Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards 2018
Stories by Ramsey Campbell, Storm Constantine, Samantha Lee, Stan Nicholls, Marie O’Regan, Gary McMahon, Peter Sutton, Debbie Bennett, Mike Chinn, Phil Sloman, Tina Rath, Madhvi Ramani, Jenny Barber, James Brogden, Marion Pitman, Tony Richards, Stephen Laws, Ralph Robert Moore, Gail-Nina Anderson, Keris McDonald, Adrian Cole, Cate Gardner, Suzanne Barbieri, Ray Cluley, John Grant.
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
SOME KIND OF A LAUGH by Ramsey Campbell
“Five minutes and five more and five again sent him to sleep,…”
A poignant and dark grinniness, with Bernard working at the Bistro as a waiter, waiting for five minutes at least, if the catchphrase means anything, encouraged by the boss, for the sake of customer attraction, to exploit his likeness to Len Binn, a well-known comedian of the previous era, but still performing. Bernard’s wife’s relationship with him, as well as the duties of the Bistro job, conjugate a gradual descent into Binnish catchphrasitis consumingly conveyed by Campbell … and later a Binn live performance in the local area that Bernard attends as a disciple and doppelgänger whom Binn recognises from the stage. The ‘dying-fall’ repercussions make me wonder if most writers have their own doppelgängers, just slightly off-kilter, and, if so, perhaps better, perhaps worse, their fountain pen as well as their smartphone-camera reversing or swivelling between? “Can we start again?”
A significant Ramsey Campbell work.
My latest previous reviews of this author are linked from here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/ramsey-campbell/
and odd earlier ones:
LA TÉNÉBREUSE by Storm Constantine
“Oh, just that the only thing inside the house was a way out but it was through darkness.”
An engaging blend of some Reggie Oliver country houses but now in France and parts of Avalon Brantley prose, a blend no doubt dark-toned into her own unique vision by this author, or vice versa into the creation of the blend itself. A fey man called Vezi and his friend Alex as narrator (more like siblings than anything else) visit the ‘thoroughbred’ Nimrod in his French abode, a place with servants, a house as pre-dreamed by both visitors. Servants that seem imbued with the pagan atmosphere. Ambivalent sexual intentions emerge after Nimrod eventually emerges with a theatrical flourish on a horse and propositions made beyond today’s me-too constraints… people with names to die for and escape routes not to be sneered at when gothic push comes to potential shove, and Nimrod’s variations are all part of the ambiance of a place where a stairway is said to be as seductive as a woman with a ball gown. A work that is over-embroidered on dark fabric but is also something to dream about later as filtered by your own dreams into something more suitable to you. Only thinking about it made me find these things, and if I had not been due to write here publicly about my reading experience straight afterwards, it would have otherwise attenuated.
Also the house in the Constantine, cf Tara in GWTW?
THE WORM by Samantha Lee
“, skittering along the skirting board…”
A talking-head dramatic type monologue — or (mock-)confession following her priestly church upbringing — spoken to us by an increasingly (as-perceived-by-us-through-her-words) dysfunctional girl-woman who lost her ‘old man’ and gained a nightmarish worm with all manner of more and more worrying attributes, visited by a social worker called Ms Fenchurch, plus memories of all the dire things this talking head has done to people whom she has seen as doing her wrong over the years, including others’ skittering hands up her skirt. I can’t cover the enormity of some of these things, but it is all somehow both hilarious and disturbing. Is this a grotesque metaphor for our times: a portrait with a monster worm as an ‘objective correlative’ of such a tragic life … or is it an honest gratuitous gut-wrencher for readers of horror stories to read? Whichever, I loved her defiantly telling us at the top of page 56 that her social worker is a ‘Ms’, i.e. not the ‘Miss’ that she herself used at the top of page 52. Ironically, a small glitch compared to all the other messes of mayhem in her mind’s own foul fen. A needed backstop against a dog’s full English, I suggest.
Just to note that at the head of each story is an excellent drawing by Jim Pitts.
My previous reviews of Alchemy Press books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/something-remains-joel-lane-and-friends/ and https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/beneath-the-ground-edited-by-joel-lane/
Just cross-referenced THE WORM here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/years-best-weird-fiction-volume-five/#comment-14116
DEADLINE by Stan Nicholls
“‘Mrs. Barker?’ the woman said.
‘Yes,’ April replied. ‘Well, I suppose it’s Miss now.’”
…in more ways than one!
April is a writer, a single mother with a toddler, but intent on her novel, nanowrimo or not, as well as on a commissioned article for a magazine, one with a deadline. She suffers a scenario that starts a process — ineluctably and, for me at my age, believably — a process of the whole accustomed world around her gradually having bits of itself go missing, as if even the streets and its services are now suffering from a human form of Alzheimer’s. Items of sheer clean demolition. Uncanny and disturbing. Reaching, as it were, I guess, the universe’s dead line itself?
PRETTY THINGS by Marie O’Regan
A night club story where John, now footloose and fancy free, is enticed there by a wide boy friend to go ‘babe’ hunting in the mosh pit, I infer. The woman he picks up is a tall gothic lady who would not have been out of place in the Constantine story. Or does she pick him up? Blood and masks ensue, in a dark ominous pad elsewhere. An honest gratuitous horror story, with its pale-faced tribe of pretty things making an interesting contrast with this author’s other story (a memorable one in hindsight) that I previously reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/great-british-horror-2/#comment-11779
GUISING by Gary McMahon
“She felt that a soft-blistered hand was holding hers, and even though that hand was her own it offered comfort.”
A touching portrait of Judith of an indeterminate age, but not more than 60, widowed by cancer, and having lost her son to gang warfare through no fault of his own. They call them blisters on bubble wrap? And ‘pop’ is just another affectionate name for her husband as father?
She is haunted, on the day before Guising, by the sight of what would come for her tomorrow, with time itself possibly being as non-linear as her age yesterday. There is more than just life’s emptiness in pumpkins that pop. More her catharsis disguised as a trick or treat? Sometimes reading a rare new McMahon is like coming home.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/746-2/
Bubble wrap for a fragile soul.
Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing as a sort of mutual alchemy? The chosen books are ones whence I can feed on vampirically for their perceived literary elixirs and then hopefully give back to you refined or transmuted or otherwise synergised. This process has so far kept at least me alive in growing old age.
MASKS by Peter Sutton
“; a shared hallucination of devolution.”
This theme of ‘shared hallucinations’ synchronously encountered in a review yesterday of a work by Chavisa Woods (here)
Brushing lightly against the masks in the O’Regan above, too.
Otherwise, this work’s prose monumentally presents a vision of the already shipwrecked using their instinctively crafted wooden animal masks meeting the arrival of the newly shipwrecked, rife with the Golding ‘Lord of the Flies’ type tensions…
Seems also appropriate that only yesterday I participated in a communal play-reading of JM Barrie’s Admirable Crichton (in the latest pre-planned meeting of a local group to which I belong)!
This Sutton work would have been a perfect ingredient in the BOOK OF THE SEA (reviewed recently here) and I intend that to be a great compliment to it.
Let me reiterate how I am enjoying Jim Pitts’ artfully shaded drawings at the head of each story in this book.
Thanks for all your commentaries. Don’t stop. 🙂
THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL by Debbie Bennett
Despite it not being in a style of fiction that I normally enjoy, I can imagine this as an engaging story of a girl just beyond or behind the surface cusp of womanhood, her virginity lost as witnessed by the reader, her mind occupied with modern problems of the parental broken marriage, an annoying younger brother, snapchat sexting and all that, anxieties, idealism, disappointments…naive fears of impregnation. And indeed there is a Jekyll and Hyde air to those fears and a mutant maturity of delivery, a sharing of birthdays, I wondered, but with different mental ages, that encroach upon her, like a meeting of a parasitic self with the real self, all seemingly well drawn. A sort of story that was obviously not written for the likes of me, but I could objectively see beyond that. And I wondered if those who peer at each other through the words of all uncanny fiction — reader and author in a false mirror, as it were — could ever have similar links beyond the surface impression?
