Strange Tales IV

Having just purchased STRANGE TALES: Volume IV (2014) Edited by Rosalie Parker from Tartarus Press, I am pleased to be in a position to start a real-time review of this high quality production hardback book shown below.



Tartarus website

Stories by Christopher Harman, Rhys Hughes, Rebecca Lloyd, John Howard, A.J. McIntosh, V.H. Leslie, Andrew Apter, Angela Slatter, Matt Leyshon, Mark Francis, H.V. Chao, Andrew Hook, Jason A. Wyckoff, Richard Hill, John Gaskin.

My previous reviews of some other Tartarus Press books: Flowers of the Sea: Reggie OliverStar Kites: Mark ValentineCold to the Touch: Simon StrantzasMrs Midnight: Reggie OliverMorbid Tales: Quentin S. CrispBlack Horse: Jason A. Wyckoff.


12 thoughts on “Strange Tales IV

  1. By Leaf and Thorn by Christopher Harman
    “In Turrock’s chest, apples thudded on the ground.”
    Elizabeth Bowen, eat your core out! And John Cowper Powys sick with heart-aick, too! This is a story about a regional newspaper and its prose-poetic Nature column that has been a regular for over 40 years by the same writer called Pucklebry whom the editors appear only to know through his intermediary called Miss Sharpe, a column that these editors now want to ditch. I won’t bother you with the office politics backstory, but this is a tale with a meaningful nod towards our own freak weather in this part of the UK very lately as if it were written in Jan 2014 for this Jan 2014 published book. The purple prose of the Nature articles has a different character to that of the story itself, but the latter is purple, creepy, farcical yet sensible, tentacular, transfigurational, in its own right, too, and I am not sure who is the creepiest, Pucklebry or the assumed narrator in setting it down from within the protagonist Turrock’s eyes. Whichever the case, it certainly creeped me out! I felt the paper itself of this book had veins and ridges like an over-sized tree leaf… Nature with its own voice.
    Harman’s work is impressing me more and more (and here is my very recent review of his just-published book collection) and there are some great neatisms in this story, sentences deceptively simple but, when thought about, strikingly provocative. See if you can spot them. There are, by contrast, also sentences textured and sinuous.
    “Was that mystical-receptiveness to the aliveness of nature, or an over-reliance on pathetic fallacy?”
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  2. The Secret Passage by Rhys Hughes
    “The lawyer mapped their route in drool, like a cord unwound in a labyrinth.”
    Just read any sentence by Rhys Hughes out of context and the context will come and find you. This story has either sussed out my devious connecting routes between dubious leitmotifs to create a gestalt of any book I treat in that fashion with its ending dubbing me a cul de sac OR it is one of Rhys’s special gems that cumulatively shines along with his already shiny conceits and plotted fictionatronics (please see how much I have read of Rhys Hughes by exploring all my previous Rhys Hughes reviews linked from here) – and, YES, this is a limpidly written fable that creates a seemingly complex but fundamentally simple geometric shape, yet beset by shadow puppets to impinge upon the ambition of human youthfulness to maintain, when older, the innate simplicity of that child-like invention. The fable’s mural constraints.

    Like the Harman story, there are disarming sentences that only take off in full meaning after you find the path whither they lead under the paper to each other. Indeed, I found this story, in part, a probably inadvertent, but thought-provoking, theme-and-variations on this passage by Harman from the previous story, viz: “He’d been in country dwellings before in which no truck was had with big windows. If you wanted a view, then you only needed to step aside.”

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    Gone to the Deep by Rebecca Lloyd
    “Men gone to the deep for love of her, straight into those waiting arms.”
    With the same entrancing obsession as Harman’s insistent Voice of Nature and Hughes’ clinging Dreamhouse Passages, Lloyd’s genius loci of the matchmaking island men fishing for mainland women sensitively and stylishly builds and builds until the reader, like the two main protagonists, becomes a sort of rabbit in the ‘headlights’ of The Sea’s Nature, to such an extent, remarkably, that one feels almost filthy at the experience whilst simultaneously remaining awed at some sublime power beyond love and land-greed. Endless mourning, superstition, forsakenness. Even the story’s opening paragraph is some strange mutation of the Jane Austen opening paragraph to her most famous fiction work. No mean feat that sexily touches as deep down as our own feet with a shoe-measuring shimmer.

  4. You Promised You Would Walk by John Howard
    “…the oddness of being surrounded by all those streets and rivers and parks of paper, an additional thin barrier between him and their realities beyond the walls.”
    Another entrammelling preoccupation is building again in this book, and it’s here at first in embryo then in fractal fruition as Jon visits at last the Berlin as an earlier dreamed-for quest experience. A striking palimpsest of this city’s eras evolves via his friends’ guest room called the Room of Maps — in tune with Hughes’s geometrical extrapolations that lead here to more of its cobbled corridors in a ‘Cabinet of Caligari’ fashion of geometry amid sexual yearnings and/or fears following skewed insecurities where even good friends can somehow scare you…

    One can learn more about a city’s soul — from such a Great Inflation of fiction truth filling the secret passages of real time — than you can actually learn about it through serious text books or even by going there yourself in the wrong mood … or within a misleading synchronicity. Or maybe a misleading synchronicity is exactly what this story provides, misleading that it is misleading at all. The rough trade of reality and dream in their give and take of travel.

    (My previous reviews of John Howard fiction are all linked from here:

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    Forth by A.J. McIntosh
    “–I didn’t trust the sea.”
    I have long lived close to the foreshore and spend most of my time there. I am also a writer with writer’s block … but I am married, older than middle-aged and never knowingly had an attractive young woman who stalked me…
    Sometimes, but not often, I encounter an author who I fervently wish I had encountered before and this is one of them. The engaging style although compellingly short-claused between commas and em dashes galore, is also textured and sinuous. No mean feat. The tale reminds me of when I first encountered and was astounded by the work of John Fowles in the 1960s. This is a compliment indeed. The genius loci of the foreshore is spot on. The ending is the sublimest, most cut-to-the-bone, shellfish-sucking ‘dying fall’ of an ending I think I could ever wish to encounter. Madness …. and unrequited sex requited. Sex, not love. But maybe love, too. Elements of Le Grand Meaulnes, Aickman, Proust, but something distinctively other.
    And in terms of this anthology so far, it has ongoing parallels with the sea-woman catharsis (rabbit in the headlights) of the earlier Lloyd story, the entrammelling preoccupations, and the geometric coordinates of Hughes’ secret passages:
    “…and from them hazarded her approaches. I plotted three straight lines…”

  6. Preservation by V.H. Leslie
    “That’s what she had here; her own curiosity shop.”
    I read this story in a single supreme semantic-symphonic sitting and it was distilled perfectly into my brain in one fell swoop almost without notice: but much more went in than I could ever credit at the time of reading it – a few minutes ago – with pickles and preserves and post-rations and lactations and sadnesses and failing marriages all lined up in each set of printed word-jars along the larder shelves: reminding me of idyllic adverts from the Fifties when my Mum and other Mums had their flowery, floury aprons on and, fresh from turning the mangle, gave us makedoandmend recipes for their menfolk fresh from the war, any war.
    It was only later when men went on cricket trips, instead of wars, that they were painfully bruised skin-thin by hard red leather balls which later got buried in some poor woman’s womb ready for bodily cooking. That and more came to mind.
    It was almost as if Lloyd’s sea-woman creature had been cooking McIntosh’s dodgy shellfish.
    The ending is deeply poignant. Still is, never ending.

    Some of my other reviews of V.H. Leslie stories:

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