I actually read this back in December during a stormy day, wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot, spicy chai in hand -- it was, as I mcatching up:
I actually read this back in December during a stormy day, wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot, spicy chai in hand -- it was, as I mentioned somewhere, a perfectly ahhhh sort of Saturday experience. There are two eerie tales in one volume here: the title story, "The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral," and a story that has never before seen the light of day in the US, "Brangwyn Gardens." My personal favorite is the latter, but both are quite good, and I have absolutely no qualms in recommending this little book.
Sadly, to tell is to ruin so I'm not going to be giving away much in the way of plot, most especially for "Brangwyn Gardens." In "The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral," we have a first-person narrative going on via a steeplejack named Joe Clarke, whose company has been offered a job fixing the southwest tower of the titular cathedral. It's not the sort of job Joe's company is regularly asked to do -- as he notes, "Cathedrals were for the big boys," -- but the company that is usually commissioned seems to be busy elsewhere for the entire summer; the other company is not available because one of their men has a back injury. The first clue we have that something just ain't right here is Joe's remark about "lying sods," and about the "big boys" knowing something he didn't. Alarm bells started ringing in my head about then (and that's just on page two), so I knew this was going to be good. How right I was -- the rest of this story begins once Joe is high up on the Cathedral's tower, as he senses some creepiness emanating from of all things, one of the gargoyles found there. Joe, though, is the consummate professional, extremely proud of his work and the family tradition of steeplejacking, so he sort of shakes it off until one night when his young son goes sleepwalking and is found at the tower...
That's all I'll reveal about the story now, except for the fact that once Joe goes delving into the tower's history, he discovers something from its past that has made its way into the present. While normally this sort of thing isn't my typical reading material, I loved this story, which proceeded to put knots in my stomach the more I got into it.
On to "Brangwyn Gardens," which is set in 1955 London, beginning when a young student (Harry Shaftoe) with a sort of cavalier attitude about life takes a room in an attic in a house in Brangwyn Gardens. This tale is a story about obsession that grows from his discovery of a wartime diary kept by a young woman, Catherine Winslow. As he reads through the diary, he comes to realize that this girl had a secret longing for a "dark and dangerous man" whom she eventually finds. As he is drawn more deeply into her story, he begins to notice signs that perhaps the past lives on at number eleven Brangwyn Gardens, and his obsession begins to take hold, drawing him back in time...
This story is much more in my reading line -- a very poignant and downright haunting story that for some reason made me think of Virginia Woolf's "A Haunted House" even though the two are very, very different. I can't say why exactly this tale made me go there in my head, but it did. I absolutely loved "Brangwyn Gardens." In reading over reader reactions to this story, I discovered that many people felt a bit let down at its ending, but not me -- a) I love stories like this one where the past tends to collide with the present and b) without sounding mushy here, it was a sad story that touched me on a very human, emotional level. I won't say more, because it is something a person must experience, but I will say that I thought about "Brangwyn Gardens" for days after I'd finished it.
I'd never read Westall before because I thought he wrote mainly for children, but there is nothing at all childish about either of these two stories, which although vastly different from each other, are connected with their focus on the past and how it lingers on into the present. Recommended, although perhaps more for people like me who seem to appreciate old-school sort of horror and supernatural stories....more
Not only is Experimental Files a book that pushed every single one of my horror-loving buttons, it is also a story very welVerdict: Simply excellent.
Not only is Experimental Files a book that pushed every single one of my horror-loving buttons, it is also a story very well told, one that grabbed my attention on the second page of chapter one and didn't let up, not for one instant. And it was done without tentacles, walking dead, or splatter, although, as the main character of this story reveals more than once, there are most certainly cosmic forces at work in this tale:
"...the world is full of holes behind which numinous presences lurk -- secrets no one should ever have to see, or want to. And those who do will never be the same."
If you want the basic plot outline with absolutely no spoilers, I've posted more about it here.
The very haunting story in this book is an absolute hackle raiser that had me flip flip flipping pages, but at the same time, there are also a LOT of interesting things going on here outside of the creepy elements. There are the main character's experiences as the mother of an autistic child, the novel's focus on films, on writing, on art in general and much, much more. After reading about the author just briefly, it seems that she's pouring out parts of her own story into these pages, something that when done well tends to augment an author's work, and here it brings an added layer of life to this book. I loved one line in particular where she says that "doing your art -- your work -- can help you save your own life," and that idea most certainly comes across in this book.
As a plain-old, average but a bit picky sort of reader person, I'll just say that this book has everything that I could possibly want in a modern horror novel; considering that my real obsession is in works from the past, that's saying a lot.
The back cover blurb of this book says that Mercer
"channeled his antiquarian interests and his love of GothI really liked this one. I liked it a LOT.
The back cover blurb of this book says that Mercer
"channeled his antiquarian interests and his love of Gothic literature into November Night Tales (1928), a volume of highly imaginative weird tales in the mode of M.R. James."
