‘The Skylight’ by Penelope Mortimer

Set in rural France during the 1950s, this story uses the classic device of terrorising the reader over the fate of a five-year-old child, who is encouraged to enter a locked holiday house via the titular skylight and open the window downstairs. The mother, frazzled from travelling on her own with her son, is nicely drawn. Students I have shared this with have been split over whether she is a victim of circumstance and the age she lives in, or a neurotic idiot who shouldn’t be in charge of a child. I tend towards the former, as a parent of young children who knows it’s not plain sailing. A brilliant piece of ordinary horror and the ending is one of surprise that leaves me reeling after many, many reads.

Collected in Saturday Lunch with The Brownings, 1977) Chosen by Andrew McDonnell

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