Delicate Toxins – A Collection of Strange Tales
Edited by John Hirschhorn-Smith
Side Real Press (2011)
Purchased by me from the publisher.
Stories by Richard Gavin, Stephen J. Clark, Mark Howard Jones, R.B. Russell, rj krijnen-kemp, Angela Caperton, Katherine Haynes, Colin Insole, Mark Valentine, Daniel Mills, Reggie Oliver, Orrin Grey, Peter Bell, Michael Chislett, Mark Samuels, Thana Niveau, Adam S. Cantwell, D.P. Watt.
MY REAL-TIME REVIEW WILL EVENTUALLY TAKE PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW – AS AND WHEN I READ EACH STORY.
‘Delicate Toxins’ as a title seems to be a cousin of ‘Horror Without Victims’?
It is a highly luxurious book, with vibrant colours physically embedded and ridged on the outside board covers, with 340 tactile smooth stiffish pages inside and rich red print for many heading /story starts.
It is its own broodband, emanating waves of osmosis.
And the bathwater flows out with its baby creatures as they move with visible volition other shapes and particles toward the opening sinkhole of your mind.
A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress – Richard Gavin
“Would he eventually be unable or unwilling to make the distinction between molesting an ancient corpse and creating a fresh one?”
Encouraged by his mother, Josef lays himself open not only to the Blitz but also to putting himself in the way of meeting the Devil – torn between his duty to his wife and to this quest in eventual ironic hindsight. I found myself wondering whether it was the writing or my reading of it that was more entrancingly done than the other, making me also wonder if the author would first find his devil or me. Moral? Follow your desires as that may be better than them following you.
Salmacis – Stephen J. Clark
“It was vital to focus on phenomena and not personality.”
And, hence, in tune with my lifelong interest in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, we are led through consecutive guides and two main points of view subsidiary to an eighty year old’s tutelage, so as to triangulate intriguingly the coordinates of someone called Hanns Heinz Ewers, in interface with the naiad Salmacis, dubious photographs, open-endedness, journeys, 1902, Woźniki…
Although this book’s stories were presumably commissioned separately for such triangulation, I suspect there is a deeper reality, perhaps now forgotten by all concerned, where all the authors listed above sat round a table somewhere talking about how each of their stories would fit in.
Crossing The Sea Of Night by Mark Howard Jones
“Reality rarely lives up to our imagination – it has to obey much stricter rules.”
I once wrote of a novella by this author (here): “A tale of modern culture and lyrical serendipity darkly haunted by a labyrinthine originality as well as older echoes: fictions by (Christopher) Priest and (John) Fowles, ‘The Wicker Man’ film and (John) Cage’s prepared pianos.”
I now sense I should have also included ‘ewers of delicate toxin’, but perhaps only delicate because this wild, plain-spoken, ‘mad or evil scientist’ tale travels via a visionary poem and ends with a sense of its tutelary poet looking after the two sisters (one the narrator) who visit a pulpish version of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain sanatorium or a John Cowper Powys institution where theosophical monsters as well pure SF ones are part of the toxic healing process. I feel invigorated by the no nonsense prose and the otherwise nonsense plot without its poet. The poet saves it. The aftertaste is wonderful, too.
Some pitchers of ewers below:
The bottle on the book’s cover seems to contain a sort of Ewer-Tree.
Mathilde by R.B. Russell
“‘But the beginning is also the end,’ he said matter-of-factly.”
In itself matter-of-fact with tantalising empty glimpses beneath the matter or the fact. Yet such Proustian unrequited or unProustian requited love has its own place in my literary heart as I wander the words like a city of avenues between the neat ranks of letters where around each corner I expect to meet someone entrancing but never do. On the surface as a story of a man’s ostensible obsession with what his friends consider a femme fatale – with residual questions as to which of the couple was most unrequited in their love from the other, then the downfall of the narrator who later gets a job in the cafe which he once owned before he lost it because his business there failed, and followed by a tantalising non-kiss when sheltering in an old garage, and this Parisian story leads this matter-of-fact, almost Avant Garde tabula rasa towards its open ended dying fall. Strangely, I loved it, like watching a woman across the street in the window opposite, but I am not here in my window to watch any more because the story has ended, and I have become now merely someone people talk about as if he once existed despite a whole shedload of stuff he left behind all mixed up and gradually losing its electronic letters one by one till nothing is left, not even his name, still searching for some gestalt that was never there in the first place…
Dogs by rj krijnen-kemp
“You’ve not tasted nothing till you’ve eaten fight-dead dog, boy.”