I went into the book as I normally do, without expectations, but it wasn't too long into the first story, "Castle Valley," when I started thinking "I've read something like this before." Sorting through all of the clutter in my head, I realized that in its own way, "Castle Valley" sort of reminded me of James' "View From a Hill." In James' story, an archaeologist gets a view of the past with the help of some rather sinister binoculars; here, a painter and his friend discover a scrying stone that does much the same. But this doesn't mean that November Night Tales is a James ripoff -- au contraire -- it is quite an original collection of stories that should be read and appreciated on its own merit. This book gathers together many facets of Mercer's personal interests: the natural landscape, local legends, mythology, and above all, castles. As the introduction notes,
"Indeed, to Mercer, the very presence of a castle suggested an almost infinite number of possibilities. 'Castles, Castles, Castles -- Where do their stories begin or end?"
As happens often with James (especially in his Antiquary stories), Mercer's characters tend to find themselves in the position of coming across something they probably shouldn't be messing with, but are all the same compelled to explore further in hopes of some sort of satisfactory, rational answer. In the process, these people end up discovering that there are often things that exist well beyond their understanding, but they also tend to realize something about themselves as well.
The table of contents is as follows (I won't go into each story here, since it's best to discover Mercer on one's own):
"Castle Valley" "The North Ferry Bridge" "The Blackbirds" "The Wolf Book" "The Dolls' Castle" "The Sunken City" "The Well of Monte Corbo"
I will say that while I thought all of the stories in this book were quite good, I found three I enjoyed just a bit more than the others. There's "The Dolls' Castle," a great gothic haunted-house sort of story that was just downright creepy, as was "The Wolf Book," which starts in an old monastery in the Carpathians. I don't know about anyone else, but the combination of old text, monastery and the Carpathians is a definite draw for me, a scenario I can't resist; there were other very cool historical bits in this story as well as a look at how local legends and myths can transform a community. "The North Ferry Bridge" was also quite fun, with a little dark, pulpy creeposity in the telling which was a definite plus for me; added to that aspect, I also got the horrific tale of an escaped madman, another story type that I can't not read. While these three elevated my heart rate for a while, all of the stories in November Night Tales were definitely "highly imaginative" and "weird," as promised. Then, of course, comes the added bonus of finding a previously-unknown (to me) author and reading his work ...
While the stories may not exactly scare the pants off of readers, they are highly intelligent, well written and they set the brain into high gear while reading them. These are dark tales for thinking people who don't need everything spelled out for them and frankly, they're just plain fun.
As always Valancourt, thanks for bringing the obscure back into the light. ...more
This 1937 title has been brought back recently into print and out of obscurity by Valancourt, whose books are sending me to the poorhou3.8 rounded up.
This 1937 title has been brought back recently into print and out of obscurity by Valancourt, whose books are sending me to the poorhouse because I can't resist picking up their latest titles. I'm smiling all the way there though, because so far I've had incredible luck with the books I've bought -- some I probably would never have even known existed without the Valancourt guys making it possible. Fingers of Fear continues my run of good luck with this publisher -- here you have an old family home filled to the brim with family secrets, quite possibly an outbreak of lycanthropy, ghosts that stalk secret passages and (this is so cool) a portrait whose evil eyes watch anyone coming within its purview. While the plot and the action may be a bit convoluted at times and a bit hard to follow in moments, it's a really fun mix of gothic and the supernatural all rolled into one.
Fingers of Fear is set in depression-era America, and young Selden Seaforth is down to his last coins. With no money and no job, life is tough for him; he's also divorced from his wife. As he's despairing of what to do, bemoaning the fact that he's so poor that even his so-called friends from better days tend to ignore him, fortune smiles out of the blue in the form of Ormond Ormes. Ormes had been at school with Seaforth -- they meet and Ormes offers Seaforth a job which seems tailor made for him. It seems that because of some conditions in a relative's will, Ormes must have his rather extensive book collection catalogued and summarized (it's a bit more complicated, but that description will suffice for now). Seaforth will have room, board, and desperately-needed money. It all sounds so perfect, but as is usually the case in these sorts of things, it turns out to be a case of "if it sounds too good to be true, it generally is." Ormes takes him to the family home in the Berkshires, Ormesby, drops him off and returns him to the city; and virtually no time passes before Seaforth has his first supernatural encounter which shakes him to his rational, logical core. While trying to figure out what's going on at Ormesby and dealing with the inhabitants who keep family secrets tucked away for their own reasons, the supernatural encounters increase and then the first body is found...
As I noted above, the action in this book can be a little convoluted but reading patiently pays off in spades. There are secrets within secrets to be found here, creepy secret passages that lead to an unexpected discovery, and the story is actually quite good. Above all though, Nicolson had a major talent for atmosphere -- and the minute the reader arrives with Seaforth at Ormesby, he/she will be plunged directly into a veritable den of Gothic terrors served up with a side of the supernatural. Aside from his wandering plot, the author writes very well. Considering he wasn't a regular author of supernatural/weird tales, he pulls it off quite nicely. It is also a book of its time -- Depression-era America is well portrayed in this story in terms of an embedded commentary on underlying social issues of the 1930s.
