Cruise of Shadows – Jean Ray



Translated by Scott Nicolay

My previous reviews of Jean Ray: and of Scott Nicolay:

My previous reviews of older or classic books:

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

17 thoughts on “Cruise of Shadows – Jean Ray

  1. I may have read a few of these stories before in different translations, but I intend to real-time review all the contents from scratch. And I shall do this before reading the fulsome-seeming Translator’s Notes and Afterword at the end of the book.


    “Like a cruel child who lays waste to a rose garden just to torment a ladybug, it whips our shack with the wings of a gigantic ray.”

    …the tempest that starts this book, a book that itself is a gigantic Ray.
    Words as words that somehow become a series of stigmata, names of characters, too, and the horror thus builds by their meaning of means, as a man tell others in a tavern of what horror pursues him, and the tempest-torn tavern is the man’s refuge, but the pursuing horror recognises no such refuge, no doubt…

    “… and I thought it was a hand whose fingers struck each in turn.”


    A horror story that stays with you, a story about… what? It feels as if written under the influence of something only this author has experimented with, of various characters with names like the words that the Ray-Nicolay makes prickle during your voyage through it, convicts and foreigners, various exotic and less than exotic places as apports, cabins tenanted by whom or what, the eponymous leitmotif like a haphazard phrase often repeated from a dream the end of which dream you never reach. As if on board the ship, the story, like the moon, is crueller and more wayward than when you are on land. Does the story reach the end of the street? Does it “Always Arrive”? You may never know. It seems to reach beyond me, at least. A cruise through shadows.


    “The green candle’s flame flickered from corner to corner, its tip revealing the most dreadful shadows as they stealthily settled into the lobby.”

    A blend of Père Ubu and Fawlty Towers? Well, perhaps, but rather a “millipedes of horror” ghost story of footsteps as the Ocean Queen Hotel is abandoned one by one like a tontine, with a flagged N for Nobody as the prize, leaving the manager, Mr Buttercup alone to win it, with recourse only to the train track as escape route, a last guest having already arrived with “a translucent hand” in the guise of Mr Windgery. Mr Buttercup escapes – or is that a spoiler or even true? – towards “the power of whiskey” in another inn. Can his haunting be shaken off? Or does he manage to reach the earlier end of that endless street? Or a train track into perspective’s vanishing-point of the future? A buttercup is said to reflect light.

  5. 4D0CAAEA-F9AF-4649-8CBA-8048906FB8A6

    Dürer’s the Dead Christ (or the Idiot?)


    “…they adore the vertigo of others.
    And those who stand before the true horror allow their souls to lean dangerously over the unfeeling abyss of the Unknown.”

    As I do – age 72 in the next few days.
    Although I somehow sense it is always midwinter in Ray, never midsummer! A layer of diamond-ice over the brain. Dürer, the steady journalist or an idiot of today’s Fake News? Seeking the House of the Storks, described with words that seem haunted in themselves, even more haunted than the gestalt of plot that these words carry! Especially when the words are found-in-translation. Aided and abetted by a parrot. Even if…

    “Our intellect demands a prelude for every event. It has a horror of the instantaneous and expends three quarters of its power in an effort to anticipate. It wants to come at all things by a gentle slope.”

    A gigantic hand, even if the five fingers are now a gestalt and not separately autonomous. And so much more I cannot cover here.

    “…words like useless cairns of echoes, marking the gaps in a pointless journey.
    ‘Hold on,’ I said upon returning, ‘what has changed here?’ Nothing had changed. I do not know why my gaze interpreted the shape of things otherwise?”

    The blind leading the blind, I say. When was it ever otherwise? Only oblique horror stories can have true wisdom.


    Pages 59 – 63

    “Ever since, these awakenings ring their happy fanfares throughout my body;”

    A sort of Proustian awakening, not Madeleine and tea, but Bismarck herring, awakening memories of seduction and sex in Berlin. And a Proustian style to die for. I have decided that the final three stories in this book are quite long, and I will eke them out to savour their prickly word evocations gradually. Here as a man illicitly takes the wife of another man on a cruise upon the eponymous steamer. And words each need studiously sealing to keep their meanings in.

      Pages 63 – 70

      “Have I told you that I do not dance?”

