Thursday, October 1, 2020

There is a Graveyard That Dwells in Man (ed.) David Tibet

"...when men say that there are strange things in the world, they little know the awe and the terror  that dwell always with them and about them."
                                                                                   -- Arthur Machen, "The Inmost Light"

It's like forever since I posted here last, thanks to the books that were on this year's Booker International longlist and a deep dive into James Ellroy's LA Quartet, but really, there's nowhere I'd rather be than in the reading realm of the strange.  It's October now, so that won't be difficult to manage.  

My latest read is an excellent anthology of short stories edited by David Tibet, There is a Graveyard That Dwells in Man. Some time ago I'd read his The Moons at Your Door and have been waiting impatiently for this book ever since.  I was not disappointed -- this collection more than delivered, something I don't generally say about most anthologies I read, and I don't think that it's an understatement at all to say that if any book will get you in the October/Halloween frame of mind, it's this one.   The completely unnerving, the weird, the ghostly,  the horrific, the familiar and the forgotten all come together here, making for hours of unsettling reading.  

Strange Attractor Press, 2020
440 pp

The full table of contents is here, and of these twenty-three stories I was delighted to have discovered eleven that I hadn't previously read, but the joy didn't stop there.  Rereading the other twelve became far more than a refresher -- in some cases casting a new eye made for a completely different reading experience.  To offer only two examples of many,  this time around it dawned on me that Walter de la Mare's "Seaton's Aunt" gave off more than just a little bit of an Aickman vibe  and EF Benson's "The Room in the Tower" took on much more of vampiric tone for me than I had originally noticed.    There were actually many of these moments, so anyone inclined to skip the familiar might want to do a rethink.  Adding to these two, the  list of my "already-reads" as I call them still managed to produce chills yet again:   "The Death Mask" by HD Everett, "The Slype House" by AC Benson, "The Shrine of Death" by Lady Dilke, The Inmost Light" by Arthur Machen, "The Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions, "The Sweeper," by A.M. Burrage,  "The Other Wing" by Algernon Blackwood,  "Afterward," by Edith Wharton, "The Watcher," by RH Benson and last but not least, "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  

from Pinterest

This book is described at Strange Attractor's website as offering an "unnerving, serpentine tributary to the canon of supernatural literature,"  and I can attest that  "unnerving" in some cases is a mild descriptor.   Of those stories I hadn't read until now, L.A Lewis' "Last Keep," Thomas Ligotti's "The Small People," and Nugent Barker's "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" so creeped me out that a) I woke up in a sweat one night after dreaming about Ligotti's story, b) I had to put the book down for some time after sitting and thinking about "Last Keep" which is absolutely evil, and c) at midday I had scared myself absolutely silly after finishing the Barker story.  All three of these tales were not only unnerving but downright chilling once I pondered the ramifications, but they also satiated my hunger for the off-kilter, uneasy feeling that I crave as I read.  They all go way beyond the boundary of simply a good scare to becoming so unforgettable to the point of swirling around in the brain long after finishing them.

from Tim Hill,  Pixabay 

Also falling into the strange zone are  "Paymon's Trio" by Colette de Curzon and "Liszt's Concerto Pathétique" by Edna W. Underwood,  both of which share a musical theme, but couldn't be  more different.  The first is somewhat subdued initially before it becomes a dark tale involving the call of the forbidden, while the second explores the question of 

"what vague but mentally potent beings dwell on the border line separating the real from the unreal, floating up perhaps from unthinkable depths of time and space, there to await the propitious moment for tapping some nerve of consciousness in us and establishing telegraphic communication with the soul?"

Underwood's tale is short, frightening and so beautifully written. In  "Padolo," set on a small, uninhabited island near Venice, author  LP Hartley may economize on words, but even though left somewhat unspoken, not on terror.   "Brickett Bottom" by Amyas Northcote and "A Black Solitude" by H.R. Wakefield move into more ghostly territory, while Wakefield's  "Present at the End" finds a man ridding himself of the demons that plague him.   There's also a dark poem by John Gower, "Slep Hath His Haus," which I had great fun reading out loud (it's in Old English), and a story by Richard Middleton, "The Bird in the Garden,"  in which a veil hangs about a child "which served to make all things dim and unreal,"  with the true horror coming when that veil is lifted. Oh. Gutwrenching. 

In my reading, there were two different times I found quotations that I thought so nicely expressed what I saw in all of these stories.  First from A.C. Benson's "The Slype House" comes the idea that 

"Oh, it is as appears; he hath been where he ought not, and he hath seen somewhat he doth not like"

followed later by the words of Arthur Machen in "The Inmost Light" in which says 

"...when men say that there are strange things in the world, they little know the awe and the terror that dwell always with them and about them."

I was so sorry to see this book end -- the choices of stories that David Tibet made to fill this volume are outstanding.  Do not miss his opening piece  "A Rainbow Rag to an Astral Bull," where he explains his idea of "the Graveyard," and be sure to read author Mark Valentine's "Biographical Notes" that close this volume.  

So very, very highly recommended, for lovers of the supernatural, the weird, and the forgotten.  

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