Saturday 8 December 2012

Glamour of Ghosts & Shadows!

Good things should be shared with others, and therefore, here goes my review for a book that I concluded only today.

Before I begin my review of ‘The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows’, a big “thank you” must be shouted to Peter Morgan of Sarob Press, and Rosemary Pardoe, editor of “Ghosts & Scholars”, for giving us this extraordinary anthology of stories. Hollywood has made all of us aware of the magic (or lack thereof) weaved by sequels & prequels, but who could have imagined the spectrum that might be covered by authors as they conjured up sequels & prequels to some of the most ‘canonical’ ghost stories in English literature! But now, to the review.

 v Introduction by Rosemary Pardoe: informative, candid, and compact ‘welcome’ to all the readers.

1.    ‘Alberic de Mauleon’ by Helen Grant: a compact & grim prequel to “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook”, that stands out as a rich & satisfying tale of retribution.

2.    ‘Anningley Hall, Early Morning’ by Rick Kennett: a taut retelling of the tale that was the basis of “The Mezzotint”.

3.    ‘The Mezzotaint’ by John Llewellyn Probert: a fresh & horrific interpretation of the events described in “The Mezzotint”.

4.    ‘Quis est Iste?’ by Christopher Harman: a sequel to “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, which is suffocating in its ability to create the atmosphere of dread & malice, and then absolutely stunning in its dénouement.

5.    ‘The Guardian’ by Jacqueline Simpson: a light-hearted sequel to “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas” that, despite deviating from the general tone of the anthology (and James’ own dictum that ghosts should be malicious), is quite a change after so many grim stories.

6.    ‘Between Four Yews’ by Reggie Oliver: a brilliant story that, apart from being a combined prequel & sequel to “A School Story”, is also a masterpiece in macabre storytelling.

7.    ‘The Mirror of Don Ferrante’ by Louis Marvick: notionally a sequel to “Casting the Runes”, this story is a stand-alone example of the author’s exquisite skills, and makes us hungry for more (perhaps the Ex Occidente title would be reprinted by Swan River Press or some other kindred soul to make it available for us?).

8.    ‘Fire Companions’ by Mark Valentine: an atmospheric sequel to “Two Doctors”.

9.    ‘Of Three Girls and of Their Talk’ by Derek John: notionally a prequel to “Wailing Well”, it is a stark tale of tragedy, despair and doom.

10.    ‘The Gift’ by C.E.Ward: a dark, menacing and complex sequel to “The Experiment”.

11.    ‘Malice’ by David A. Sutton: notionally a sequel to “The Malice of Inanimate Objects”, it makes James’ title come alive, and lot more literally than the original.

12.    ‘Glamour of Madness’ by Peter Bell: a sequel-cum-explanation of “A Vignette”, this story establishes why Bell is being regarded as the one of brightest star in the horizon since his “Strange Epiphanies” came out.


Overall, a brilliant collection that should be essential reading for any lover of classic supernatural stories; and of course, if you like M.R. James’ tales, then you MUST read these tales, esp. to read the stories written by Reggie Oliver & Peter Bell, who have taken some of James’ later & lesser efforts, and have carved two dark masterpieces out of them. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Lovecraft revisited?

Last night, I read Alan Moore's "Neonomicon", one of the most hotly debated, discussed, criticised and admired books of recent times:
These are my thoughts concerning this book: -
  • Quality of drawing: Superb, and one of the best that I have recently seen in works by Alan Moore.
  • Story: The first part ("The Courtyard") was better, while the second part was the bleakest & darkest piece that has originated from Moore's Pen (except "From Hell", but there truth was darker than fiction).
  • Concept: Many authors have tried to re-interpret H.P.Lovecraft and his mythos, according to their own perceptions, and Moore makes his own contribution. But in the 2nd half, the sexual stuff becomes mind-numbingly big (no pun intended), and dwarves everything else. The concept of re-inventing language to provide it with a dimensional depth was good, but it was overshadowed by the scenes of rape & bestiality. Too explicit, according to my opinion.
Summing up: Better than the recent deplorable efforts in the 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' series, but too dark to be appreciated properly.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Reading more strange tales

Completed reading this book last night:
My humble review is like this:

Horror, as a genre, is like a country-fair. It is not necessary that everything you come across would be likeable; in fact some of them might disturb/distress/infuriate you to the point where you simply decide not to attend such fairs in future. But at times you would come across such elegant and charming pieces that would move you like never before. Fortunately, the present volume under review is one such exquisite & delightful piece, which should rekindle a reader’s romance with ghost stories. Although this is not the author’s latest book (that honour rests with “Ghosts”, published by Swan River Press very recently), chronologically they are later than those included in the aforesaid collection. This gets reflected in the tone & tenor of the stories. They are “strange”, “Aickmanesque”, slightly off-balance to induce a giddiness in the mind of the reader with respect to the reliability of the vision of the narrator/protagonist. But despite all these attributes, they were also smoother and better than the author’s earlier stories.

