Friday, December 25, 2020
Monday, December 21, 2020
"spooky monks, a Vampire lady, a fatal duel, a gruesome Father Christmas and festive gifts from beyond the grave."
How could anyone possibly say no to all that? Each and every story is set at Christmas time, with not a bad story to be found anywhere.
For "Traditional Victorian spookiness" you can't go wrong with Irish writer Charlotte Riddell. Her "A Strange Christmas Game" finds a brother and sister who after years of grinding poverty inherit a house called Martingdale, and in doing so, discover the cause of their kinsman's strange disappearance on Christmas Eve forty years earlier. As the narrator says, "you pooh-pooh the existence of ghosts, and 'only wish you could find a haunted house in which to spend the night ...' but wait until you are left in a dreary, desolate old country mansion .." well, you get the drift. Not to steal thunder from the British Library, but Leonaur has an excellent collection of Riddell's Complete Supernatural and Weird Fiction available for readers who may be interested. Creepiness continues with Hume Nesbit's "The Old Portrait," about which the editor notes that "it's a powerful story of the Fin-de-Siècle period, and is akin to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Bram Stoker's Dracula, the latter of which it predates." Once you've read it, you'll immediately see why this is so. In the meantime, not even one baby hint. Next up from Louisa Baldwin (1895) is "The Real and the Counterfeit." In this story, the Christmas holidays bring "three young fellows" to "kick it up alone" at the Musgrave family home, Stonecroft. As one of the three notes, "an old house is not complete unless it is haunted," and to his surprise, he learns that the family has its own ghost, not seen since Grandfather Musgrave's time. Young Musgrave's lifetime desire to "become personally acquainted" with the family ghost just may happen, if his friend Armitage has anything to say about it. As a brief aside, for some reason, I was very much reminded of Montague Summers' "The Man on the Stairs" while reading this one. Described as "sweet rather than scary," and a story that "features a very Victorian idealised Christmas," Frank Richard Stockton's "Old Applejoy's Ghost" takes it very personally when his elderly grandson, "the old curmudgeon," makes absolutely no moves toward celebrating Christmas in the old family home.
|Victorian Christmas card from Ripley's Weird News|
From 1913, Algernon Blackwell's "Transition" is the story of "an ordinary man" who finds himself caught up in an extraordinary situation on his way home to deliver Christmas presents to his family, and that's all I will say. A.M. Burrage, whose name you may recognize from his story "Smee," is up next with "The Fourth Wall" from 1915, one of my favorite stories in this volume, and so very different from the others. Solicitor Jack Forran is told he must take time off work to recuperate from severe headaches; he, his wife, her brother, her sister and her sister's boyfriend all share a cottage "just outside the region of the fens." It's an ideally-secluded, "ripping old place" for these "normal, hard-headed people," until one of them begins to feel that the room they're in seems "stagey." Let the weirdness begin. Frankly, I am a bit sad that Burrage's work is not as well known as it should be -- he is one heck of a neglected but great teller of supernatural tales. I was sort of wondering why HP Lovecraft's "The Festival" would show up here, but as it turns out, the poor narrator in this story had absolutely no clue just how terrible his Christmas was about to get -- it's likely he will never, ever forget the strange Yule-rite. Creepsville. Seriously. In "The Crown Derby Plate" Marjorie Bowen has written one of the most effective ghost stories ever. It all begins when Miss Martha Pym hears of a nearby recluse who collects china and begins to wonder if perhaps she might just have a Crown Derby Plate to finish off her set which is one plate short. Going to see her at Hartleys just might provide Martha a double pleasure -- finding the plate and seeing the ghost in that house which is supposedly haunted. After all, as she says, she would very much like to, "particularly at Christmas for you can laugh as you like, that is the correct time to see a ghost."
|more Christmas card fun from Ripley's Weird News|
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Ghosts at Christmas, part one: The First and Second Leonaur Christmas Book of Great Stories (ed.) Eunice Hetherington
"Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders and blood."
