Tariq Goddard, The Picture of Contented New Wealth: A Metaphysical Horror


'A thin white mist was spilling through the curtains heightening the scarlet in Brigit's lips, her red tongue curling from her mouth like a baby dragons phallus. The parts of her that did not resemble food on the turn appeared to be crafted from silvery wax, uncanny inhumanity pervading every inch of her sleeping body' - Tariq Goddard.


'There was an instant of atomic stillness before the shadow disintegrated into a plethora of hissing molecules, its parts falling away like a routed army, the whole floor reverberating with the sound of a hundred little footprints fleeing in panic' - Tariq Goddard.


Tariq Goddard's Metaphysical Horror novel is one of the few books to actually make me afraid, ( of what, I'm unsure - and that is most unnerving ) whilst reading and also after putting down the text. The last book that installed similarly affecting emotions within myself was Nicolai Gogols 'The Night Before Christmas' a piece from his Ukrainian Tales collection of short stories. An odd connection of two dissimilar texts, Gogol's phantasmagorically dark and eerie tales of folklore pre-suppose a belief ( or at least a familiarity ) in the paranormal and extra-vital magic of Ukrainian Christianity whilst entwining the reader around a magical world of ghosts, witches and demons. Whilst Goddard's work, set in 1980's Hampshire among middle-upper class yuppie nobodies, maintains all the scoffing denial that would be expected around such subjects however the slow screw of ensuring all notions and explanations point towards a genuinely paranormal or demoniacal entity, much to the dismay of the works protagonist, positively cements the tangibility ( or more concerning - the possibility ) of an 'other'. Mr Conti and Martin's awkward reluctance to embrace the facts around them is echoed within the era and the situation. The house ( Tyger Tyger house - possibly an oblique reference to William Blake's 1794 poem 'The Tyger' ) is described in great detail, and the problems it confronts its inhabitants with provides much of the horror, however this generic horror apparatus is firmly glued into an awkward, mundane and retrorific paradigm of 80's socioscope, the house is not haunted per se, just harbouring negatives. The form is deceiving, the corners are lies, reflections are mirages and the shadows are tricks - at first ( and intrinsically ) these maladies are not illnesses of spirit - rather illnesses of a sick philosophy - namely the contented new wealth of unnaturally displaced yuppies..


Goddards conjuring of atmosphere and tweaking of the 'emotional air' is perhaps his most accomplished feat within the text. '....the dusk clouds reddening before him like bleeding lizard skins.' - a gem of a description of a Hampshire dusk, the phrase resonating within the works polystrata -a hallucinatory description of an idyllic place, geographically, economically and in few, odd occurrences spiritually, but innately tainted by a negative and disruptive infraction of evil. Its the unknown - the other - that operates most disturbingly within the novels various situations. Its this subtle tugging on our psyche from an unseen entity that is so profoundly orchestrated by Goddard. Various instances occur whereby the characters intent is ill defined and the outcome of their actions not mentioned, or merely hinted at. These contexts are not red herrings, just open ends - however the reading ( our interpretation ) is heavily jaded by the negative atmosphere and constant reinforcement that which is unknown is also sinister. The notion of the uncanny ( un-homely ) is a shrewd parallel, to juxtapose with displaced yuppies, and the imagery and leverage Goddard employs so effectively is not new - but none the less powerful for its genericism ( William Peter Blatty's 'The Exorcist' is heavily referenced, or simply reinstated ) - what is implied is a natural - or unnatural notion that when humans move against the spirits of the world an other, and uncanny entity can fill any void left open by such an awkward and poorly fitting life.


Evil finding a home within an awkward house inhabited by people who are perhaps unnaturally too young, rich and free is not new, however Goddards transposition of this idea to the novels particular historical and geographical context is ( to my knowledge ) relevant and long overdue. The most provocative and fundamentally worrying idea is presented within chapter five. Philosophy is confronted directly as contributory facets concerning 'Iblis' access to Brigit's spirit when The Rector exclaimed "You think the Professors in a Philosophy Department would know the Devil if it goosed them in the street? To my knowledge Iblis doesn't feature greatly in the lexicon of of linguistic analytic philosophy, and don't even get me started on the Continentals. There could be no safer home to dwell in..... The reason no one saw it coming, Mr Conti, is because good and evil have become to much to be true, haven't they? Quaint, embarrassing, pre-scientific concepts, replaced by "the banality of evil", "foucaldian" power relations of some other quasi-sociological flim-flam". The suggestion here is that as philosophers dwell on logic within a climate where there are no moral absolutes evil could find a space to be. This suggestion is contested by Martin who argues "only egg heads think like that, man" before The Rector continues to provide one of the most fundamentally disturbing questions - "Maybe so, but the rest of us are content to do without moral absolutes, you only have to turn on the news to watch the fall out. Truth no longer moves through knowledge because truth no longer exists....Your wife, Mr Conti, thought that she could think her way beyond good and evil, both of which dwell in what she called ontology and I call God. In the academic atmosphere she moved in, what was the use of a close reading of Aquinas next to the blasphemous freedom advocated by Nietsche? The Christians lost the intellectual arguments ago. Meanwhile out there in the real world Iblis is having a ball. ..... Ideas that are of eternity are never wrong: though occasionally they slip out of fashion. There is no moral neutrality in this world and no ethically disinterested processes in life. Your wife simply chose to ignore the moral dimensions, invoking evolutionary psychology, post-structuralism, whatever."
I didn't find this argument threatening or preachy. I actually put the book down feeling slightly perplexed. In recent times I can't recall many asking the question of Good or Evil within an intellectual context, not in Art theory, post structuralism, or even BBC's Question Time. Perhaps as The Rector so eloquently explained, good and evil are too true, too true in a world where nothing is real - but these are ideas that have been around as long as man, so why are they no longer confronted? Even on more social issues I sense that the majority of decision lies in political or social notions rather than within moral absolutes. Wouldn't more discussion for contextualising various intellectual themes within moral absolutes do more than stop the eerie shadows from creeping up the walls? Goddard should be praised for attempting to re-ignite such an old discussion, but his main triumph is re-threading and re-aligning the imperatives to a contemporary sphere.