REVIEW: “The Incalling” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “The Incalling”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 173-202 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

It is clear that in this story, we are supposed to find Mr. Clerk’s demeanour and actions (especially his slack-faced tracking of Miss Alice Sprake across London) creepy and unintelligible. He is set off from the very start as an “other”, someone who doesn’t fit in, someone who isn’t quite there. And yet, what I found most creepy and unsettling was not so much Clerk’s actions but the narrator’s, Austin. We would not know anything of Mr. Clerk were Mr. Austin not following him around, in a sort of observant, prurient way that ends up being rather stalker-ish. Like — why is he doing this? The explanation given at the beginning — that as Clerk’s publisher Austin feels an obligation to take an interest in him — rings hollow within only a few pages. What was also strange was how unimportant the titular Incalling ended up being; for such a long story, it was all over almost as soon as the story began. All in all, this was a weird one, all right.

(Originally published in The Savoy Book, 1978.)