Gifco – M. John Harrison

Gifco (1992) from Things That Never Happen

The unnamed narrator and his wife are dealing with the death of their daughter in their own separate ways. Neither are openly grieving, repressing their grief, moving away from their old family house and starting life anew in Peckham. A derelict house across the street from their new home, with the seemingly meaningless word Gifco scrawled on a boarded up window, begins to play a dark role in their lives.

The narrator is cold and unemotional and the reader is kept a distance from events by his impassive recital. He puts a strong emphasis on his dreams; within which meanings and language aren’t fixed. His dreams reveal his repressed feelings. The reader can never be quite sure of what the narrator is disclosing is in fact reality as the narrative itself starts to take place within “that zone of slippage between waking and dreaming.” It’s as though his repressed grief has erupted into the narrative itself, disrupting the quotidian with the weird and the uncanny.

He breaks into the Gifco house. This tenebrous space seems to operate outside of reality. The narrator can hear the lunch-time traffic outside, but inside this dark interior feels more like his inner space, his psyche where dark happenings occur. The place where his mental disorder is made real. A space cut off from reality, a space out of time and place (almost Lovecraftian.)

He has a terse relationship with his wife; there is no mutual consolation between them. The narrative is littered with her brusque, indifferent exchanges and we intuit her deep dissatisfaction. Her inscrutability is not diminished in his memories of the holiday in Tenerife, where he would first meet her. Their first meetings show that there never was an emotional intimacy between them; and their physical intimacy was determined by her omnivorous, insatiate desire.

It is also in the Tenerife memories that the psychological source of the Gifco house is disclosed. The darkly enigmatic character of Allo Johnnie looms over these passages. He is the out of place immigrant, the foreigner, the alien but also in a weird interlude, a kind of lifeless Golem. The Gifco graffiti resounds with the narrator so much, it is as though the narrator’s subconscious has made a strange kind of connection with the meeting of his wife and the death of the daughter, with the character of Allo Johnnie as some preternatural dark midwife to this association.

Despite the unsympathetic characters, it is the emotional punch of this story that remains with the reader. There is a deep sense of loss here. Memory, identity and a sense of indeterminacy. Nothing is fixed. Everyone lost within their inner selves, slave to their own obsessions and false desires.

It is interesting to read Harrison’s blog entry referring to Gifco as a summary of thematic concerns and postscript of sorts:

Those who have failed to regulate the self. Those whose behaviours enact a medicating fiction. Those who flew to the Canary Islands on a cheap ticket in December 1991 & left the remains of their personality in the apartment hotel. Those who ran from everything in a zig-zag pattern, so fast they never found the transitional object. The unsoothed. The dysmorphic. The unconditional. Those who were naive enough to take what they needed & thus never got what they wanted & whose dreams are now severe. Those who were amazed by their own hand. The confused. The pliable. Those who look at the sea & immediately suffer a grief unconstrained but inarticulable. Gifco is coming. Gifco you are always with us. Gifco we are here!