“Ghosts of a False Self”

Double Act is a well-written novella from British writing team, LH Maynard & MPN Sims (Shelter, Demon Eyes). As Cocker and Hass, Walter Coker and Charlie Hass were a successful comedy double act in the 1950s London theatre scene in the twilight of their career. Unfortunately, the straight man and primary writer, Charlie, dies of a heart attack, leaving behind his funnier partner to pick up the pieces of his career as well as investigate the strange happenings and mystery in the wake of the death.

A writing duo writing about a comedy duo works almost at a meta level as they explore the secrets of a fairly successful professional and personal relationship.

“But life can’t be lived on what ifs and if onlys. You make choices and stand or fall by the choices you make. Sometimes the choices are the right ones, sometimes not.” –Carol Butler

The sins of their past comes back on them, from love affairs to pride and jealousy, in the form of a mysterious figure/force. A long time and well known philanderer, Charlie Hass comes to be seen in a new light, a more honest light though it only demonstrates how often we know so little about the people in our lives.

The least mysterious part of the journey of these characters is how easy it is to fall into a spiral of sin. They both begin with a lie that they tell themselves, about each other as well as themselves (because we are all the put upon heroes in our own story). From there, they harden their hearts by degrees to what they know is right. Then they find themselves having to hide the secrets that won’t stay hidden very long because truth has a way of being found out.

“If that’s what you’ve been telling yourself over the years to absolve yourself from blame, then you’ve been living a lie.” –Carol Butler

We know that the best relationships are built on openness and honesty, but we find ourselves creating a “false self”, a mask we wear that becomes part of us, in order to interact with others and the world. This constructed self, is defined by what we do, by what we have, and by what people think about us – and most times is a lie. We believe this lie and try to fix it ourselves, essentially creating a self-salvation scheme as we continue going about trying to re-create ourselves to the world around us. As Carol, one of Charlie’s mistresses puts it, “Once you start holding things back, they build up into an unbreakable wall that’s impossible to break down.”

Charlie’s false self takes form, haunting those he left behind from beyond the grave. This “monster you created”, left unchecked, destroys any good left in him and in his life, and leads to acts of ultimate selfishness.

At its heart, Double Act is an old-fashioned ghost tale, so low-key and without gore, the horrific aspect of the layered story goes almost unnoticed. The authors weave an emotionally intricate tale through the use of a strong, melancholy narrative voice. All about tone and mood, Double Act relies more on its disquieting atmosphere and disturbing, deeply human characters, moreso than any supernatural aspects. Its flaw lies more in its abrupt, bitter, and ultimately less than satisfying ending. Until then, it delivers the around the campfire creepiness and a study of compelling intensity, cloaked in the familiar garb of a good ghost story.

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