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BEST BRITISH SHORT STORIES edited by Nicholas Royle
THE THREE BIG BOOKS & THE WEIRD edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
And many more linked from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
“He softly kicked the ball of wool on its way, with a sly wink at me, adding – ‘That’s how they get there, unless the Twins walk off with them in another direction, among the trees;…’”
On one level a ludicrously and disarmingly unbelievable plot, on another an effective echo of the First World War trenches and the precarious coal mine working conditions back home. “…the horror lay in the suffocating fog, and in the apparent wish to haul me into some abyss” and the no man’s land between trenches…A mix of real-time account by a defiant but shell-shocked, hell-shocked man with war-injured leg, allowed to visit the large house with what you will ever surely store away in your mind as the Low Lawn, a new archetype to conjure with, and someone else, a fellow soldier as friend, viewing this account in hindsight, as I do, at a shadowy third remove, with my own real-time review of the story he concocts, as truth or dream.
Why was the lame man allowed by his sweetheart to go to meet her family in this large house as her affianced but without her? The house where you had to go indoors at 5 pm into a sort of brief visit to Bonnyville scenario, imprisoned inside from the horrific visions outside, whatever ironmongery files upon a soft hasp can do. Visions that are seriously worthy of the greatest writers of the weird like Machen’s Angel of the Mons and William Hope Hodgson’s House on the Borderland. A very strong story in this way that, for me, has the best description of what I have long found to be gluey or treacly or foggy Zenoism as major themes in much weird literature such as Aickman and many others (see countless reviews on my websites)…”’Something’ retarded my every step! I found myself trying to put into words my inability to get along,…”
And a ‘fairyland of flowers’ inside the house in all the rooms including a domed garden with clock golf! To compensate for keeping the things outside outside! A mutant apotheosis of Elizabeth Bowen!
A brain fever that even makes Cartesian philosophy complicit!
“‘Dear child, I’m a man with a thinking machine. I can’t promise not to think,’ I said.”
The WOMEN’S WEIRD context of above review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/21/womens-weird-more-strange-stories-by-women-1891-1937/
by Katherine Mansfield (1912)
“‘….the novelty never ceases. I feel each day is our first day together.’
‘Oh, it is the sense of “home” which is so precious to me – it is the wonderful sense of peace – of the rooms sanctified – of the quiet permanence – it is that which is so precious after –’”
This is quite a revelation for me. I genuinely believed that I had reviewed all this author’s collected stories HERE, but this marvellous ghost story seems not to be among them!
In apotheotic synergy with Walter de la Mare (my reviews of all his stories HERE), this Mansfield story with Bloomsbury references tells of a girl or young lady in a rainstorm with soggy package of madeira cake who shelters in the porch of house that is to be let or sold. And somehow she is transported within as a future idyllic life in the house as herself with a husband or are they children role-playing their adult selves with teddies and their own pretend children? A house we now live in ourselves for a nonce. A life or lives left unlived! It is pure magic, general fiction as well as ghost story fiction at its very best, and thanks to this book for bringing it to my attention. The ‘quiet permanence’ that is ourselves…
WOMEN’S WEIRD context of above review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/21/womens-weird-more-strange-stories-by-women-1891-1937/
“, the gentle slope of the hills and the church spire in the background – but still it is well done. It gives me the impression of an artist…”
Whatever that description of a painting in a so-called hall bedroom really is, this story itself is a “vestibule” to nowhere or heaven, a narrowing channel to the ‘fifth dimension’, or whatever takes the reader’s fancy, full of fragrances and tastes, where effects precede causes… “It seemed as if the odour reached my mentality first.” The brain says rose, then the nose smells it.
A sort of archetypal haunted painting story, here in a boarding house on 240 Pleasant Street, and its hall bedroom with a haunting backstory.
