The Burning Circus

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“THE BURNING CIRCUS” (2013)
BFS HORROR 1
An Anthology for British Fantasy Society Members

Edited by Johnny Mains
Introduction by Ramsey Campbell

Fiction by Adam Nevill, Thana Niveau, Angela Slatter, Alex Hamilton, Lynda E. Rucker, Stephen Volk, Muriel Gray, Rob Shearman.

**My review will take place in the comment stream below as and when I read each story.**

The corners of this book’s covers can kill!

10 thoughts on “The Burning Circus

  1. Doll Hands – Adam Nevill
    “Inside my stomach I feel a sickish skitter.”
    This story of a sheltered property and a banquet for its strange residents is not in one of your crazy cruel nightmares but in the real future. However, it is like a crazy cruel nightmare, not unlike a painting by George Grosz.
    Told by the one with the big head and doll hands, this story shows that the residents in the home are quite normal in what you would expect for a crazy cruel nightmare, but if it’s not a crazy cruel nightmare, which it patently isn’t, then these residents will certainly haunt your future crazy cruel nightmares about such a banquet and its caterers and its living provender and such provender kept behind from the banquet for you to deal with when you wake up…
    “Whuff, whuff, whuff, they went.”

  2. Death Walks en Pointe – Thana Niveau
    An accomplished but run-of-the-mill whodunnit murder and maiming in a ballet setting, a cursed performance and a cursed company. But I enjoy any story with mannequins and mechanical costumes. (cf Doll Hands – and waking life has real people and mannequins, but dreams swap them the other way round – including how much they can see for themselves.)

    This story’s score: 5, 7, 7, 7 – strictly speaking.

  3. The Burning Circus – Angela Slatter
    “These thoughts are pointless, weightless…”
    Although this book’s stories were no doubt independently written, I sense that the previous story by an author with a ‘niveau’ that in French means ‘level’ was a vital link in the audit trail of a possibly unintentional gestalt, whereby this Slatter story – densely textured and memorable as it is – combines the commencing cruel injustice of captivity like that in the Nevill (levil, nevel, niveau) with the tip-toe aspiration for flight of ballet. The female protagonist here has shoes with loose heels that demand of me the book’s earlier cruelty to feet – and her own injustice reaches by quest the (very atmospherically conveyed) Burning Circus where an act of defying gravity (like some ballet) is of more audience interest than a man burning on the floor, or being cooked as in the first story. A trio of stories then that reach their level of retributing or redistributing injustice. Each level slatted like diving platforms…

  4. Where is Uncle Philip? – Alex Hamilton
    “… each dear departed as they took up horizontal residence here.”
    I recently visited a cemetery in Leytonstone where I was amazed how squashed together the grave-plots were, some subsiding uglily, many with stone angels that were unusually tall – as if stretching toward Heaven. I remember wondering if more than one level of burial would help, bearing in mind the place already looked over-full…
    But now I read this story in a similar cemetery, an engaging and charmingly humorous tale of a man on a similar quest as the lady in the previous story seeking the circus, with his seeking being on behalf of his aunt to lay flowers at the site of where his uncle was buried, except he doesn’t know where it is in this badly mapped and crammed place. And no birds…
    He meets a couple of chatty but mainly unhelpful wags with a noisy tractor.
    There seems again some seeking out of a retributory or poignant truth, as if his aunt knew who lay beside her husband here, or, as in life, a level beneath him? Whether or not there are ghosts with homely tinctures in this place, I leave it to you to discover your own plot within the story (“book a slot here”) but, in the light of the gestalt of the previous trio of stories, it seems significant that our man thinks that the “the stone angels now look like birds.”