HER FAVOURITE PLACE by Mike Chinn
“Surface is not going to be happy.”
I enjoyed the uncertainty of exploring this story, along with the two women, among the quadrats of experimental deep sea farming; the women in a relationship with each other as well as with their different cautious and foolhardy (sometimes uncharacteristic) temperaments here down below, with their ‘cabin fever’, with Surface as some sort of deist afterlife above, a place to which they are given excuses about not returning, Surface like their own surface source now become Heaven, where one of them dreams, as uncertain as me, of attending inscrutable loud-mouthed parties…What one discovers amid the soporific (solipsistic?) kelp and insecure images down there outside their deep sea living quarters is like a cross between white roses and desiccation. Almost a siren’s warning or temptation? A new gentle surfacing love or a cabin’s fever of potential passion in horrific embrace? Quadrats as grids or habitats for study purposes of a human history foregone or quadrants of a surfacing sphere where we once lived and hope to live again if allowed? Or both quadrats and quadrants in mutual alchemy?
My previous reviews of this author: https://horroranthology.wordpress.com/something-remains/#comment-1340 and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/bfs-journal-10/ and https://nullimmortalis2010.wordpress.com/editors-story-by-story-commentary/
THE GIRL WITH THREE EYES by Phil Sloman
“I don’t think she realised I knew it was there or that I had guessed the code to the safe: my birthday in reverse.”
His mother, that is. We all have a mother, I guess. No reversal possible. This is more about HIM, though, about his view of the world today and its mores, you know the sort of things we all see around us every day from politics to snapchats, and the girl student at his American college who is all sweetness and fashion, yet with something extra he sees or imagines he sees in her, a void sucking him in like Munch’s Scream. A shocking and powerful rationale or a stab at a rationale of a mass shooting and its culprit as narrator, brave for this book to publish. Without fiction, we would lose many possible insights….and you may argue whether in this fiction we should have been granted at all a glimpse of our own potential third eye in this way? And whether there are others to blame in addition to where the guilt source lies? What or who the proximate cause? Alchemy like a filter that works both ways? The only three-way filter possible beyond its own paradox?
My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/imposter-syndrome/#comment-11169
LITTLE PEOPLE by Tina Rath
An engaging story mixing Allegra’s sardonic humour (with choice nicknames for everyone in her life) and emotional tension as she and her daughter Bel-Bel are abandoned by her husband to some ‘dormitory village’ (“I don’t like my bedroom”) — abandoned for another woman who produces the son he always wanted…
The hauntings in their new home may be a mixed blessing though, as well as haunting us, too, as a by-product of further encroachment by literature, not only Swift’s Lilliput but also Don Marquis’ Mehitabel and John Dryden’s Achitophel… as further enforced marches to Spain or elsewhere ensue for mother and daughter. Self-harming as an adventure in retribution, blamed on others?
Cf the Spain in the later John Grant, below, where I cross-reference this work.
TEUFELSBERG by Madhvi Ramani
“What can I say? It’s an anomaly. A coincidence.”
A German town where, if you keep turning left, you don’t get back to where you started. A place to change trains in and get lost in, as, I wonder, in that non-existent Poliakoff film that some of us have watched. We follow the steps of a journalist here to regain his reputation for truth, or does he still embroider it here about the eponymous town? Something that nags at us. This is a story, within which he himself becomes trapped, mistaking statues for a forest and much more, meeting a man whom he had already promised to have a drink with should they meet for a second time; in fact, alcohol overshadows this work, too. One that traps the reader with enchantment, despite some over-convenient info-dumps about the town and its history, an enchantment of dark eyes and other mysteries.
A cloying entrapment that, although of a different substance, is akin to the Chinn. Even the Sutton. Perhaps due to slough off as in the Nicholls, too?
DOWN ALONG THE BACKROADS by Jenny Barber
“, the song of the Wilds stays a-thrumming in your veins.”
…as if, also, Jenny B has put spikes and syntacks on her words, and left dents and scuff marks on my mind as I read this. I soon got used to the different characters, if not fully, as they are deliberately beWilded or bewildered into different actions of rote and instinct. As groups of travellers and hitchhikers meet at the rest stop of this story’s ill-kempt, prop-strewn stageset, a motley of those who had avoided killing roadkill even further with their rust-bucket vehicles, and sensitive to the living force of the Wilds around them, encroaching, ever encroaching. I mixed in with them and they did not notice me. It didn’t matter. It was rather an exhilarating, if itchy, experience. Loved it, sort of. Don’t know fully why yet. No amount of turning left got me anywhere, let alone to where I started in the previous story.
THE TRADE-UP by James Brogden
“Pronouns get sticky in these situations.”
Down along more than just backroads, Charlie suddenly sees what appears to be his own car overtaking him on the motorway, overtaking with “lazy insolence.” Compelling narrative arriving at a telling fable about one’s life and how one is living it. The Sloman third eye now become four? More Ouroboric Brogdenness?
My previous review of this author: https://howivi.wordpress.com/something-remains/#comment-390
THE APPLE TREE by Marion Pitman
“— a good looking man with no conversation —“
…someone who helps Julie with a bit of lugging. Julie is researching a woman who used to collect folks songs, some of the more risqué ones purported to be in a black box that had been destroyed or lost, but she manages, with some interesting narration, to track it down, amid the social background of her fiat mate and the flat mate’s new boy friend, an older man who turns out to have been one of Julie’s fleeting exes. Well, it all gets tied up in a sensitive lighting of a darkly singing and guitar playing of the eponymous ditty, an outcome of musical togetherness that should, for fear of dire repercussions, have been made impossible. That song the Apple Tree. Not sure how or why, but I found the plot’s pointlessness strangely engaging.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/marion-pitman/
“It is impossible to be with me; I make rooms impossible.”
— Elizabeth Bowen
From ‘The Apple Tree’ 1934
THE GARBAGE MEN by Tony Richards
“A third eye had been inked there centrally.”
This book’s second Third Eye. Will there be a third? A writer who inks words himself, once a student from posher areas, now an outsider himself in a town of outsiders, a place of urban deprivation and chaotic lives where plans were abandoned almost as soon as the sporadic minds of the people moved on to other plans. Dark alleys and rats. Children with chants of the Garbage Men, matching the effect of the Apple Tree song just before this story of the workmanlike writer. Except the apples have now rotted. An observer or snooper of outsiders, concealing his observations, only to be found out at the end. His theory of the Garbage Men, why this Americanism in what I deem to be Brexit Britain? I do not go with his theory that he was eventually saved as someone special; he was not saved, as he thought, from the town’s thugs, not saved, for the reasons he assumed, by those dark alley brooders in the title of his own forthcoming story. The writer was saved for further suffering, I opine. As we all are. Till we are ungarbed, naked unto death. Or garbed for some glory?
My previous reviews of this author:
Cross-referenced (half an hour later!) with ‘Miserable with Groceries…’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/the-early-bird-catches-the-worm-but-the-wise-worm-stays-in-bed-rhys-hughes/#comment-14196
Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS
GET WORSE SOON by Stephen Laws
“the man’s upper moustache covered his mouth so completely that none of his facial muscles moved when he spoke”
Who’s heard of a LOWER moustache? This story segues with the Americanism of Garbage in the previous story, here ‘five and dime stores’ as forerunners of our burgeoned Poundland shops; in this story, they are called Quidstore, a phenomenon as part of the urban deprivation and sporadic social madness also depicted in the previous story. It also segues with Pitman’s Black Box, here a Purple one bought in Quidstore by Colin because he could not fathom what it meant by the title ‘Get Worse Soon’ on the cover. Turned out to be an interesting novelty in itself and a novelty — as original conceit — for literature of which this story is part. But there all sanity in my mind ended. The repercussions of sending out these purple reverse Get Well Soon cards divert into absurdist directions, and the so-called plot twist at the end seems contrived, as was the method of getting Colin’s unwanted return address on the back of the envelope. Mad and contrived. So much so, it worried me. And horror stories, as well as aiming to horrify or terrify readers (which this one didn’t to me), also aim to worry readers, and it sure did worry me, in a similar way that the previous story I read by this author, ‘The Swan Dive’, worried me stiff, as I explained here last year: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/new-fears/#comment-10831 … worthy of the Pan Book of Worry Stories. Or Get Worried Soon.
PEELERS by Ralph Robert Moore
“May be worrying.”
Another RRM classic. Worrying taken to the nth degree, where the madness is cool and clinical like some surgeons appear to be. …”fleeing across lives”, “From worrying, or from the cancer that might be inside her?”, and a spider made to have seven legs, parsing phrases where words are often turned back to Latin or simply morph their meanings? Seeing eel eyes as people in the street, peel people, too, not only straight from Sickman, but also reminding me of the now seemingly reverse-dressed car driver earlier in this book overtaking you in your own car that appears to be you driving it — or sitting now in a RRM cockside restaurant when you pass that man to go to the restaurant toilet for a peel. The eponymous peelers, not self-harming so much, as rejigging bodily. You won’t easily forget some lacerating passages in this work, nor the two women you peel off from, one because they want your babies or peeling off from even someone who generally loved you but cannot get her orgasms from you. This story is now – is us – is everything – and how can anyone publish it with impunity, I do not know. Except I would have been very annoyed if they hadn’t published it. A Nicholls deadline mingled with a Sloman shooting, Latin verb.
My many previous reviews of RRM: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/ralph-robert-moore/
AN EYE FOR A PLASTIC EYE-BALL by Gail-Nina Anderson
“There was an ominous thump that got heavier and more complex,…”
A beautifully described account – worthy of Elizabeth Bowen – of a man who is given the job of house-clearing the biology-lesson props of an ancient teacher from his old school. Full of menace and a blend of scientific and magical, bodily and spiritual symbioses.
Mining, like Pitman, the past, and, for me, hawling up by pulleys a meticulously crafted world of old ones wreaking vengeance on modernity.
REMEMBER by Keris McDonald
“I don’t like fiction myself though I’ve got lots of books in my flat.”
Once remember, remember, the fifth of November,
But now a longer period from October to December!
An impervious period of shocks and frights to stir pet animals, here dogs in a logistically imaginable map of kennels, with wire windows like loosening teeth, cared for by various kennel keepers, one being this narrator, who tells us an old fashioned bogeyman story regarding the Gestalt of fireworks and frightened animals, humans now included, and of an insidious fundament of life that mixes industrial waste with humanoid baggy limbs… At one, straightforwardly, and evocatively, written traditional horror, but also something as a new fear ignited fit to haunt or put a rocket up even a hardened horror reader with too many books like me.
BROKEN BILLY by Adrian Cole
“You mend things, she thought. Now you need someone to mend you.”
A gestalt kindred spirit with the previous story of things made from a crude mix of fabrication and redemption — like Christ on a cross of a scarecrow’s frame and then mended or amending? This is the story of Bran from boyhood and beyond, and it seems appropriate that Bran uses a barn, yes, a barn, as his route to Secret Hill, a sort of magical meadow that only he knows about on the family farm, the backstory of his parents being vital to his future. I remember myself with tin soldiers and other toys, some not even looking like humans, into whom I imbued human souls, and so I could empathise with Bran as he did the same. Later, he made corn dollies, then migrating to scarecrows for his Dad’s fields, then to keeping some of them in the secret meadow. He grows up with visits from another child, a girl called Tracy, and we follow them into adulthood. And the scarecrows… I won’t spoil it for you. This is a powerful story, only part of which I have intimated here.
THE FULLNESS OF HER BELLY by Cate Gardner
“Cushions with doll parts sewn into them littered the floor, many buried beneath the weight of their siblings.”
“We all share madness here.”