Not that I don't enjoy reading that sort of thing at any time, but I do make an effort to find different collections of Christmas ghost stories every year. To my great delight, I discovered that Leonaur Books has published not one, but two volumes of Christmas Book of Great Ghost Stories.
paperback - 353 pp
|found at Pinterest|
Somehow the comments that people have been making for a couple of years have been stockpiled with no notification from Blogger, and had not one of my goodreads friends notified me about making a comment here, I never would have seen all of the others. My settings included getting an email whenever there was a comment made, but for some reason that hasn't been happening. I just figured no one was commenting. So to all who have, my apologies, and I'll be sure to check from now on.
I feel so stupid...
Saturday, December 5, 2020
hopefully, the first of many: The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Vol. 1 (ed.) James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle
"What if there were a whole world of great horror fiction out there you didn't know anything about, written by authors by distant lands and in foreign languages, outstanding horror stories you had no access to, written in languages you couldn't read? For an avid horror fan, what could be more horrifying than that?"
Luckily for readers like me who have experienced this dilemma, there's Valancourt's new Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories. This book is like a key that unlocks a door to a room which once opened, yields a library of previously-unknown treasures gathered from around the globe.
"if one takes the trouble to look hard enough, there's a much larger body of world horror fiction out there than any of us would suspect ... it often involves deep digging and venturing into uncharted waters."
The "deep digging and venturing into uncharted waters" is what the people at Valancourt do best, no matter what they publish, so I knew before I even ordered this book that I would not be disappointed. I wasn't.
Before you even get to the main event, Valancourt has included an aerial view of sorts with a look at which countries are represented and a little blurb about each story (not that this photo is particularly legible but you get the drift):
"While the language of horror is universal, its means of expression necessarily varies from culture to culture... "
and the stories in this book come from "voices and perspectives we have lived too long without."
I agree wholeheartedly, and it's a shame that more of the work of these authors has yet to be translated into English. The editors ask and answer the question of why this is so in their introduction, but at the same time it is just a bit frustrating to know that so much great writing is out there that remains unavailable to an English-language readership. Hopefully some day this will change, but for now at least we have this first volume as an introduction.
Very well done, and very highly recommended. Now awaiting a Volume Two.
Friday, November 20, 2020
"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..."
"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.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
(read October 30/31)
"it wouldn't be a Valancourt Book of Horror Stories if it didn't include a selection of rare tales from the 19th and 20th centuries..."
"Brace yourself; you will have a strong reaction to this story."
Trust me, that's putting it mildly. On one hand, the way the story is set up I knew that there was going to be something beyond weird that was going to happen; on the other, let's just say that I was in no way prepared for how monstrously hideous things turned out. Let's also just say that I wish I had a photo of my face after finishing it.
|paperback edition, Volume 3 (2018). Even with the hardcover, I had to have this one because of the awesome tiki cover.|
I am so sorry to say this, but of this group, Garrett Boatman's "Rain" just didn't do it for me -- while it was definitely engaging in parts, it came across as a sort of mix of Lovecraft's "The Music of Erich Zann" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" transplanted to the Texas Gulf coast during a hurricane. The others, however, are quite good, with honorable mention going to "Happy Birthday, Dear Alex," and "The Other Room," both especially fine tales and beyond poignant. The Belgian entries are fun as well, with "Rain and Gaslight" leaving me with that sense of things being off-kilter that I enjoy so much.
The stories included here range from the suspenseful to the strange, from the horrific to the harrowing, from yesteryear to today, and as is the case with every other Valancourt anthology, there is something for everyone to enjoy. They also make for fun reading, and I can only imagine what a great time James and Ryan must have had while putting this volume together. It's largely because of this series and the Christmas anthologies that my home library of older ghostly, gothic, horror, weird, and strange stories has grown immensely over the years -- all it took was a good story or two to start me on the road to my favorite type of reading, those long-forgotten, obscure, and in many cases, sadly-neglected stories from the past. Here's to many more in the future.
Definitely recommended with no hesitation.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
|I'm number 199|
Friday, October 23, 2020
back to the British Library: Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories From the Women of the Weird (ed.) Mike Ashley
"continued to experiment and develop the weird tale from its gothic beginnings and its thriving Victorian heyday into the twentieth century"
and these stories span a range in time from 1888 to 1952.