      And suddenly amid flirtatious cavorting by his Hellen, does he inadvertently, through jealousy or some ill-thought through Mephistophelan pact, make her enter Hell indeed, by dint of her falling from the steamer?
      There are words here that crowd in and spike your skin, not Proust, now, but more a literary giant who thought he might write horror. His own demonic pact with self? Upon a cruise of shadows.

      “…the quintessence of the horrible, an aphorism of the abject.”

      Pages 70 to 79

      “She was feverishly inscribing the mantissas of logarithms in the margins of the sketches in her notebook.”

      Damned, still, towards the abyss by whatever pact, the narrator bounces between the equations of a Polish student girl “with firm little breasts” and the Hellenucination of Hellen – cross Europe and back to Berlin, with Bulgarian embroidery sliding through the open door. Or did I dream that? This story ends with nodal nightmares I fail to understand. The best nightmares are such. I usually pencil words of thought in the margins of books I review. Somehow I have put numbers in the margins of this particular story. I read it from underneath rather than from above.

      “Her silhouette moved slowly, as if a turntable moved beneath her, the odious and sluggish rotation of some cumbersome device.”


    Pages 81 – 92

    “A rush of hurricane-force wind came from the end of the street;”

    The first manuscript to be translated is the German one (I haven’t read it all yet) and it is MOST frightening. The papers came out of a ship’s exploding cargo along with a singed French manuscript, but do they connectively shed darkness on each other like parts of a gestalt real-time review? Perhaps we shall find out eventually. Anyway, Ray is often full of landings on stairways and locked or unlocked doorways and fear as a discrete entity and gone-missing people and unseen phantoms and prehensile silences and ends of streets and sometime headlessness. And similar ingredients fill these pages as the hauntings act like a plague or virus of horror across the city, and in this household described in the first manuscript characters with female names are thus beset in various ways.
    There is a great fear in my head.

    Pages 93 – 104

    “One cannot simply manufacture the names of saints like Jewish sausages.”

    We cross in these pages the German with the French manuscripts. From the Métafiction of the former with everything I said above, but even more so! To the alley in the latter which only the narrator can experience, with “dream luggers” (as earlier versions of Hawlers?)

    Although I shall continue reviewing it section by section in coming days, I think I may have lost my touch in gestalt real-time reviewing over the years, and I am currently finding it difficult to manage this incredible text, so I have cheated by exhuming my review of the whole work (albeit in a different translation) around 11/11/11, as shown below –


    The Shadowy Street – Jean Ray

    “…pitiful books whose pages were still joined like desperate hands.”

    Wow! Albeit not a recognised term in literary criticism but, nevertheless: Wow!  Jean Ray has a second bite at this book’s cherry, but there is no complaint from me. This story is a true discovery for me – and it is worth the price of entrance into this vast intrepid tome alone (as I’m sure can be said of other inclusions, too).  Firstly, fitting neatly into the ‘bookness” theme of the previous three stories, we have two separate synchronously discovered tangible manuscripts here that need ‘gestalting’ by the reader: an audit trail (“sinuous trail“) or, for me, a literal ley-line that follows the quasi-cartographic thread of a street in another dimension. Srednibutions. Greed. And other inferred emotions. Missing heads. Smashed skulls. Truly haunting fears. “Fortified by this nonsense”, “manufacturing saints like sausages”. A Todash tide of sound, for me, via a viburnum bush, & HPL’s earlier “vacant abyss overhead” where, in this story, stairs come to a sudden pointless end. Becoming “an accomplice of phantoms“: the story’s author, narrator or its reader? The editors of this book, I say! [On a more personal note, resonating with the quote I’ve given at the head of this section: cf. from The HA of HA: “Can you recall the lasting effect of the most deeply disturbing collection of horror stories you’ve ever encountered? The narratives join hands…” — From THE USELESS by Dominy Clements] (11/11/11)

      Pages 104 – 115

      “First of all, my frightened retreat into the mysterious alley and then my return to the Mühlenstrasse show that this space is as easy for me to enter and leave as any ordinary alley.”

      This work continues to supraspire as a blend of Marcel Proust and the author of ‘The Dark Tower’, where Marcel’s Albertine here becomes Anita, including a time-and-parallel-place-picaresque virburnum, a staircase that led nowhere, a song-wind, quatrains of lament, and much more.


    Pages 116 – 127

    “…contraction of time and space.”

