Burn Witch Burn does have a certain similarity to the movie that stoleYou can find a more fleshed-out look at this book at my online reading journal.
Burn Witch Burn does have a certain similarity to the movie that stole its title (except for the addition of the commas) -- at the heart of the matter is a man who is forced to reassess his beliefs in the certainties of science when he comes head to head with the supernatural.
We first meet Doctor Lowell, "a medical man specializing in neurology and diseases of the brain," when he is called on by a "notorious underworld chieftain" Julian Ricori, "one of the finished products of the Prohibition Law." One of Ricori's crew is stricken with some very bizarre ailment, manifesting itself with strange symptoms. He eventually dies, but on examination, the doctor finds nothing that could have killed him. The case is so odd that he immediately reaches out to other doctors to see if any of their patients have manifested the same symptoms. When answers start coming in, Lowell is startled to see that a number of people have been in the same boat. After compiling a list of these patients, he (along with Ricori) starts his quest to track down the source of this horrific illness hoping to find even one factor they all had in common. Just as they're starting to make some progress the illness strikes again, this time hitting very close to home.
I won't divulge the meat of the story here, but let me just say that what happens in this book makes the Twilight Zone's Talky Tina look like a rank amateur (hint, hint). There's a lot of creepy stuff going on here -- looking at it from today's perspective, it's mild, even tame, but my guess is it had readers squirming in their armchairs back in the 1930s. It's a strange blending of mystery, pulp, and horror, and while I didn't care too much for it at first, as things progressed, I ended with up with an odd sort of appreciation for this book. First of all, looking past the silly horror parts, there are two main themes that develop out of this novel. One is the question of what it is that constitutes a human's soul; the second, as I've mentioned earlier, is what happens when science butts up against the supernatural. Second, since there are a number of mysteries that need to be solved here, the novel appeals to the part of me that loves these vintage books and just can't get enough.
But speaking of mysteries, we're left with one huge hole, and that is the motivation behind the work of the character Madame Mandilip (a name that cracks me up because she's described as having a visible mustache). We get a smidgen of her history, but we never fully quite understand why she does what she does here, and that's annoying. Seriously annoying.
Merritt is much better known for his "lost-race" novels and short stories which are just plain awful; at the same time one of my biggest guilty pleasures in life is my love for really crappy, really old pulp. Burn Witch Burn is much better than some of Merritt's other work so if you're at all interested you might want to give it a try. I'd say try not to judge it by modern standards if at all possible; just sit back, relax and enjoy. ...more
A huge thanks to Valancourt for bringing the book to my attention. I can honestly say that I've never read anything like it ever. Yes, it is a novel aA huge thanks to Valancourt for bringing the book to my attention. I can honestly say that I've never read anything like it ever. Yes, it is a novel about a house (The Strath) that is "haunted," but not by ghosties, ghoulies, or other things that go bump in the night. In fact, exactly what constitutes the source of the house's power is indeed the question that will keep you reading until the very end when all is revealed. Plot (as much as I can in all good conscience give away) can be found here; otherwise keep reading here for the quickie version.
There are a number of factors that elevate this novel from being yet another simple haunted house tale. I'll list a couple of them here. First, the house is the stage for a contemporary tale related in the form of classical Greek drama, complete with all of its component parts. It doesn't take the reader long to figure this out; if nothing else, the chapter headings are constant reminders -- the book is structured into acts, scenes, scene-shifts, incidentals, etc. Another factor that elevates this novel way beyond the norm is the shifting atmosphere of the house, denoting some strange force that takes control of and fashions the players' personalities depending on the current whim of the house. As the introduction states, "the ceaseless interaction of comedic and tragic is the human condition," and in the case of the Strath, this idea takes on some very dark overtones. I will leave it for the reader to discover how and why. There are other indicators of the uniqueness of this story as set apart from "normal" haunted house tales, but those I will also leave for other readers to discover.
I was both fascinated and disturbed by this novel for many reasons, most of which I can't explain without giving away the show. I will just say that Feast of Bacchus is a book that once you've read it, sticks in your head for a very, very long time -- it's that good. A word, though, about the book itself. It was written in 1907, so the writing may come across as a bit archaic to modern readers. If you can get past the style though, it's a book you definitely do not want to miss. Creepy, weird, strange, way out of the ordinary yes, but definitely a fine read....more
Once again Eibonvale has scored really bithe longer version of this review is available at my online reading journal. Otherwise, here's a quick look.