The first three, "A Revelation," by Mary E. Braddon, "The Sculptor's Angel" by Marie Corelli and Edith Nesbit's "From the Dead," are all ghostly tales, as is Marie Belloc Lowndes' "The Haunted Flat." Between the last two comes Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Christmas in the Fog" which has one of the best and most eerie visions of being caught in a thick fog I've ever encountered, but really, that's about all that impressed me there. It's not until I got to Alicia Ramsey's "A Modern Circe" that this book picked up speed and I found myself completely engaged until turning the last page. Ramsey's tale is truly weird, featuring a "handsome rogue" of a man who has the misfortune of encountering "The Mad Virgin of the Hills," because he and the entire Italian village know that "Those whom she calls never return." May Sinclair, whose work I absolutely love, is next with "The Nature of the Evidence," also on the ghostly side but with one of the finest and most unexpected twists ever. You don't have to read between the lines to figure out what happens here. "The Bishop of Hell" by Marjorie Bowen follows with the story of a "ruined" woman and the truly evil, debauched man responsible for her downfall. I love Bowen's stories and this one is just example why.
And then we come to my favorite section of this book, with a few stories written by, as Ashley notes, "less well known" women writers who "dared enter the male stronghold of the pulp magazine and established their own reputation for the modern weird tale. " These topped my list of favorites. Three strong examples can be found in Margaret St. Clair's "Island of the Hands" (1952), Greye La Spina's "The Antimacassar" (1949), and "White Lady," by Sophie Wenzel Ellis (1933) St. Clair's story finds a man plagued not only with grief after his wife's death, but also with a recurring dream in which he sees her standing there, begging for him to come to her. Her plane had crashed "in perfect weather" even as he was speaking to her by radio, and while a search was mounted, no trace of her was ever found. He knows logically that she's dead, but the feeling is so strong that after three months of dreams and a decision to "abandon rationality," he decides he has to go look for her, and his search takes him to a strange island where everything is perhaps not what it seems. "The Antimacassar" appeals to the part of my reading self that appreciates a good mix of mystery and pulp horror, as it is a blending of both. When Cora Kent, Lucy Butterfield's "immediate superior," fails to return from her vacation, Lucy decides to use part of her own time off to try to find out what had happened to her. With a little luck, her search takes her to a farm owned by a Mrs. Renner, who denies ever knowing Cora. Lucy believes otherwise, and decides to stay for a week to do a little "self-imposed detective work" when not learning weaving from Mrs. R. She soon discovers that finding Cora Kent is probably the least of her problems at present. "White Lady" just might be the strangest story in the entire book; certainly one of the most fun to read and definitely the most deliciously exotic. Set on a remote island in the Caribbean, Brynhild is spending time with her fiancé André, a scientist who "experimented fantastically with tropical plant life." As he shares with her his "supreme achievement," a flower he calls White Lady, she begins to believe that not only he has gone well beyond the point of obsession with this thing, but that this "bête blanche" is much more than a mere plant.
|Strange Tales, January 1933 issue. From Howard Works|
In "The Laughing Thing," by GG Pendarves, a sick man who is cheated out of money on a land deal vows to return after his death to make the other party pay. He promises that it will be "a payment that will not reduce your bank account," which only makes his nemesis laugh. As the saying goes, he who laughs last laughs best, but there is nothing funny at all in what happens next. "Candlelight" by Lady Eleanor Smith finds five people together at a weekend party (two couples and an unmarried man) which is interrupted when they discover they're being watched by a gypsy girl. For kicks, the hostess invites her to tell their fortunes, but the fun ends when the girl actually does. Jessie Douglas Kerruish provides "The Wonderful Tune," which turns out not to be so wonderful after all once it's played. I saw where this one was headed not to far into the story but it's still fun. "The Unwanted" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman (of whom I am a huge fangirl) is truly on the weird side as a census worker in the hills of Alabama encounters a poor farmer and his wife. All is well until she inquires about the number of children they have ... Last but not at all least is Leonora Carrington's "The Seventh Horse" which may at first seem nonsensically bizarre, but there is method in her surrealistic madness.
Much reading happiness here; Queens of the Abyss is one of the best volumes of the series so far, and the British Library Tales of the Weird series overall is a definite no-miss for lovers of the truly strange. My reader hat is tipped to editor Mike Ashley, who has been one of the best and most prolific finders and curators of these long-forgotten stories over a long career. Definitely and highly recommended.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
"the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who's different or lonely..."
and the true question to be answered here is this: "But what really goes on inside?"
