‘Egnaro’ by M John Harrison

“Are you sure you’ve heard nothing about Egnaro?” he said. “The thing is,” he continued, before I could say anything, “that I’ve just about convinced myself a place like that exists.”

Confession: I’ve only read two of Harrison’s short stories, and none of his novels. It’s an oversight I intend to correct immediately. I’m currently working my way through Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s vast and extraordinary compendium, The Weird (over 1,000 pages of ‘strange and dark stories’ from 1908 to 2020, highly recommended) and came across the puzzle that is ‘Egnaro’ just three weeks ago. The best stories get under the skin. Three weeks. And now I can’t get it out of my head, which is a curious reflection of the central theme of the story. In which the narrator records an associate’s obsession with an idea, a notion which has possessed him but which he finds impossible to verify. Set in a run-down city centre with dingy Chinese restaurants, queasy custard puddings and struggling second hand-bookshops, nothing fantastical takes place. And yet there is the sense that some hidden power is at work and by the end everything has shifted. Let me say this, ‘Egnaro’ is insidious. At the finale, the narrator has himself become obsessed. And now I am too.

First published in Winter’s Tales #27, 1981. Collected in The Ice Monkey, Gollancz, 1983, and Things That Never Happened, Gollancz 2003

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