Friday, November 20, 2020

"a different domain: " The Nightfarers, by Mark Valentine


Tartarus Press, 2020
219 pp


In the story "The Axeholm Toll," I marked a particular sentence which perfectly describes my experience with reading the stories in this book:
"We enter them, and a sense steals over us of being in a different domain."

The best writers, in my humble reader opinion, somehow manage to deliver stories that shut out the sensory realm altogether and deliver me fully into the world(s) that they've created.   That's certainly how it is in the case of The Nightfarers, in which the author's elegant, atmospheric and often ethereal writing takes you into (again quoting from "The Axholme Toll")

"...places which have their story stored already, and want to tell us this, through whatever powers they can..." 

with the people in these stories best personifying those spoken of in the epigraph by Angelus Silesius who  "would see The Light that is beyond all light," by "faring forth Into the darkness of the Night."  It is only there where they may stumble upon what "each place" will "reach out to us, to tell us, tell us what it holds." 

My very favorite stories in The Nightfarers are those relating to books, literature, or browsing in bookstores. No surprise there -- I'm very much like the narrator of  "The Axeholm Toll" who notes that 
"I am by nature solitary and prefer nothing better than quietness and my own company, with a good fire and a good book." 

I did have to laugh when I started reading The Nightfarers, a timely coincidence since when I started it I  was eagerly awaiting news of the winners of both the National Book Prize and The Booker Prize. The first story, "The 1909 Prosperine Prize," begins with several judges who have come together to decide who will win that award.  The shortlist for this literary award comes down to seven entries (Algernon Blackwood, Marjorie Bowen, William Hope Hodgson, Bram Stoker, 'Sabazeus', and MP Shiel), but it seems the judges cannot make up their mind. The secretary's plan to push through the indecision is nothing short of genius.  Major book love going on not just here, but in several of the other stories in this volume.    "White Pages," for example, finds a lover of "obscure old books" actually finding a sought-for,  "very scarce" book called Invisible Friends, so-named for a reason, while in "Undergrowth," a man who wants to be left alone while browsing bookstores without any help from the proprietor finds himself eventually roaming through books on his own in a rather unique way.  I had to read this one twice just to make sure that what I thought was happening was happening.  This story is a little gem, but there may be something in the advice given in "The White Pages" in terms of riffling the pages of any book you might read before starting it.  The rather ethereal  "The Inner Sentinel" is a story in which the narrator finds himself piecing together "some hints of a vast history" in his dreams which become more than a feeling that he's "lived another life" in the space of sleep.  This one is absolutely beautiful, transporting me into the narrator's visions as life outside  of myself faded to nothing; it is also as the author notes in the "About the Stories" section of this book, "a tribute to William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land.   "The Bookshop in Novy Svet" was another story that made me do a double take at the end, another absolutely brilliant work featuring an actuary, a bookstore owner, an artist and dying poets, all the while reminding me for some reason of Meyrink. Hmm. I think it's pretty obvious by now  that I absolutely loved "The Axeholme Toll," which begins with a mention of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Merry Men" leading to talk of "enclaves within the solid land of the country, which are islands in a different sense."  

  Of the remainder of the stories, the eerie "The White Sea Company" also falls into the favorites category, as does "The Dawn at Tzern"   and "The Seer of Trieste."  The others I haven't mentioned due to time considerations,  "Their Dark and Starry Mirrors,"  "A Walled Garden on the Bosphorus" and "The Mascarons of the Late Empire" are all atmospheric pleasures which carry the feel of the fantastical, while "The Box of Idols" is a short but fun  little supernatural detective story. 

While it's a hard book to pin down as to category (and I don't think it needs to be)  The Nightfarers is an exquisite collection of stories from a writer of incredible genius and talent.  These stories should appeal to those readers who enjoy tales about what lies hidden underneath or alongside the material world that only a few rare people will ever experience, as well as to those readers who prefer being caught up in atmosphere rather than simply focusing on plot.  I can't recommend this one highly enough. 


  1. Looking forward to this. Have me down for a copy in the next few weeks...

    1. With apologies for being three weeks late (blame it on blogger and my stupidity for not checking for comments), it's a good one.

  2. This truly is a monumental collection. Valentine is a literary treasure. Have you read any of his stuff on book collecting?

  3. I don't think so, but I have several books of his waiting to be read.


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