“I seemed to be wading breast-high through flower-beds of Paradise,…” Eventually touching those denizens that a mere struck match makes vanish…
Whether dream or a new religion, I note there were once 240 pence in a pound, the mock pleasure of money, and that piece of paper with figures just accounts…
…’advance and retreat’ of bliss like life’s river? To heaven or nowhere.
“It was never cloying, though of such sharp sweetness that it fairly stung. It was the merging of a material sense into a spiritual one. I said to myself, ‘I have lived my life and always have I gone hungry until now.’”
WOMEN’S WEIRD context of this review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/21/womens-weird-more-strange-stories-by-women-1891-1937/
PS I presume this American author was privy to the pervasive numerical nature of the British currency!
From above story: “The income was not enough to support me in any kind of comfort, and I saw that I must in some way earn money. […] …although that actually took my last penny, that is, the last penny of my ready money, and I was forced to draw on my principal to purchase my first supplies, a thing which I had resolved never on any account to do.“ (my italics)
“The struggle for money always injures the fine grain of a woman;…”
PPS cf my review of WHAT WAS IT? by Fitz James O’Brien: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/26/fitz-james-obrien-what-was-it/
In alphabetical order, still ongoing…
ACROSS THE STREET: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15799
THE BEGINNINGS OF A SIN: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1887
A BELFAST MEMORY: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/781-2/#comment-816
THE FELLA I KNEW: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15813
THE FOUNTAIN-PEN SHOP WOMAN: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15804
THE GRANDMASTER: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15802
THE GREAT PROFUNDO: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15796
IN THE HILLS ABOVE LUGANO: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1903
JUST VISITING: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15818
LANGUAGE, TRUTH AND LOCKJAW: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1897
LEARNING TO DANCE: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/781-2/#comment-814
LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW I: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15807
LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW II: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15819
MORE THAN JUST THE DISEASE: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1902
MY DEAR PALESTRINA: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1878
O’DONNELL v. YOUR MAN: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15815
ON THE ROUNDABOUT: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/781-2/#comment-812
A PORNOGRAPHER WOOS: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1866
A RAT AND SOME RESERVATIONS: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/29/the-collected-stories-of-bernard-maclaverty/#comment-26047
SILENT RETREAT: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15805
ST MUNGO’S MANSION: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15817
ST PAUL COULD HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/29/the-collected-stories-of-bernard-maclaverty/#comment-26069
THE TROJAN SOFA: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/781-2/#comment-813
VISIT TO NORWAY: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15811
THE WAKE HOUSE: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15810
WALKING THE DOG: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/#comment-15800
THE WEDDING RING: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/781-2/#comment-817
WORDS THE HAPPY SAY: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/bernard-maclaverty/#comment-1898
To be continued…
To transcend ChatGPT, something I have already been trying to do, unbeknownst even to myself, for years with my belief in Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy, Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing and perhaps even my own style of writing stories since the days of yore!
To any author Des has reviewed before — if they have a new story recently published or soon to be published in a collection or anthology — they may have a review that also advertises where it is published.
The same goes for any publisher to offer up a sample from any new anthology or collection published.
Just send word doc or other means of reading it here: firstname.lastname@example.org
LINKS TO ANY FUTURE REVIEWS WILL BE SHOWN IN COMMENT STREAM BELOW.
Previous such one-off reviews here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/06/the-single-story-toward-a-novel-world/
“…Art has nothing whatever to do with what is called ‘morality’; happily we know that at last!”
This is an intensely creepy work, evolving from a piece of fluff or “nothing now but a drenched smear swirling round the nymphs of Thetis!” to, I infer, a feather boa worn by one the two ladies in Prague and Paris whom the writer (Augustine Marchant now at the more innocently countrified Abbot’s Medding) once met now being reconfigured in his so-called poetic work that his neighbours know little about, and then to a gigantic cobra, all three visions of such frightful realities threaded through with various images of the Garden of Eden, and, from a different point of view, we gain a glimpse of the same story as seen by the young callow illustrator who is to do the book’s artwork for Augustine’s writing and who is somehow palmed off by Augustine…
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“Have you never noticed that in country churchyards there are no graves on the north side of the church?”
