylon appears to have a quiet but eerie power that surges through and leads to members of the group doing things that they would never dream of in normal circumstances. It is one such incident involving our narrator and Tania that leads to a fracture within the group and paves the way for a dramatic climax that changes the lives of certain members irrevocably.
This was a good, solid read from Graham Joyce with just the right mixture of thrilling moments and subtle darkness. The addition of characters like the Nantwich family with their strange, mute daughter Olive was a great way to add those extra chills and sense of dread to the proceedings. The reader never finds out what exactly is going on under the pylon and why it is happening but I feel this added a bit more mystery to the story and I used my own imagination to fill those gaps. If I compared it to the other stories in the collection I’d probably say it was one that I liked more than others but not as much as some, my personal award for the best has already gone to the amazing Leningrad Nights which I doubt will be topped as I only have one more story to read. Under The Pylon is still classic Joyce however so if you’re a fan, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: A Mighty Horde Of Women In Very Big Hats, Advancing by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories