The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales – Jean Ray




Translated by António Monteiro

A book that has been purchased privately from its previous owner.

Ex Occidente Press MMIX

My previous reviews of this publisher’s books HERE

If I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above

36 thoughts on “The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales – Jean Ray

  1. This is a luxuriously gorgeous yellow book, with paper glossy enough to slide off and die for, and (without yet reading it) I sense an initial hybrid aura of witty or absurdist literature and page-turning linear high pulp laced with frissons… About 300 pages, limited to 300 copies.
    My only previous reading of Jean Ray gave birth to this review in 2011 of two of his stories HERE.

    The Story of the Wûlkh

    “‘Tem,’ the master whispered, ‘the day will be splendid or terrible.'”

    …the day as well as this book, but if the first story is anything by which to judge, it will be the former, not the latter, immediately reminded, as I was, by its title, of the ‘Servants of the Wankh’ work in 1969 by Jack Vance…
    It tells of a breezy hunter called Weybridge tempted by the pub talk of a taxidermist to seek the culling of the fabled Wûlkh in the atmospherically described wilds of the Fenn…
    Accompanied by his pointer called Tem, the hunter undergoes a möbius section of a sticky destiny whereby I thought, unaccountably, of the terracentric skull whence and whereto the rare-flighted quagga soars and then sinks.
    The avocets, notwithstanding.

  2. I Have Killed Alfred Heavenrock

    “His young friends call him Freddy. Why?”

    Good question!
    Meanwhile, this is an engaging story of a razors and shaving-cream salesman in Kent just after the German V1s had decimated many of the towns, whose mind we are allowed to read intriguingly as, on an improvisational basis, he plays a confidence trick on a woman whose house is still standing. A confidence that proceeds to feed on itself – without his help – and serves to trick him back!
    A melodramatic mystery as if written by Richmal Crompton or Evadne Price on the day they wanted to write a story without children in it. This story will stay with me, possibly because all good mysteries have loose ends and at least a few lies. Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make a film of this story but couldn’t get the right actors.

  3. The Inn of Spectres

    “Silence fell, heavy like the burning solar beam that inflamed the glasses and the mottled counterpane; the sound of mice as well as Freyman’s watch could be heard.”

    I know that this story was not originally in English, but I still wonder if Freyman is meant to evoke Ferryman, an involuntary ferryman for exporting monstrousness into the open?
    This story starts with a good meal but ends with the Innkeeper’s double cross (cf the double cross or con trick in the Heavenrock) by the double double crossing of double crossers, fooling them to pilcher, sorry, pilfer, the room in the inn with King Solomon’s sign, and thus, inadvertently, exercising, sorry, exorcising, its haunted curse…
    The cataclysmic finale echoes that of the Wûlkh…where all participants are double double double crossed.
    Off-the-wall gentlemanliness amid rogues and chancers, beautifully sketched in words.

    “Did you bring the binoculars?”

    To siphon the sea? No, to inspect this text and fathom its machinations.

  4. Merry-Go-Round

    “Years ago there was in London, in Bethnal Green, between Shoreditch Station and Bricklane (sic), a miserable public square …”
    And is this translation a version of ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth’? – “…one is not supposed to look in the mouth of a horse that has not been received as a gift.”
    And the word ‘pedunculated’? A lovely sounding word but is it the correct one?
    Anyway, there was a French Fair in that public square where a certain character ran a merry-go-round – at first with a real horse turning it, and later a mechanical device, but one of the animals was replaced … Oh, it’s a long story to retell but a relatively short one to read for yourself, and there are many strange and enjoyable machinations and double crossings of human and animal – to such an extent that the whole thing reminds me strongly of fiction by Clarice Lispector that coincidentally I am also gestalt real-time reviewing at the moment HERE. In fact there may be a strange, previously unnoticed kinship between the work of Lispector and Jean Ray. Hmmm…
    “I feel reasonably sure that it is a machairodus, the prehistoric tiger. Look how the head is elongated like the head of a horse or a donkey, and that muzzle has no similarity to that of any other beast. What a giant that must have been, don’t you think? Twice the size of a buffalo!”

  5. The Black Mirror

    “Nevertheless, his indifference had not reached oblivion and on widely separate occasions the complex image in barbute and sollerets passed like a quick shadow before the obscure eyes of his memory.”

    A teasingly clumsy patchwork of a story about impoverished Dr. Baxter-Brown, another double-chancer who pilfers, including the obtaining by such means not of Charlie Brooker’s but of Dr John Dee’s fabled Black Mirror (I’m sure we have met Dr Dee once before in this book but the meandering of the text makes you sometimes want to forget (in a nice, hazy, idiosyncratic sort of way)) – and the spectral recurrence, over years, of Dr. B-B’s favourite pipe he calls Polly becoming lost and then returning, as a result, is a real spooky conundrum to conjure with.
    Polly put the smoke on, Slumber take it off again.
    You know, there is something mesmeric about this text, however loyal its translation to the original, with its creative typos and accidental neologisms, I guess, making one’s brain itch with even more itching than the semantic and syntactic Ray originally meant to permeate your skull with!

  6. The Graveyard Guardian

    image“I did not wish to force you to read through the poetic descriptions of tombs hooded with snow, nor through my opinions on Grieg and Wagner, or my literary preferences or my philosophical lucubrations about fear and loneliness.”

    …so our ‘narrator’ addresses ‘your Honour’ when explaining the seemingly murderous outcome of his job as Graveyard Guardian, among two other such Guardians, with the drinking of ‘Chur’ – a sort of Char or Tea – and the job of keeping any intruders away from the tomb of the Duchess, the last one buried there and arranging such Guardianships before her death.
    Alongside the quirkily absurdist and obliquely birdish aspects of this plot, it is genuinely horrific and effective as a story of possession and double-crossing from the grave.
    Hot drinks and blood-letting, and phantom echoes of blistered earache.


    “He who under-values the devil belittles God.”

    A strange story of a marshland connected to the sea by a rumour of a riven dyke, sliding mud moving against the grain of the land and the sea, and more. The cattle did not thrive there, in fact suffered the fates limned in the Wûlkh, and nobody dared fathom these mysteries. Until the narrator commissioned Mr Hilmacher to stand up for his boasts – and sent him there to investigate and, as an advance prize, the ability to fish with dynamite.
    Well, the man who dared explain the story’s ending is myself! It meant so much more than any previous reader had ever expected or sussed. She who was found amid the shredded fish was none other than God’s devil, not the traditional devil of our mere human dreams. Think on.

    “Incredible things can be explained only through even more incredible things.”

    A new motto for Dreamcatching real-time reviews?



    “You’re-back! I-am-quite-hap-py.”

    So clicks the narrator’s clock on his return home to his sluggy and tumorous abode. The intrusive violence that ensues in this short short is both amusing and disturbing. Intriguing, too, A case of mistaken identity? Then, what about that clock, I ask.


    “It was a true bell, with a tocsin voice, cast in gone-by centuries by Servite monks…”

    For me, and perhaps for me alone, there is a worm crawling through this book from cover to cover, and back again. Cut It in half and the stories grow around the two halves to hide the fact that there are now TWO worms threading the text. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in physical revenants. Here it is a Platypus Pygmy (my expression, not the text’s) but there are so many strange uses of English words in this text, anything could mean anything – but these words are so RIGHT for a Ray text in whatever language it is cast as unto a delightfully cracked bell!
    This story is about abstinence as well as wonderfully described meals of good eating, visitors from far-off places, here a cousin, and strange apparitions echoing that cousin’s tale, apparitions that are SO strange they cease to be strange at all in the context of ringing together with the cadences in the rest of this book, although you’ll likely dream about these apparitions after eating, sorry, reading this story.
    By the way, I imagined the worm. Perhaps it was disguised as a locomotive thundering down the track at me?


    “‘Panama… Panama…’ he repeated again and again, endlessly… ‘Panama.'”

    An incantatory mazurka while walking, I wondered how the Isthmus of Panama could be relevant to this deadpan, extremely ordinary, yet engaging, slightly grotesque, slightly absurdist, slightly amusing tale of a a human head coming to life a bit like WF Harvey’s hand… A man who murdered someone so that he could be beheaded as a punishment… Stretching out his neck to avoid the vocal chords being severed. And the rest is his story.
    Well, when you think of Panama and its severed nature between two huge heads called America, and the fact it is itself a name of a hat, it all becomes clear,


    “Just go into the marsh at evening, when bubbles of rotting gas, large as tables, burst in the waters,…”

    Large as tables is an interesting simile. This text is full of them.
    Any simile in itself is a sort of translation… So ripe here for each inchoately beamed Ray of language into and beyond the sleek glossy pages of this book.
    This particular Ray is a brief nightmarish slice of the narrator’s life amid the earlier scenario of the Wûlkh, that seeping morass called the Fenn – excusing himself to the Coroner as to his drinking whiskey to ease the burden of having lost Mr Stumble to the dreadfulness of the ‘flaccid-eyed bush’ that the Fenn faced them with.
    This story is a tall as storms.
    While the dog’s name in the Wûlkh was Tempest, here it is Cyclone.


    “Sullivan reminded us that Sol Pans was a Jew and that it would certainly bring us bad luck to give a Christian burial to someone who came from that race…”

    That thought of its time notwithstanding, this is another deadly atmospheric slice of events, this one told to us by transcription of a whisky-fed interview, an interview involving one of the fur seal hunters sailing in the Minches… With talk of a dreadful smelly wound, the sole scabby seal caught, and, in a cave, a siren (or beautiful seal) akin, for me, to the God’s own devil I identified in ‘The Man Who Dared’…
    Whisky or not, between two glasses, a vacuum…?

  13. The Story of the Wúlkh: “…the hunter undergoes a mobius section of a sticky destiny.” Love that phrase. I think this is the most fascinating review I’ve seen from you yet, Des. For me, anyway. As your review went on, I had the impression that Jean Ray might have more in common with Jack Vance than a story title that reminded you of one of Vance’s novels. I don’t know if I’m right; I haven’t read Ray. As I read the next story’s review and started doing a little searching, I began to wonder just why I hadn’t read anything by him – clearly he wrote in the genres that I read and collect. And did I actually have anything by him?

    Excuse the note of desperation that might be detected in the following lines…

    I Have Killed Alfred Heavenrock: “A melodramatic mystery as if written by Richmal Crompton or Evadne Price on the day they wanted to write a story without children in it.” This sounds delicious. And your comment that Hitchcock wanted to film it but couldn’t find the right actors had me scurrying downstairs to find my much-thumbed Hitchcock by Truffaut volume. No mention of this story. Google only turned up a reference to another aborted film project (Alain Resnais wanted to film The Adventures of Harry Dickson based on a 1930’s crime series by Ray.)

    I should explain that I’m presently handicapped because my library database is out of action (the external hard-drive power-supply packed up – guy in the shop’s working on it). After scanning the contents pages of 24 Hitchcock anthologies from my shelves, no Jean Ray. He’s not even referenced in John Connolly & Declan Burke’s Books to Die For (contributions from 120 of the world’s leading crime writers!)

    I do have the feeling I’ve missed something…

    Although I’ve only commented on the first two stories reviewed, I did read all the reviews. Now I’m going to go and soak my head. Utter humiliation. Why don’t I know this author? Perhaps I’ll post this comment both here and at TLO. Just to confuse you.

    • Sorry, Rog – my brainstorming recognition of the resonance of Alfred Hitchcock with Alfred Heavenrock was my best way to spotlight the con artist actor of aliases and the lies in the story by becoming a hopefully transparent con artist myself in the last line or lie of my review!