The house itself is located off an alley, and one must go through a "small black iron door" set in a brick wall to enter the grounds. In a nutshell (because to tell is definitely to spoil), over the thirty-six year period during which this novel takes place, a number of different people find the mysterious door, make their way through and are never seen again. While they are inside, each person finds himself/herself in the midst of something unique and caught up in an experience specifically tailored for each indivual -- the teenager, Nathan Bishop, for example, has been invited to come along with his mom Rita who has been invited to Slade House by a certain Lady Grayer to attend a musical soirée along with other guests including Yehudi Menuhin. Then there's the cop who after nine years comes to investigate the Bishops' last known location and meets up with the present owner of the place. Or as just one more example, Sally Timms, who accompanies a small group of fellow Paranormal Society friends who had planned to investigate the house but find themselves invited to a crazy party going on inside. Each character provides his or her own firsthand narrative of his or her own experiences, allowing for more of a sense of immediacy to the novel, which heightens the chills and the creep factor all the way through. Giving the book even more of an eerie edge are the ties between past and present that link together everyone who has entered Slade House. Characters reappear in others' experiences, playing a role in some way or another, and with each successive visitor, we also get closer to what exactly is going on at the heart of it all.
inside of Slade House, from the cover inset. Blurry, so it's obviously my photo.
Some readers have found the continual firsthand narratives to be "tedious" after a while, what I call a sort of lather-rinse-repeat format, but I didn't at all -- with each chapter I braced myself for what could possibly come next, and there was even one that fooled me completely, prompting a huge out-loud gasp and a "holy s**t" when I tumbled to what was going on. Each character has a distinct life, a distinct background and his or her own voice; in reading their stories, it was easy to see that the author spent quite a lot of time on the people in this book, getting into their somewhat damaged psyches and fleshing them out with the most human of qualities, and as time moved on, so did worldly concerns outside of Slade House. My only complaint about the book is that there seemed to be bits of expository overload here and there when I just wanted to move on with things , and that's really just a minor niggle in the face of what is a most delightfully-absorbing, sinister, haunting and mysterious story. Any writer who can toss in a trove of old tropes into one novel, blend them together and make them come out as a rollicking good read and not same old same old tired certainly gets my vote.
A heads up to potential readers: while not particularly necessary, it might be a good idea to have read Mitchell's The Bone Clocks prior to reading Slade House. I didn't, but having just read a synopsis of The Bone Clocks earlier (knowing that this book was somehow related), the last chapter made much more sense; I also just discovered that this book is just one more in the "vast shared universe" in his other works. The bottom line is that it probably won't really matter too much here -- curl up, grab your favorite tea, and just have fun with it.
Friday, October 9, 2020
The British Library Tales of the Weird series is back again with several new titles (yay!). I love these books, so I'm always excited when one lands at my door.
In her introduction, editor Elizabeth Dearnley notes that in the years following the Clean Air Act of 1956, "true London fog" had disappeared. The stories and essays in this book range from 1868 to 1957, "all written within the decades when London was at its foggiest..." She also presents a unique method of ordering her lineup, arranging the stories as a sort of literary tour of London, inviting readers to "take a closer look at some the more uncanny corners of the city." The first story is set in Temple, with the final entry taking us to Peckham. It's quite clever, actually, although not being a Londoner myself, I had to have a map of the city to refer to while going from story to story.
my photo, my book, published by Anchor Books, 2006
"the city becomes an ethereal, haunted place, unhuman, otherworldly, where people move about in a fevered, dreamlike state."
Given that Banville's description of Bowen's wartime London aligns so closely with Dearnley's vision for this collection, I'm not surprised that "The Demon Lover" is included in this book. What's great about this story is that it works on different levels; if, however, you only give it a supernatural meaning, you miss something even darker underneath. Mrs. Drover's "first scream" has haunted me for years. This is not just a good story -- it is a great story.
Now to the one story I hadn't read, Rhoda Broughton's "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth." This one is her first ghost story, written in 1868 as a series of letters between two women friends, Elizabeth and Cecilia. Elizabeth has found a London house for Cecilia and her family in Mayfair after an exhausting search, with the price an absolute steal. It's not until a few weeks later that Cecilia learns something about the house and informs her husband, but as a typical male knowing better than his wife, he "pooh-poohed the whole story," and "derided" her "babyish fears." Little does he know. I have to say that I loved the male humbling in this story, in which the actual terror comes only at the very end, while in the meantime, Broughton does a fine job of escalating the tension.
