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.