An emblem for this increasingly great horror anthology. Here a truly kindred spirit story with the previous one, the imbuing by Ella of souls into dolls being that of phantom pregnancy. But these cushion-babies are more than just phantom and beyond the words that describe them. Her support ‘group’ of others with personal phantoms and hang-ups, tellingly GROUP without definite or indefinite article, play a part and are subsumed by their own phantoms, too. This becomes incredibly strong material, of which this book should be proud of pulling the strings from within us, as a catharsis for our times, the world of each of us individually and in gestalt.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/cate-gardner/
IN THE ROUGH by Suzanne Barbieri
“There was a myth in my culture of a snake goddess who carried a diamond in her forehead.”
…being this book’s earlier anticipated third Third Eye?!
Another incredibly strong work, here, amid opiates, taking forward as diamonds the ‘babies’ that weighed down upon the woman in the previous story, this woman now a prisoner in her own body, and later acting like one of RRM’s Peelers to become herself again. You couldn’t make it up! Not only giving birth to diamonds from her tears, but also explicitly from this book’s alchemical processes! A story of man’s exploitation of her skills as a Goddess producing valuable diamonds from her body, even though she attached herself to two of these men. Eventually a tale of feminine catharsis as an overcoming, after being Goddess, Devil, Art, Snake and Wisdom — a bodily and spiritual apotheosis of such writers as Kristi DeMeester, Gwendolyn Kiste, Damien Angelica Walters…
BLUEY by Ray Cluley
“…still gripping a fistful of insults.”
…as opposed to a ‘compliment sandwich.’
This review is no compliment sandwich, it is a genuine appreciative critique about this book, now about a story that will in future be known as the Cluley Bluey, a momentous vision of teaching today in Brexit Britain, the need to give all the right ticks in the Ofsted boxes as well as in the kids’ exercise books. But nobody gives the right ticks to the teachers themselves, and here we follow Shaun as teacher (being reprimanded by a female headmaster who is younger than him, a situation that gives a new context to the previous story’s apotheosis), Shaun as teacher dealing with modern youth, with their madnesses and social media manners, and he creates the eponymous paper-model prop of a person to teach them how to bully it and insult it, as a genius counterintuitive experiment in teaching them a lesson about their own similar behaviour to others. The results are tragically and expletively frightening. And a lesson for us all. Including drawing pins of self harm and words that morph, not into RRM’s Latin verbs, but into Cluley’s quotes from Shakespearean tragedy. Essential reading for everybody (from pupil to prime minister), everybody who is sleep-walking through the education system as well as life itself in our times, every single tattered limb of it. The Rath of Little People. Lost in the Brexit Backroads. A great horror story, too, in itself, without my adornments to it.
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ray-cluley/
Cf the biology lesson props in the Gail-Nina Anderson!
TOO LATE by John Grant
“…the quieter alleys and side streets abroad are always much more frightening than those at home.”
A haunting coda to this book’s symphony — and enticed by this story I started listening to Rautavaara’s Symphony No 7 while reading it — not that composer’s famous birdsong music as one might have thought when here recommended by a birdwatcher…
A story of a failing marriage, depicting the attempted revival of their sex life by the couple holidaying near Santander in Northern Spain. The blonde girl pupils in the Cluley Bluey just now were described as doppelgängers of each other. Here, the birdwatcher’s wife seems to evoke herself in an identical villa within his binocular-sight…. and I was impressed by everything about this story, without being able to define exactly why. It has the easy relative pointlessness of the earlier Pitman, here mining loyalty and betrayal amid the changing light of the terrain of this foreign genius-loci. If indeed constructively pointless, there was a punch in its tail. It did not seem to matter at all that it was predictable. It went with the music, with that angel of light.
“— why is it that binoculars and telescopes slip out of focus even when they haven’t been touched? —“
My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/john-grant/, and he was in CONE ZERO, too.
A mammoth horror anthology of new stories, a book — as based on my experience — that creates the strong impression, from page 1 to page 391, of potentially becoming a great memorable example of such anthologies. And it is enhanced, for me, by the sense of a gestalt I found in it, whether intentional or not — a sense I hope I have managed to convey above. And, finally, if that were already not enough, it is perfected by the Jim Pitts adornments at the top of each story.
PS A doppelgänger in the first story of this book, as well as the last! (And in Brogden and RRM)