The other stories in this book are as follows:
As part of Into the London Fog, the editor has chosen to add in five pieces from various authors who have both experienced and written about the foggy city, another factor making this volume a bit different from the norm of this series. At first, I was sort of like "what the ... ?" because "eerie" must be in the eye in the beholder and I didn't particularly find any of the four to be so; they were nonfiction, which completely threw me, and finally here I am, having made my way through four ghostly tales and then I run into Thomas Burke's "War" extracted from London In My Time, followed by thirty pages of Virginia Woolf and Claude McKay, completely distrupting the reading flow until returning to the supernatural with Machen's "N" and the psychologically creepy "The Lodger. " Then it's back to Sam Selvon and more nonfiction before three more other-worldly tales, and by the time I'd reached the article written about "Spring-Heeled Jack," my reading rhythm was just completely off.
Don't get me wrong: these little glimpses that offer "further constructions of the city and how it was experienced, showing the potential for strangeness in the most mundane urban encounters"
were fine in their own right, informative, and very well written -- my complaint is that having them tossed into the midst of the fictional stories threw me off balance readingwise. Perhaps a better way to introduce them would have been to have them all grouped together at the end of the fictional tales; I know I would have enjoyed the book a lot more had that been the case.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
And My Head Exploded: Tales of Desire, Delirium and Decadence from Fin-de-Siecle Prague (ed.) Michael Tate
I've always felt that the opening story in any anthology or collection should not only whet the appetite for what will follow, but also offer the reader an idea of what to expect thematically. The first story, Julius Zeyer's "Inultus: A Prague Legend" (1892) meets both of those criteria. This story is a blending of art, aestheticism, myth, death and a femme fatale sort of figure, along with an added religious/nationalistic dimension that enhances this tale of "bloodthirsty madness." It begins with a chance meeting between a poor poet and a sculptress who is trying to create a sculpture of Christ; eventually and reluctantly he agrees to serve as her model. His face, though "beautiful and melancholy" isn't quite enough for her as she desires something more. Zeyer also has another story in this book, "El Cristo de la Luz: A Toledo Legend" the story of a zealous, would-be murderer who has a rather unexpected mystical union with Christ. After reading these two, which are part of a tryptich called Tři legendy o krucifixu (1895), I decided I would really like to read more of Zeyer but there seems to be little of his work published in English, and a book I would like to have about him, Julius Zeyer: The Path To Decadence by Robert Pynsent, is long out of print with used copies selling in the three figures. Yikes.
Following Zeyer are two stories by Bozena Benešová, another writer who is woefully untranslated as well as the sole woman writer represented here. The "Biographical Notes" section describes her prose as
"anti-sentimental and psychological, dealing with women's issues, typically from the point of view of a marginalized female protagonist"
all of which are reflected in her "Tale for All Souls' Day" (1902) and "In the Twilight" (1900). The first takes place over five days in October and is related through the point of view of a woman in mourning. She has four months left to go until the end of her "imprisonment" so that she can go "out into the world, for the sun, for life, for love." After all, social convention requires that the "year of mourning must run up to its last minutes." It is from this story that the book's title is derived, as she recounts the crumbling of her brain, her steps toward regrowing , and the moment when, as she says, "straight away my head exploded." More overtly critical in nature, her second story finds a woman "wholly overcome with pain and sorrow ... so long suppressed" finding herself letting it all "burst out in full force."
Judith in the Tent of Holofernes, by Johann Liss. From The National Gallery
My hands-down favorite in this volume is "Cortigiana" by Miloš Marten. Here, as in Zeyer's work, art and death come together in the story of Isotta, a beautiful scholar of Plotinus from childhood and now a courtesan in plague-ridden Florence. She has discovered a way of "taking her revenge from life for its fradulence," and after one such moment, decides to "pursue the caustic fire that was penetrating her," taking her cue from the story of Sardanapalus in one final, fatal act of revelry. I couldn't help but think of Poe as reading this one, but there's more than a touch of the vampiric as well.
The Death of Sardanapalus from Wikipedia