Ng Suat Tong: Delphine # 1-4

Posted by on December 14th, 2009 at 10:15 AM


Synopsis (with significant spoilers): A man arrives in a mysterious town in search of his one-time lover called Delphine. She had left him some time back to visit her ill, and possibly dying, father but has since not returned any of his letters. The telephone number she has given him does not work.  The man is looking for a house numbered 13-31 and mistakenly arrives at a “Beauty Shop” run by an elderly lady who owns a blind but ferocious guard dog. He is informed that he has arrived mistakenly at 13-31 South Hood Street instead of 13-31 North which would presumably be the correct destination. The lady’s nephew offers to take him to the correct address, but instead detours to a cemetery where someone (perhaps a baby) is being buried. To the man’s surprise, the nephew deserts him, taking his backpack with him. The man is forced to take a ride from a bystander who has a few elderly women as passengers. They take him back to town via a short cut through Harrow Tree Woods. When they stop for a break, he is set upon and beaten up by the driver and his passengers.

He is saved by a reticent old man who takes him to his cottage. There the old man feeds him some soup and, before leaving the hut for some errands, warns him not to visit a certain room (usually locked) in his residence. Our protagonist accidentally finds himself in the forbidden room, where he finds a portrait of a woman staring into a hand mirror, the elderly gentleman’s wife perhaps. She disappears from the portrait and takes on the appearance of a monster, causing him to run into the woods, where he encounters various ominous signs, including the beauty-shop owner now transformed into a beast. He flees from her guard dog and in so doing loses consciousness.

On awakening, he finds himself deep underground in a mine where he encounters some dwarves who make guttural sounds at him. He encounters the dog again and flees into the wood before finally managing to kill it. He then tracks a mysterious woman to her castle and enters within.

He discovers that the woman is Delphine’s stepmother, and on leaving the house, finds that he is back in the middle of town and at his desired address, 13-31. The woman even returns his backpack to him. He sees a vision of Delphine in the window of the house and returns there at night. Haunted by visions in the house, including his own disfigured face in a mirror (the protagonist as a dwarf), he loses his composure and strikes down a figure coming around the corner who turns out to be the beauty-shop owner, now no longer bestial. He finds Delphine asleep in a room upstairs and kisses her in an attempt to revive her to no avail. Delphine’s stepmother advises him that she has purified her and when he protests, blinds him in one eye, saying, “Those who come to see this thing, who were lured here by the siren’s call, become part of our family.” The closing sequence shows him tracking away behind a shadowy figure, transformed into a twisted dwarf behind his Snow White who remains, as ever, shadowy and elusive.

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5 Responses to “Ng Suat Tong: Delphine # 1-4”

  1. DerikB says:

    Great piece, Ng. You’ve convinced me to read it.

  2. Wesley says:

    Rather than Clark Ashton Smith, when Delphine mentioned the spider I thought of Through a Glass Darkly. Which is a little weird because I actually have a complete volume of Smith’s stories on my bookshelves. (Not to mention the rulebook to the Call of Cthulhu game, which not only mentions Atlach-Nacha but gives it hit points.)

  3. Ng Suat Tong says:

    Thanks, Derik. I think “Delphine” is possibly a better book than “Cat Burglar Black” which I found quite entertaining on a quick read through a few weeks back.

    Wesley – I think you’re possibly more “correct” than I am. My only excuse: I haven’t seen that Bergman movie for well over 10 years and it’s not one of my favorites.

  4. Dries says:

    Hey Suat, thanks for this thought-provoking review. I consider the Delphine tetralogy as one of the – if not the – strongest works of Sala hitherto.

  5. Ng Suat Tong says:

    Dries: Coming from such a big collector of Sala’s art, those latter comments of yours mean quite a bit. I wonder what Sala feels about it himself. It does appear to be one of his least publicized comics which may be a function of its format.