And you’ve not read nothing till you’ve read this shocking story, in a style that blends nicely with the reading, envisioning mind in spite or because of its half archaic half modern jutting jaw of a prose that was stood upon the page like monumental typeprint. Was leaned against the thoughts of a boy turned man too early at the age of 12 as following one of the stones found in this story he kicks at a posh car leads into fantastical grotesque discoveries of creature, sponsored dogfights and sexual initiations by all of these things. Part of it reminded me of the goaded wooden teeth creature in my Welsh Pepper story, now called Diamond Rain, but that is just a nice coincidence for me.
The story continues the empty/ full ewer’s tone of this book. Enjoyed it, in spite of myself. Or because of!
“…weathered monuments to some lost, pagan truth.”
Tlaloc by Angela Caperton
“… I discovered that the radio built into the wall of my room could not be turned off. Nor could its station be changed.”
And I could not stop listening to this well-written story as I read it aloud to myself. This takes place in Mexico – seemingly another mad or evil scientist tale akin to the Jones story – whereby the gods, that, by dint of the story’s last sentence, seemed to have helped the Nazi leadership in the story’s stated contemporary Germany, act in inquisitional tutelage of human sacrifice and subsequent ‘cure’ as revirilification of the patient. The scientist’s daughter needs to be watched, meanwhile…
This book is fiction for fiction’s sake and no message can be drawn. Only guilty enjoyment.
This morning, near my home, I saw what I thought might be an ewer left at the end of a stone pier that I had never noticed before. I don’t know if that was an omen, but with the strong wind and the rough sea, I did not venture further than the promenade.
Magicians And Moonlight by Katherine Haynes
“…there was something strange about her; she wasn’t dead, but … she wasn’t alive.”
Magicians and Mabinogions of image, as we delve — via another dead-pan narrative in stylish plain-spoken prose peppered with some nicely ornate words reminiscent of Proustian unrequited love — into a world of women who are creatured into being by magic, and what they do to men and what is done to them by men. Beautiful and bad. Frequenting baskets or opera houses. I just wonder in what sort of container the elderberry wine was kept?
Lotte Of The Black Piglet by Colin Insole
An Insolential story of Lotte, instead of being tempted into her mother’s world of whoredom and brothers’ thuggery, allows her clockwork toys to dance for us outside ‘The Black Piglet’ pub in Berlin, dancing the fulfilling roles of Romanticism and Hope and, with the tutelage of Hanns Heinz, she entrances us, too, with at first her hurdy-gurdy and then her ambition to play a clarinet…which she does by dint of having this story told. Which comes first? The wish itself? Or the wish fulfilled by having a fiction accomplish such fulfilment? Nose in a pickle jar. Silver in her bowl. Jam jar with white powder. A bronze bowl with petals of winter. Cracked chamberpots of petals. All strung to a clarinet’s bell?
The Unrest At Aachen by Mark Valentine
From Lotte’s clarinet bell to Roland’s olifant-horn, I can divulge that I have read the next story before in a previous book and reviewed it here, thus:
[[ The Unrest at Aachen – Mark Valentine
“I made my base in Aachen, where our Grand Dukes had three times been crowned as Holy Roman Emperors, in Charlemagne’s cathedral, on his marble throne. From here I could easily visit Liege, Maastricht, Cologne, Lorraine, to sense the temper of the times and discreetly elicit information.”
As the Sun is a hub, as Cadiz, as Aachen (or Aix-le-Chapelle), as this specific story (I sense) are all hubs in their own way: this further item of Markian Meditation becomes a Grand Duchy in itself or a panoply of reliquaries with histories moving within each other as well as giving motive force to some histories and withdrawing it from others: amid Proustian promenades, gossip or intrigues, by four-way post across 1906 Europe, as well as beneath parasols: a resplendent Markian style that is now in full literary overdrive, underpinning a marvellous creation-from-words of a procession hubbed by whom I see as a sort of troubadour (a Markian forebear?) — or a paracursive-Bayreuth or Boughtonian Glastonbury or AS Byatt masquerade or festival — and more! … featuring Charlemagne’s paladins – and all of this allows us, I feel, to glimpse more sense of the pre- Great War machinations than any history book could give us. ‘Secret Europe’ is not a history book but a book about history. There is a difference. “Listen, and mark what you hear: but do not appear to do so.” [Maastricht on 7 Feb 1992 effectively marked the future (temporary?) end of the Mark.] (5 Mar 12 – 10.35 am gmt) ]]
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