  14. And I, too, wonder why I haven’t read this collection of wonderful stories before. They are certainly often off-the-wall horror but genuinely resonant with all our absurdist as well as real-seeming nightmares, I guess. A notable discovery in the field of literature I am most interested in.


    “Why did the wife of Kram, the local blacksmith, give birth to a monster: a being with an enormous head with a black blubber-lipped mouth, like an Ulm mastiff?”

    Good question, as it turned out.
    From the between-the-glasses of the previous story to the glass perhaps even more transparently more deceitful in this one, I have been wondering, with a lot of these amazing stories, to what extent are some of their narrators or points of view insanely or mischievously unreliable. Which is the monster? And with this account of the narrator’s new neighbour’s metamorphoses seen through his window, this wonder has surely come home to roost. Echoing headlessness from the earlier Isthmus of Panama onwards and with the dark ambiance of continental alleys, I really had a field day tangling and untangling and retangling my brain!

  15. This gets still more interesting. Reading your latest additions to the reviews page, I decided to look on Amazon for an affordable Jean Ray book. Immediately it became clear why Ray has got under my radar till now: most of the books appear to be in the original Flemish (?) And as I’ve never learnt another language…

    Comments here go off at a bit of a tangent, so apologies in advance:

    Anyway, I saw a title I recognised: Malpertuis. A film by Harry Kūmel starring Orson Welles and Susan Hampshire, based on Ray’s only novel-length work. From IMDb I’ve learned that the first version of this film to be released was ‘hacked to bits’. It was released in several different versions for different language markets, and all were drastically cut. A full-length director’s cut is now available, running I believe 125 minutes (elsewhere it says 119 minutes).

    Finding the right version wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected, but eventually I learned that a US import from Barrel Entertainment slightly had the edge on the Belgian Royal Filmarchive DVD (though both are director’s cut). I collect films, but the cost of the Barrel Entertainment release (currently about £80) puts it way above what I’d pay for any DVD. The Belgian Royal Filmarchive release is currently about £15/£24. See this site if interested:

    Re. your review of The Inn of Spectres and the name ‘Freyman’: You write “…I still wonder if Freyman is meant to evoke Ferryman, an involuntary ferryman for exporting monstrousness into the open?”

    I know your fascination with coincidence, so you might be amused to see that the name of the writer of the screenplay for Malpertuis’ is Jean Ferry…

    I’ll take the liberty of posting this both here and at TLO again, feeling some justification in the thought that possibly there might be some cineastes there who might find the links above useful.

    • Thanks, Rog. Before continuing this review, I would mention that it seems that a few people feel this book represents a faulty translation of the works. To be able to have that opinion, one needs to compare the original text line by line which I haven’t done. However, as I have indicated above, I feel the evidently off-the-wall translation fits brilliantly the spirit of the works or the spirit of the works that I hoped and expected they would have. I am enjoying this whole book immensely.


    “…the one thousand and one adventures, true or deceptive, that are told at the warm hour of cigars and liqueurs.”

    This particular bracing adventure not in the wilds of elsewhere but close to the narrator’s home in the Ardennes, the white beast and the slot cave (reminding me a bit of a published collaborative by John B Ford and myself some years ago) – but here the feminine element of the frightening monster imbued within its masculine bravado of monstrousness (cf the earlier siren etc.) resulting, for me, in the good amid bad things and vice versa…

    “A ray from a pale winter sun played in my eyes.
    Oh! how good life was, rosy and full of great joys!”


    “It is a very mean boy who ravages the beds of roses in a park to tease a ladybird, and here it scourges our shack like a giant ray with its fins.”

