People either love or hate Laura Riding’s fiction, and you probably only need to read ‘Reality as Port Huntlady’ to figure out which side you’re on. It opens innocently: “Dan the Dog came to the town of Port Huntlady with two friends, Baby and Slick.” OK, no problem there. And, in fact, Riding’s prose style is neither intricate nor adorned.
The problem is where Riding’s simple declarative statements lead us. “We are all aware,” she acknowledges, “that there is no such place as Port Huntlady. It may well be that there is a place to which Port Huntlady stands as a lie stands to the truth.” Indeed, as she relates the story of Port Huntlady and its odd inhabitants, she also reflects on the act of storytelling as a futile attempt to create something that matches reality, that storytelling is both limited and infinite in its possibilities:
a story may go on indefinitely unless there is perfect understanding at the start of the limitations that keep a story from being anything but a story.
I once compared reading Riding to looking at a Magic Eye picture, where you can feel your visual perception of the image switching back and forth between what seems like noise and then, a moment later, becomes coherent. It’s both disorienting and, in a way, almost thrilling. I’m not sure she actually pulled off the reinvention of fiction she seems to have been attempting, though. If I had to choose among Moebius strip-like metafictions, I’d probably go with ‘Matty the Goat’ instead.
Included in Progress of Stories, Constable & Co., 1935