The CuriousPages Sketchbook

The story: Odd Charges, by WW Jacobs

My observations on the short story: Odd Charges, by WW Jacobs. Jacob’s writing has much subtlety, on many levels. But here, he seems to be going one step further, and has decided to not reveal the solution to the story. Interesting. When reading this, by the time I’d got about two thirds through I was certain that the wife it was Bob Pretty’s wife who was the guilty party. I wasn’t sure if he was in on it too. But by the end it had become clear the Bob Pretty was totally innocent. This conjured up in my mind the images of his wife seeing him return home in a state, claiming he’d been shot in the face. He’d told her what had happened, she’d checked in his coat pocket and found the watch but didn’t tell him. She bandaged his face up and let him go to bed believing he’d been shot in the face. Then when the other’s came for the watch and then, when they were refused access to him, they offered to repair his coat. She handed it down to him, saying “I’ll clear the pockets and drop it down to you.” (1) Then, the next day, when Dicky Weed went to see Bob and was searching the room, it was clear that Bob’s wife knew exactly what was happening, that he was looking for the watch, but wouldn’t find it, because she had hidden it away somewhere else (2).

For Jacob’s to not reveal any of this, even at the end, is a remarkable display of subtlety. And the images that this had conjured up in my mind of Bob’s wife were much more vivid that they would have been if Jacob’s had depicted her for me, rather than letting the reader’s mind work out all this for himself.

Of course, I might be wrong about the above. Do tell me if you disagree.

The other point here is, was all this clear to me simply because I’m a writer and I therefore know how a writer’s mind works? Would the general reader see the plot as clearly, would they be able to work this out? I don’t think that matters. Many readers would, some would not, but the strength of the story is that, even if you can’t work out that Bob’s wife was guilty, the ending still works.

The other element of Jacob’s subtlety here is that he only gives two clues to hint at the wife’s activity (indicated with the figures 1 and 2 above), and then leaves the reader to work it out for himself.

 

Read the story here.

 

18 October 2008

 

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