‘Three Miles Up’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard

A preoccupation I consistently notice in my own fiction is the male friendship, and specifically how sexuality influences such relationships. This story is a masterclass on the subject, and it’s worthy of René Girard’s theory of triangular desire (essentially the urge to desire what someone else desires). Two men, friends, take an argumentative trip on a canal boat. After a third person unexpectedly joins them, unsettling things begin happening, both within the men’s friendship and along their journey’s route. The story builds quietly, as many of the best ones do, into the kind of ending that may well have you gaping astern and asking, How on Earth did we get here?

First published in We are for the Dark: Six Ghost Stories (a collaboration with Robert Aickman), Jonathan Cape, 1951. Collected in Mr. Wrong, Jonathan Cape, 1975 – more latterly Picador, 2015 – and in Three Miles Up and Other Strange Stories, Tartarus Press, 2003