This is MR-Jamesian galore! Slugs and snails, and holy water stoups. Almost a puzzle to go with a nursery rhyme based on Tudor history, Mary Queen of Eleanor Scott, not a snip nor snail, but sugar and spice, helped by some of the many footnotes in this excellent book. An American man insisting that whatever Elizabethan house he purchased should include a ghost. Little did he know! And there is much to fathom out here, many passages in book and house to thread, and its compass points, images and icons of the eponymous Apostles or Saints, knitted with genuine slimy scenes of horror. Even an ambiguous reference to the then current Colour Question in America, eugenics or freedom? And a Dürer-like sketch that is not coloured at all, I guess… “He could hardly take his eyes from the fascinating, fascinated gaze of the picture.” And arguably even a prophecy of my gestalt real-time reviewing it today! — with all my manic desire to anagrammatise etc.! If not to misquote!
“‘I believe the misquotations are intentional.’ […] ‘But it strikes me, sir, that any text that’s copied in full is wrong and that’s the clue.’ […] They puzzled over this for some time, replacing letters by figures, rearranging the letters to form anagrams, seeking for some principle to guide them to the clue.”
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/12/07/unfinished-business-a-ghost-story-anthology/#comment-26145
Full context of this review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/02/womens-weird-strange-stories-1890-1940/
“I drew a sigh of enjoyment as I stretched out my legs before the fire and sipped the excellent coffee at my elbow. Strutt had found me a woman of sorts to do the cooking – marvellous fellow Strutt! – and certainly she could cook, though the glimpse I had caught of her through the kitchen door as I went into the dining-room proved her a dour and in truth most ill-favoured looking old lady, with a chenille net, a thing I had thought as dead as the Dodo, holding up her back hair. I rang for some more coffee, and as usual, Strutt was at my elbow almost as my finger left the bell-push.”
…a double-elbowed sense of calm and contentment in a house at the start, if also a telegraphing of the off-putting glimpse of Mrs Barker! – prior to what it says above about this story on its tin – a haunted saucepan! “….one of the few cases of genuine ‘queerness’. Something really uncanny, I mean.”
The days of valets who rub down their masters, and static servants who embody a house, and if it were not for the trite denouement of the haunting over-explained in the last few pages and if one removes those last few pages, this is a genuinely scary work. Scary, despite the saucepan’s ludicrous rakish tip of its lid and and its recurrent bubbling, and poor Ben the collie dog used as potential spear-carrier to test out its poisons. What makes it scary is – “the grandfather clock seemed to hide a long lean thing that peered furtively at us with narrow horrible eyes … […] The exquisite caution of the sound made…” My italics. Pause on pause on pause as what I have often called the essential ‘gluey Zenoism’ of ghost stories. “…entered – paused – and walked towards the stove.” Ever halfway between the door and what the ghost intends to do, till the mighty fruition of frissons… each time the promise of a “new evil”…”Oh, it was beyond words vile and awful, that sound – and to know, as now we did know, that Something – Someone – did actually, sans human light, gas or anything of that sort, set a-boiling in that horrible little saucepan some devil’s brew of some sort,…” Who owns a slow pot today? Many of us, I guess.
But what does it all mean? And the deadpan culmination of something ever, pause upon pause, approaching the point of happening, without it truly happening, especially if you ignore the last few pages! … “– began with ‘p’ but she couldn’t say the word…”
Context of above review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/02/womens-weird-strange-stories-1890-1940/
PS: Saucepan, the ultimate pausecan?
Edited by Melissa Edmundson
My previous reviews of classic or older works: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
My other reviews of books edited by Melissa Edmundson: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/02/womens-weird-strange-stories-1890-1940/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/12/27/the-outcast-and-the-rite-helen-de-guerry-simpson/
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…