    The end of this work. And I have today lost completely my confidence in gestalt real-time reviewing by finding myself incapable of grappling with this story’s grappling at me back! It is certainly frightening and haunting and mind-expanding, but the more the mind expands the less the mind can grip, I have now found. Or is it because I am getting too old, but even when looking back at my eight year old review of it, as reproduced above, that review seems to make things worse for me, as if my past self left a conceptual booby-trap for my current self today! All I can dwell on are the two fires in this work, amid other plagues and monsters of madness, i.e. the fire explosion that caused the manuscripts to exist out of time’s bale in the first place, and then in turn they are burnt and destroyed by the urban fire that such manuscripts caused by describing them in the very same first place.


      I have learnt a lesson above, and now with regard to this final work, I shall START by re-reading my review of it in 2011, copy and pasted below..
      [As with ‘The Shadowy Street’ review similarly copied and pasted above, this review below was originally written by me IN THE CONTEXT of ‘The Weird’ anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. A different translation, too.]

      The Mainz Psalter – Jean Ray

      “I’d rather hear stories of witches and demons than that demoralizing ‘I don’t know.'”

      A story of books, Gutenberg-with-solid-printing-press-books, so aptly in tune with the previous two stories – yet also a very strange unsolid story of a boat called The Hen-Parrot that has  its name changed to the The Mainz Psalter (note the ‘salt’) and a fantastical adventure – a cross between William Hope Hodgson and Jules Verne and HP Lovecraft and William Golding (and Jerome K Jerome – Algernon Blackwood earlier?), whereby the ‘unsolidness’ – beware spoiler! – derives from burning the books and their owner becoming an empty (Ligottian?) mannequin as if they owned him (drowned him!?) … my mind spins in glass like lost print!  This is seriously strange – and inspiring. [I know this book can’t contain all the weird authors, but my mentioning Hodgson above has also made me think of Arthur Machen, Elizabeth Bowen (possibly, for me, the greatest weird writer who ever lived), Tommaso Landolfi, and some living writers who (I can see) are more problematic in choosing to represent in such a book… Not a complaint, but an observation for debate.  After all, this book will have its own gestalt eventually when all inclusions and omissions will become clear on the final judgement day!] (10 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)
      A quote from the previous story that I forgot to mention: the first bit a la ‘Night Wire’, the second bit: me during the 1990s! “Reines, the radio man, was taking notes. / Reines spends all his spare time writing stories and essays for short-lived literary magazines.” (10/11/11 – another 90 minutes later)

  10. Perhaps hoping to fill in some of the gaps from my 2011 review above of this work — by my now reading a new NicoRay synergy evolving within it …

    Pages 129 – 137

    “Reines occupies his every free minute writing stories and essays for ephemeral literary magazines; as soon as one of them is born on Paternoster Row, you can be sure to read the name of Archile Reines among its contributors.”

    This reminds me of my own history where people seemed to expect a D.F. Lewis story in every ephemeral magazine between 1986 and 1999, in both the UK and the US. Now I spend every free minute Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing books, in search of some indeterminate Holy Grail of literature! But this point only seems to demonstrate that – as in The Gloomy Alley – there is a new translatable synergy or combat here BETWEEN manuscripts or narrations, with Reines being the (mad?) filter of Ballister’s dying words describing the circumstances of the voyage of the Hen Parrot, now Mainz Psalter (renamed for reasons here given), from Big Toe in the Minches. Peppered with references to Dickens and Scott (not Nicolay). I have been to the Minches and Tiumpan Point, by the way, myself, in the 1970s. And this now is surely THE Cruise of Shadows?

  11. The rest of ‘The Mainz Psalter’, up to page 168.

    This is the very first time I have cheated either openly or surreptitiously in a gestalt real-time review (here openly) but the plot of this final work (bravely translated or synergised by Nicolay) is now beyond me (although immensely enjoyable in a mind-surging sort of way as we have here a cross between the Dracula voyage I saw on TV over Christmas, and flavours of Swift, Hodgson, Poe &c.,) so please see my own real-time review reproduced above as written by me nine years ago when I was younger and, no doubt, far more astute, and if you want a plain summary of the plot (a summary I consulted AFTER finishing my latest reading of this incredible Ray work) please see:

    I shall now read the fulsome notes (pages 169 – 205) by the translator for the first time. And thanks to him for providing this invaluable book. Academically responsible and wildly, madly, brainstormingly something else, too, I infer.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s