Once again Eibonvale has scored really big on the anthology scale, this time with its collection of short stories Songs for the Lost by author Alexander Zelenyj. There is no way to pigeonhole these tales in terms of genre or style, so the term "dark fiction" or my new favorite phrase "literary darkness" (thank you, RD) will just have to do for the moment. David Rix, "who first launched the good ship Eibonvale," notes in the book's introduction no less than twenty genres, which "suggests a diverse range of styles" including "surrrealism", "weird western," "weird war fiction," "children's fiction," "urban fantasy," "weird erotica," "pulp," "noir," and then his final category, "as well as other less defined things." It is certainly one of the most diverse collections I've ever read -- one minute you're reading about the horrors found in the jungles of Vietnam or Laos and the next thing you know you're in the middle of a suicide cult's final moments -- but even with the wide range of styles on offer here, thematically they all tie together perfectly. Turning once more to the book's introduction, Songs for the Lost deals with "Human pain on a level that is very real," the kind of pain that brings with it a "parallel need for escape, and with it a kind hope."
Songs for the Lost is that perfect, excellent blend of literary and dark that I am always looking for and in my opinion, it is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves dark fiction. Highly recommended but not just for anyone. Prepare to be gut punched, and do not read this book while you're depressed. Once again, it's a small press that proves that literary and dark can indeed go hand in hand -- cheers. ...more
Don't write a comment flaming me because I didn't love this book. I just didn't. Bottom line. I didn't hate it, but it's not going to appear on my perDon't write a comment flaming me because I didn't love this book. I just didn't. Bottom line. I didn't hate it, but it's not going to appear on my personal favorites list for the year. It's a very s--l--o--w buildup of a story to an ending that well, frankly, has been done before. The scenario is very different, but I think having read so much of Lovecraft (and the authors he's influenced over the years) sort of spoiled it for me, so in a way, it's not the author's fault that I didn't like this one as much as I might have. It's kind of like seeing a movie then going back to read the book -- you already know what's going to happen so there's less of an impact by the time the ending comes around.
Jamie Morton, a man in his early sixties, recounts his life story in this book, one that first took a strange turn when he met the Reverend Charles Jacobs at the age of six in 1962. Jacobs, as Morton notes, is his "fifth business," "the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis." Jacobs has an odd hobby, working with electricity, and his "youth talks" with the kids of the Methodist Youth Fellowship often involved lessons where he used electricity or couched his lectures in electro-speak to illustrate the points he was trying to make. He was very well liked among the congregation, swelling its numbers to peak levels, and really made an impression when he used an electrical device to help bring back the voice of Jamie's brother Con after an accident that left him mute. All is well until the fateful day that the reverend's wife and little boy went out in their car and were killed. Afterwards, in his grief, Jacobs goes to the pulpit where he began "edging into blasphemy" by renouncing doctrine on the afterlife and by renouncing religion in general as the
"theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so --pardon the pun--so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist."
The reverend is fired, of course, and leaves town, but it's not the last time Jamie sees him. Over the next several years, he will cross and recross paths with Jacobs, and a connection is made that will ultimately change Jamie's life and question his understanding of all that he has come to know as reality.
There is a veritable slew of literary influence to be found woven throughout this book -- Arthur Machen and Lovecraft are the big ones, but you'll also find in Jacobs a bit of Captain Ahab going after his white whale. Mary Shelley is definitely represented here (in more ways than one), as is M.R. James, Ray Bradbury, and I'm sure there are a few others that I've missed. There are also, as in many books by this author, bits and pieces of King's own life (and other work) to be found here. As usual, he starts out in small-town America, where the people in the community are your neighbors in the true sense of the word, making everything seem so normal and easygoing that you just can't wait to see what's going to provide the catalyst that changes everything. He also continues his theme of innocence lost, here with a major twist. When King is writing on religion and the whole spectacle of the religious-healing-tent-revival he is amazing, making the reader feel like he/she is right there in the crowd. But on the flip side -- it's so slow -- by page 299 I was thinking that ""maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get somewhere in this book. One can always hope." And frankly, I just didn't feel like the payoff was worth wading through Jamie Morton's entire life story. I see so many ways that this book could have been better, but oh well.
