|Vintage Pulp||Oct 10 2022|
Oh, good. Hard liquor. I hope you have more, because I'm gonna need lots before we continue.
It's another case of a good-girl-art makeover, as this 1952 Popular Giant paperback edition of Thomas H. Raddall's 1950 novel The Nymph and the Lamp disguises as titillation what is actually a piece of serious literature by one of Canada's most renowned authors. The guy even has a park named after him—Thomas Raddall Provincial Park, located in Nova Scotia, where he lived much of his life. He also co-founded the Queens County Historical Society, which runs the Thomas Raddall Research Centre, where visitors can see an exact replica of his study, furnished with his actual possessions. And there's even the Thomas Head Raddall Award, which is given yearly to a writer from Canada's Atlantic provinces who produces the best work of adult fiction.
But we didn't know any of that when we read The Nymph and the Lamp, so we merely noted that it was an expertly written and deep reaching book about a grizzled telegraph operator named Matthew Carney who brings a somewhat younger woman named Isabel Jardin with him back to the lonely North Atlantic island outpost of Marina where he works with a small crew of colleagues, and lives together with them in the ancient telegraph building. Isabel didn't realize she was signing up for cohabitation with multiple men in a sort of industrial workplace, and naturally has adjustment issues:
The place reeked of hot oil. It had a concrete floor and in the midst of it a large single-cylinder gasoline engine whirled a pair of flywheels. From one of these a long slatting belt led her eye to the generator, spinning and whining at the farther end of the room. [snip] Isabel, standing on the greasy floor, was startled by a terrific sound as sharp, as deafening as rifle shots, and the little engine room was lit by a rapid succession of bright violet flashes that sprang, like the sound, from the revolving brass spark-studs at the end of the generator shaft. Casting dignity aside she fled into the hall and covered her ears with her hands.
Matthew merely grinned. “You’ll get used to it,” he declared calmly. “There’s a muffling drum that fits over the spark disc but we leave it off.”
“Do you mean to say,” she demanded in a voice that sounded thin and strange in her singing ears, “that it goes on like that, day and night?”
“Only when the chap on watch is transmitting.”
“But the transmitting goes on day and night—at intervals, I mean?”
“Oh yes. As I say, you’ll get used to it.”
The island has other inhabitants aside from Isabel and the telegraphers. There's a cadre of lifesavers who patrol the beaches for survivors of the frequent wrecks, a permanent lighthouse crew, and all the various workers' wives and children. There are also wild ponies living among the windswept dunes, and plenty of seals and oceangoing birds. None of it thrills or interests Isabel, but she's legitimately committed to Carney. The question is whether that committment can survive all the obstacles of life on a wild frontier.
Returning to the cover art, the creator here is Rafael DeSoto, who doesn't really get across the mood of the story. The rear cover text, which is written in such a way as to compliment the painting, is also misleading. Someone does barge in on Isabel, but it's an accident, and he has zero designs on her. He's so drunk he doesn't realize he's in the wrong room. He's soon removed, and the incident has no further bearing on the tale. But we'll say this for GGA art—it has lured us into reading not just pulp style fiction, but obscure literary fiction too. Some of it, like The Nymph and the Lamp, is very good.