    I wrote above that these tales are ‘tall as storms’, little then knowing that the phrase would truly come home to roost in this story, a story that I have never read before (like all the stories in this book, I feel). Also Jean Ray’s self-irony – concerning the trappings of the horror genre, monsters, stormy nights “black as clotted blood” etc. – also comes home to roost. But equally, despite that self-irony, the horror is genuine and heartfelt and frightening. No mean feat. (I feel the same with my own horrifying presence currently under the Ray. Horrified and self-ironic, but I simply know the Ray will finally kill it.)
    Wonderfully, this is another story told under the ‘influence’, another Conte du Whisky.
    And there is ‘gold ‘ – in a peat-bog! As there was gold in the previous story’s slot cave…


    “With a shaking finger, he pointed to a weird tufted dress, of indefinite fashion, made from thick blue tissue with a violent sheen, carelessly hung from a nail lost in the wall.”

    Sometimes, one encounters a writer or a text that he or she has written, and the ambivalent ambiance (here in Germany), the ambivalent sense of evil, the ambivalent number-counting of characters, the ambivalent nature of the uncertain ghost or ambiguous demon, the ambivalent need for exorcism, the ambivalent ending, the ambivalent list of characters (one a keeper of avant grade magazines), an ambivalent translation of the assumed ambivalent original text…
    And here we have all those things in this story, including its ambivalent reader, satisfied or not.
    A precise day, though: Thursday. And a dance unequivocally round.
    I think I loved it.

    At the heart of the mystery

    “One thinks of the main lane in a dream garden, bathed in a very sweet slightly pinkish light.”

    A free-wheeling, wide-ranging, compelling, if madcap, adventure story that seems, for me, to feed off the stream of ‘consequences’ in a child-like rather than childish imagination, one that the ‘child’ feels has its reality underpinned by some centre-of-the-earth power, a power existing in the otherwise empty gap between waking and sleeping… Not dream, not even dozing, but a special form of world building, a crazy audit trail about some students visiting the Scilly Islands and then one of them and his young professor, based on the message in a ‘bottle’, visit the Orkneys where they plumb the depths of a lake towards a human-controllable machine controlling several coloured rays that home in on various portholes, but upon what interiors? All in a world that seems lost from ‘Lost’, like metal catacombs, with one ray penetrating a porthole with a world of machines that seem – as in ‘The Machine Stops’ – to be a frightening premonition of the mental and spiritual and flashmob traps today trapping mankind under the guise of something called the internet… Trapping mankind even physically as well as metaphorically. All told by diaries and a never waking up from that dream proper I denied as existing at the beginning of this review, or that imaginary dream garden mentioned in the text. So, if not a broken dream, what about that world building I mentioned above? A world building encouraged by the two polarised white or empty gaps before and after the text starts and ends. And I woke up, at the end, to find it had all been a dream? No, not a dream at all. It’s all still there.
    Between the two dream archipelagos of magnetic existence.


    “The whole house is afraid!”

    This story should appeal to me particularly as it is – early on – billed as a ‘backwards ghost story” – or in my usual parlance ‘retrocausal’ or a truly lovely word I learnt elsewhere in the last few days: ‘wackbard’…
    But, whether or not it is due to a problem with this translation into English, I found it confusing with its different narrators.
    There are some other good moments, like the afraid house (cf: The House and the Brain by Lord Lytton and the HOUSE of Leaves by Danielewiski), the ‘demonograph’, the skeleton footprints in the carpet, the retributively sorcerous curse concerning a Judge, and another reference to Dr. Dee’s Black Mirror…


    “I go to the railway station, I take a seat in the first train that comes by, without worrying about its destination, and I get off following my whim.”

    I think this is genuinely not only one of the best train stories I have ever read but also the best weird tale! Its approach (encapsulated in that quote) not only typifies my own story writing but also my real-time reviewing, bringing home gems for my own and your enrichment, I hope. Literally.
    Anything more I might tell you about this work would spoil it, I guess. I would add that a ‘choucroute’ is a sauerkraut with smoked or salted pork, frankfurters and potatoes. But it is also known as a ‘chouchou’ – with ‘route’ appended.
    I’ll get my coat.
    With seven stations left to travel through.


    “But what a face!… Only Hell would have been able to assemble in a single vision so much horror, ferocity and anger.”