The stories in this collection are: -

1.      Literary Remains: a brilliant ghost story that kept me hanging till the last line, and even then left much-much to my imagination.

2.      An Artist’s Model: I am unable to classify this story, but it was shocking, and a superb read.

3.      Llanfihangel: Ghost story? Love story? Con-couple’s story? Feel free to make up your mind, although I am unable to decide anything. But what a story…….!

4.      Una Furtiva Lagrima: This is a story of lost love, quest, murder, and lots & lots of “what if…”. You have to read this story to understand what I am raving about, but believe me, you would be chilled to the core after you have read it.

5.      Another Country: sophisticated, but this theme has been practised & perfected by past masters; nevertheless, a very good & pacey read.

6.      Loup-garou: this was the first piece of fiction written by the author that I had read in an anthology edited by Mark Valentine, and reading only this story should be sufficient to prove how accomplished an author R.B. Russell is, and how he can alter an entire sub-genre within horror into something different.

7.      Blue Glow: The most “open” horror story that I have read in some time. It dissatisfied me, since I was reading it like a mystery (which it is), and it ended rather suddenly.

8.      A Revelation: Ghost story? Delusion? Optical illusion? Something else? Take your pick, but after reading this jaw-droppingly fresh story, you would be stunned.

9.      Asphodel: the simplest story in this collection which has a conventional shape, and is a decent read.

10.  Where They Cannot Be Seen: The perfect story to round up this delightfully horrifying collection.

I found these stories elegant, charming, compact, and deliciously ambiguous. The author respects the reader’s imagination and allows us to ‘complete’ the picture, while leaving us with enough threads & colours to do so. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Reading strange tales in an empty house!

Forced bachelorhood is not such a bad thing, provided certain adjustments are made in one's life-style. Most importantly, it allows one to unwind with a book in hand, or now that kindle is there one the PC, even sitting in front of that machine, until dead of night. With the help of a couple of such sittings, I managed to complete reading a beautifully produced collection of strange tales. The name of the book is Ghosts, and some detailed information regarding it is available at the website of the publisher: Swan River Press, that may be accessed through this link:

My review of this book is as under: -
My first introduction to Ray Russell, the story-teller, was through a sublime story in an anthology called "The Werewolf Pack". But his earlier stories had been published in very rare limited editions, and were practically beyond our pale. Thanks to Swan River Press, those earlier stories are now available in a beautiful & compact book: the present volume under review. The contents are: -

(*) Introduction by Mark Valentine

1. Putting the Pieces in Place: a story of pain, loss, obsessive quest, and delicious `frisson' inducing haunting.
2. There's Nothing That I Wouldn't Do: Jilted lover's revenge? Nervous breakdown? Practical Joke? This "strange" story was very difficult to classify, but its taut narrative made it a one-sitting-reading.
3. In Hiding: this is the best story of the book, in my humble opinion. With its lean narrative and matter-of-fact approach, the author toys with the protagonist as well as us in presuming one thing after another, and all along hinting something entirely different. This is a story that Algernon Blackwood might have loved to write, although he would have needed a ruthless editor to make the story so highly readable.
4. Eleanor: a very well-told story of an author's most famous creation coming back to life (I know, I know, it has been done dime-a-dozen, but this story still managed to keep me thinking about "what next"), told in a very gentle (English?) manner befitting the central character, but retaining its `strange-ness' all along.
5. Dispossessed: perhaps the most depressing & bleak story that I have read in recent times (only Terry Lamsley's "Running in The Family" beats it).
6. Bloody Baudelaire: it had many things: gothic mansion, strange characters involved in intellectual wordplay, disquiet-causing game of cards, murder (manslaughter?), mysterious acts (paintings being completed after the artist is gone, blood appearing here & there). But perhaps its novella-length made it tedious.
(*) Acknowledgements

It is the last two works that somewhat frustrated me, and hence I am dropping a star. But otherwise, this is "strange story" at its best. Readers lamenting the non-availability of new `Aickmanesque' stories, as well as the lovers of classic supernatural fiction, would love to get hold of this book (Cold Tonnage or Fantastic may be helpful, now that its 250 copies are officially, again, out-of-print). Recommended.