My second read for Simon and Karen’s 1924 club was Seducers in Ecuador by Vita Sackville West. A very slight novella (it seems it has been published in a single volume in the past) it is now most commonly published alongside Vita’s 1922 novella The Heir. I read The Heir a couple of years ago – in a gorgeous little Hesperus Press edition. Especially with the 1924 club in mind, I acquired my copy of Seducers in Ecuador from Bello books, they too publish it alongside The Heir, which I suppose I now have two copies of – oh well.
Seducers in Ecuador is an odd little book, very slightly disturbing, I found myself unable to develop any kind of relationship with any of the characters. As well as The Heir, I have read three other Vita Sackville West novels, and to me Seducers in Ecuador seems rather different, experimental perhaps. Told in a third person narrative, the point of view throughout is that of the main character Arthur Lomax, yet as a reader I found myself questioning everything. I couldn’t quite decide if we could trust all that we are told, it seemed so very unlikely – and I suspect that, that is the point. This is a novella about the nature of truth, which is rather fantastical and darkly comic.
“It was in Egypt that Arthur Lomax contracted the habit which, after a pleasantly varied career, brought him finally to the scaffold. In Egypt most tourists wear blue spectacles. Arthur Lomax followed this prudent if unbecoming fashion. In the company of three people he scarcely knew, but into whose intimacy he had been forced by the exigencies of yachting; straddling his long legs across a donkey; attired in a suit of white ducks, a solar topee on his head, his blue spectacles on his nose, he contemplated the Sphinx. But Lomax was less interested in the Sphinx than in the phenomenon produced by the wearing of those coloured glasses.”
The story is that of Arthur Lomax, an unremarkable Englishman, I felt him to be a seeker of new experiences. Lomax is every bit the Englishman abroad, solar topee and white ducks, enjoying the company of other Brits abroad. Whilst in Egypt; Lomax takes to wearing blue, black or brown lenses in his spectacles; in doing so his view of the world is altered, bettered. His new view of the world is to have the most alarming and deadly effect. Suddenly everything seems so much improved, and Arthur is happier. Lomax accepts an invitation to accompany a group of people he barely knows, on board a yacht. One of the party is a woman he met before the voyage begins, Miss Whitaker, who she claims was seduced by a man in Ecuador and is now having his child, she’s afraid of the consequences should her brother discover her secret, Lomax marries her.
“The only woman in his life being inaccessible, one reason for marriage with anybody else was as good as another. And what better reason than that one had found a lonely woman in tears, and had looked on her through coloured glasses?”
The couple go aboard as strangers – which they are, telling no one of their marriage. The owner of the yacht is Bellamy, fabulously wealthy, it is his death for which Lomax is hanged (this is not a spoiler we know that from the start). The final member of the group is Artivale a poor, young scientist.
Bellamy tells Lomax that he is suffering from a terminal illness, that he is afraid of the coming pain, he asks his new acquaintance to kill him, and beguiled by his new world seen through blue glass, Lomax agrees.
“The world was changed for him, and, had he but known it, the whole of his future altered, by those two circles of blue glass. Unfortunately one does not recognise the turning-point of one’s future until one’s future has become one’s past.”
What is the truth and what is a lie? both the reader and Lomax must ponder these questions, as back in London Lomax’s nightmare to the inevitable end begins.
Once begun, this little novella is very hard to put down and unexpectedly, I find myself returning to it in my mind.