  5. A new day. And a new gestalt for the second half of this book?

    The Queen in the Yellow Wallpaper – Lynda E. Rucker
    “Each generation that came into possession of it made additions and architectural embellishments and what stands today is a sort of hideous discordant symphony of a house.”
    I love discordant symphonies! And I love this story (about a married couple gone to a house called Carcosa to care for the husband’s ‘sick’ sister), imbued as it is with many ‘comforting’ horror tropes (including Robert W Chambers’ ‘King in Yellow’ and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ (the latter story often being used in academic feminist circles as a recommended text for study – a fact that resonates with some of this story’s themes)). Here it does not seem to matter that we are steeped in those potentially stereotypical horror tropes – the pleasure comes in this story from embracing them and their embracing you. Meanwhile, I sense this author is suspicious of the ‘avant garde’ in Art and Literature (something I have noted before, I think), yet whether by design or, more likely, by accidental synchronicity, the author makes her female narrator seem to become subsumed within the sick sister’s avant garde play being written around her, making her, the narrator, into the eponymous Queen herself? A sort of embrace, despite disgust, of the experimental (paradoxically within a seemingly formulaic horror story!) and the outré. This story really makes you think on several levels (as does the Gilman story in its own right).

  6. I don’t know if it is just me, but since exploring the niveau-nevill word connection in a ‘brainstorming’ fashion earlier, I have noticed most of the surnames of the authors in this book seem significant to their own or to another story or at least obliquely to the horror genre in general or all of these things. Even ‘mains’ has an element of a source or substation for horror…. ‘campbell’, the bell-ringer or campanologist bringing us to the banquet…

    The Peter Lorre Fan Club – Stephen Volk
    “A story is open to many interpretations. The more flimsy the story, the greater number of possible interpretations.”
    This highly strong story belies that very tenet. This story will affect you deeply and I’m inclined to just let you read it first and then for us both to get together in a derelict old farm house to discuss it. Thrash it out.
    Suffice to say, it has the mutual subsuming of plot and truth as in Rucker’s own house of telling – a retribution with the here dialogue-heavy arguable right and wrong deriving from the Nevill, the earlier quest for the circus, the earlier quest for the grave-plot, both quests like the still questing-from-and-about-childhood obsession here for an amazing vision of Peter Lorre and his parts, the whodunnit not of a ballet company but of Jew, Nazi, Cinematic artifice, the actual punishment of a body to make it LOOK punished when it’s used in Art or Avant Garde….“rather like a ruthless animal trainer at the circus.”

  7. The Garscube Creative Writing Group – Muriel Gray
    “What new, inventive suffering had today’s veterinary students inflicted on their helpless, animal captives?”
    Gray’s is serendipitously or synchronously a telling extrapolation upon Rucker’s own version of creative writing (there a play). For me, I wonder if this protagonist is also cross-fertilising the truth of the creative writing group where he is the only male with the fiction of what he is writing for it. His ‘day job’ is caretaker of a veterinary studies that has an incinerator… And the Volk story also lends its weight.
    This story is an excellent heuristic adumbration of the strong feelings in the hothouse of creative writing.
    “The strength of the story demanded that she be kept alive to suffer.”

    And, meanwhile, the stories in this book increasingly jostle for prominence as my ‘favourite’….as Brucie might say.

  8. The Sixteenth Step – Rob Shearman
    “Fate, I suppose. Who knows why things happen, they just do.”
    An ingenious, sometimes chilling, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous tale, a tale about a con-artist chancer and his lady, involving the unrequited love of two ladies and the concept of the chancer ‘not being good but without being entirely bad’ (cf the Yellow Wallpaper ethos). Chilling, indeed, and suspenseful, with the stairs in an atmospheric seaside bed-and-breakfast place having normally fifteen steps (the levels of life, not like a ladder of slats, but rather like the gradations of fate always leading to the next chance or chancer?) …. but sixteen steps can be counted when it is completely dark. The stairs’ outcome is frightening, surrealistic, literally ‘avant garde’. A fine coda to the book’s gestalt. 10, 10, 10, 10.

    …….
    “He flicked the mains switch off at the door and locked up.”

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