Perusing the normal book-related websites, it seems that people just can't get enough of this book, and the ratings are definitely high. I wouldn't be surprised to see Revival jetting into the top ranks of the NYT bestseller list soon, but for me, I'm doing that hand thing that means iffy. ...more
While I hate and detest star ratings because what a particular number means to me may not mean the same to anyone else, for my own purposes I'll giveWhile I hate and detest star ratings because what a particular number means to me may not mean the same to anyone else, for my own purposes I'll give it a 3.8.
It's really hard to pigeonhole this novel. While there is an entire subgenre of "paranormal mystery," that's not really an apt description of this book, nor is it the feel I got while reading it -- I've read enough of them to know the difference. There are definitely some weird elements involved, but Our Lady of Pain is more of a hybrid of mystery and pulp with a helping of horror and supernatural strangeness to keep things lively and entertaining. It reminds me of a lot of old books I read when I was a kid that incorporated the same three elements and held me completely spellbound for hours.
Our Lady of Pain begins when Daily Globe reporter Harry Clay (who writes "the kind of pretentious tosh our readers love; bless their empty little bird brains") is sent by his boss to review a production of Shaw's Saint Joan. Lead actress Susan Vallance is widely hated by the public and has a reputation for bullying her co-workers, and Harry's boss thinks that if she happens to flop on opening night, the Globe's readers will be elated since they're "always regaled by the fall of unpopular figures." Harry isn't overly enthused with the idea, and before the curtain rises, he slips out for some air after seeing a doctor whose life story he'd written two years earlier ("a completely evil human being," he believes) for the paper leaving the stage door. Harry smells a story and neglects the play in favor of following the doctor. Once he's home, he writes a glowing review and turns the story just before the paper is put to bed. Unfortunately for Harry, the evening's performance was beyond terrible, bad enough that his review will make the Globe a laughingstock while its "rivals will have headlines crucifying Susan Vallance." He wasn't fired, but moved to another paper, The Advertiser, where his life was "now devoted to bishops and mayors opening schools, mayoresses gushing at flower-shows, and aldermen pontificating about the rates." Harry just knows that if the right story comes along, he can get back in the Globe's good graces -- and he finds it in a conversation he just happens to overhear at a pub, a conversation that refers to a woman named Naureen in hospital and a "job" done by three people. One of the speakers mentions a curse and "creatures," which really whets Harry's appetite, especially when he realizes just who it is that is speaking. Following his nose, Harry resorts to some pretty lowlife antics to get the story -- and the trail leads right back to the theater, this time for a production of "Our Lady of Pain," starring Susan Vallance as the countess Elizabeth Bathory. Harry's attempts at following the path of this cryptic conversation constitutes a large part of this book and leads him on a crazy ride, but even he knows that there's much, much more to this story than quite literally meets the eye.
Blackburn gets very clever in this novel. Not only does he bring in and add his own versions of the old legends of Elizabeth Bathory, but he also contributes into the mix a unique form of punishment (perhaps even justice) suffered by the criminals. One by one, they become residents of their own personal hells, which are referred to here as "Room 101" reflecting Orwell's 1984. In Orwell's work, it is a place where people are forced to confront their worst fears as a sort of torture designed to completely break down one's spirit, and the same symbolically applies here. He adds another layer to this story by placing it in the context of a house haunted by a strange family tradition starting in 1643, one that only the male heir is made party to on his seventh birthday. When all is said and done, the novel is particularly creepy and even a little campy sometimes, but more than that, it is immensely entertaining up to the very end, which is definitely one of the more chilling endings I've read in a long while.
I tend to say this a lot, but it's true: nowadays I think people prefer gorefests, torture and splatter in their horror reading, which is truly a shame because there's so much more out there quality wise in terms of modern horror/dark literature and past works of the genre. I constantly see bad reviews given to what I consider works of worthwhile writing both past and present because they're "too tame," while stellar reviews are awarded for the instant gratification brought through gore & splatter and the grossest, most dehumanizing things anyone can imagine. If that's your schtick, then whatever, but to me it's just plain sad that this sort of thing seems to be so de rigeur nowadays when I know there is better work out there. While Our Lady of Pain may not be the epitome of great horror reading, it is still a fine, forgotten book that deserves to be read, campiness and all....more