    Crystallising such leitmotifs into a gestalt, relentless real-time reviewing of so much hyper-imaginative literature as I have been doing since 2008 exposes me to such a danger of a ‘single vision’, singular, too. One can perhaps forgive some of the characters’ anti-Semitism in this particular story, when we eventually find out – as in earlier Contes du Whisky – that it was told under the influence of drunkenness? Nah!
    Similar to that in the Choucroute, we have here another broken bottle from out of a strange vision later examined for its nature beyond glass in its shattered existence in our world.
    In all, not a Ray masterpiece.


    “…he thought of the pink chubby figure of Hilary Channing, at his girlish white neck and, not without disgust, he saw Duck’s simian hands carefully moisten and feel the cards before putting them down.”

    Duck’s down…
    This is an amorphously dark scenario of a prison at night before the next execution, of Hilary Channing, with gradual accretion of prison guards and officials and their traits, with autonomously grumbling undercurrents amid their talk of revenants of those executed and glimpses of bleak auguries of retribution in forced march… And a life-mocking dissection. And a Bolivar hat to match the Panama one earlier?

  24. GOD, YOU AND I…

    “‘Beautiful demon,’ I said, ‘I can understand that you refuse a man,…'”

    This strikes me as a startling experiment in automatic writing, an avant grade or surreal patchwork of events as a man returns to his home town – where he was regarded with opprobrium – after twenty years of buccaneering … a neighbour who seems to be a tasty woman spurns him, but she returns to steal from him in the guise of his earlier ship’s bat called Tine – or is she a vampire set to suck his blood.
    Another work on the theme of the ‘beautiful demon’, one that will frustrate or puzzle you and send your nightmares queer in unequal measure!
    God, You and I? Author, reader and reviewer equally drunk or doped together? But what about the translator!

    “It is but a deceitful patching up…”


    “‘Well,’ I said, ‘there was some filthy drug in the bottle I emptied and I have embarked into a nasty dream.'”

    Well, I feel the same about this story – and the one before. A patchwork of characters being trapped not like genies in a bottle, but as the pattern of a plate – in another buccaneering story of retribution and adventure, the sudden appearance of an island, and another beautiful demon, one who now calls herself a Countess…
    A fairy story within a fairy story purported to be based on King Solomon’s “vestiges of his terrible but just wisdom”…


    “Mare … mare … the night mare.”

    Incantations and refrains, like that of the clock in Camberwell, pepper this next buccaneering patchwork of adventures and drunken wildnesses (now in Prohibition America). I suspect that the eponymous girl in question, upon whose care much hangs in the machinations of the so-called plot, is a demon in disguise or a ship that bears her name – or both!


    “Are you familiar with the meaning of the word ‘canivet’? It refers to a parrot, as big as a fish-eagle, which normally nidifies among the fumitories that cover the dreary areas of the Antilles.”

    This is a wild were-parrot story that requires reading to believe! Wilder even than the wildest Rhys Hughes story, and the latter now makes sense by comparison!
    But I began to love this madcap Jean Ray escapade in words and conceits, but did not really appreciate the previous three buccaneering ones.
    I wonder if it’s the translator who’s now become the madcap rather than the freehold author? I have long heard of the unreliable narrator technique in literary theory, but now we possibly have the translator transcendator in wayward mode as a quirk of story-telling!


    “…a ray of violent brightness that had just shot up from the weeds in the garden.”

    A tale as tall as the storm with which it starts…
    I now realise that it was foreordained that I should recently re-read REPORT ON PROBABILITY A by Brian Aldiss (my review here) – because it contains, in hindsight, Jean Ray-like triangulative and dimensional or translational angles upon urban streets and inferred characters and relationships and retributions, a novel that chimes – by mutual clarification between the two works – with this particular Ray story.
    This story, too, provides a neat mind-bogglingly mathematical ending to this patchwork collection, generously sown with sharded gems of refracted or incidental rays in all directions of horror or absurdity, sometimes in all directions at once!

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