For me, Fingers of Fear was a fine, fun read in an old-school horror/gothic sort of way. It may not capture the minds and hearts of modern readers who must have something incredibly gross, violent or downright demeaning in some cases to get their horror jollies, but if like me you are finding your way back to a time before all of those elements were somehow necessary for a good chill, this might just be a good one to pick up. This book is a very welcome addition to my ever-growing dark fiction/horror/weird/supernatural library where the Valancourt editions are slowly taking over the shelves. ...more
4.5 rounded up -- another great Valancourt reprint!
[as always, more here; read on for the short version. ]
Valancourt's edition of Fengriffen & O4.5 rounded up -- another great Valancourt reprint!
[as always, more here; read on for the short version. ]
Valancourt's edition of Fengriffen & Other Gothic Tales consists of four stories. The two longest stories, "Fengriffen" and "The Dead End" that bookend the shorter ones "Anachrona" and "The Foreign Bride," are the best in the collection, although all of them are spectacular, each in its own way. He really picks up the Gothic tone here, so much so that in the title story at least, there is that lovely sense of ambiguity that characterizes Gothic literature -- is what's happening here truly supernatural, or is there something going on in the main character's mind? Or is it both?
Another thing I noticed in this book is that with the exception of "The Foreign Bride," science of some sort plays a role; when Case mixes science with the supernatural, the strange, or even the sexual, anything can and does happen. In "Fengriffen," for example (without giving anything at all away, since people should really experience these stories themselves), the narrator is a sort of proto-psychoanalyst, a "practitioner of an infant science" probing the "secrets of the mind" long before there was a Freud. "Anachrona," which reminded me immediately of Hoffman, includes scholars who "knew of Huygens and Newton, of pendulums and gravity," and "The Dead End," well, suffice it say that science has a major role to play in that one. "The Foreign Bride," on the other hand, is a dark, slow burner of a tale that delves deeply into the evils that exist in human nature; the story feeds off of superstition.
I'm being purposely vague here; suffice it to say that Case writes very, very well and his work managed to get deeply under my skin, especially in "Fengriffen," "The Foreign Bride" and "The Dead End," all of which produced multiple spine tingles and neck hackles without once getting gross or resorting to splatter. Absolutely fantastic book; very highly recommended to vintage horror/gothic/strange tale fans. ...more
In 2014, had he lived, J.S. Le Fanu would have been two hundred years old, and Dreams of Shadow and Smoke is an anthology in celebration of that annivIn 2014, had he lived, J.S. Le Fanu would have been two hundred years old, and Dreams of Shadow and Smoke is an anthology in celebration of that anniversary. And it is outstanding. Bottom line.
Without going into detail -- there are definitely writeups of this book out there already done by real reviewers -- there are ten stories in this book written by ten wonderful writers. Two of them, Sarah LeFanu (note the spelling difference) and Emma Darwin have some sort of family connection; several are from people whose work I've read previously and I've discovered new ones to seek out. Here's the Table of Contents:
"Seaweed Tea," by Mark Valentine "Let the Words Take You," by Angela Slatter "Some Houses -- A Rumination," by Brian J. Showers "Echoes," by Martin Hayes "Alicia Harker's Story," by Sarah LeFanu "Three Tales from a Townland," by Derek John "The Corner Lot," by Lynda Rucker "Rite of Possession," by Gavin Selerie "A Cold Vehicle for the Marvellous," by Emma Darwin "Princess of the Highway," by Peter Bell
All of these tales are delightfully dark and done with such a degree of finesse that makes the book sheer joy to lose yourself in. There are also "story notes" at the end of the book, where each author talks about his or her work in this volume and how Le Fanu has influenced them in their own writings.
For me what sealed the deal with this book was not just the stories themselves, but the focus on the combination of landscape & history and how it melds with the already somewhat-disturbed psyche. This concept is played out time and again -- in Peter Bell's "Princess of the Highway" for example the view from a holiday cottage in the remote Irish countryside ventures
"across the rain-drenched moorland, the peat-hags, the black bogs and the solitary lough, beneath the louring clouds which, down here in the depression, seemed to suffocate, eloquently earning the land's repute as the most haunted region of Ireland."
It is an "eerie landscape... eloquent of darker legends, and a history as bloody as it was bleak". But Ireland isn't the only setting. Angela Slatter uses her native Australia "because it taps into that idea of hills and fairy mounds, yet it's part of a wild landscape that's very different to Ireland." And in "Seaweed Tea," the coast of England reveals a spot where "the sea seemed to obey different rules," where "black stones ... hold the secret ... of the other tide, the dark tide... invisible to us..."
There is a reviewer from Totally Dublin who wrote what I think is the perfect summary of this collection:
"...this literary parlour game in Sheridan's honour yields happy fruits -- his shade would smile."
I have to say that I couldn't think of higher praise for this entire book. If I was as eloquent, I would say the very same thing.