Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Gap in the Curtain: John Buchan nails it once again

The Gap in the Curtain is not one of John Buchan’s best known works. It is not a story of excitement and adventure either: no thriller, it has a supernatural or paranormal theme and has been described as borderline science fiction.

The Gap in the Curtain features the lawyer Sir Edward Leithen, another of Buchan’s heroes and narrator of the story, and Professor August Moe, a brilliant physicist and mathematician.

The story starts with a dinner party. Leithen, who is extremely tired from overworking and close to the end of his tether, had been in two minds about accepting the invitation. He feels a little better when he notices that several other guests around the table are not looking too good either: they seem nervous, under the weather, ill, tired or even exhausted.

I was free to look about me. Suddenly I got a queer impression. A dividing line seemed to zigzag in and out among us, separating the vital from the devitalised. There was a steady cackle of talk, but I felt that there were silent spaces in it. Most of the people were cheerful, eupeptic souls who were enjoying life...But I realised that there were people here who were as much at odds with life as myself…”

Leithen is introduced to fellow country-house guest Professor Moe, a huge, eccentric man who knows that he is dying.

Professor Moe believes that he has found a way of training people to see into the future, as if through ‘a gap in the curtain’, and has come to the house party seeking the right kind of volunteers for his experiments in precognition. What I find most interesting about Moe is what he looks for when selecting people to help him finish his life’s work.

As Leithen notices:

He had chosen exactly those whom I had selected at dinner the previous night as the care-full as opposed to the care-free. He wanted people whose physical vitality was low, and who were living on the edge of their nerves, and he had picked them unerringly out of Sally's house-party.”