In November 2017, Nightjar Press published two chapbooks by Claire Dean: The Unwish and Bremen. In stark contrast to Bremen, this story begins in a deIn November 2017, Nightjar Press published two chapbooks by Claire Dean: The Unwish and Bremen. In stark contrast to Bremen, this story begins in a determinedly domestic and ordinary style, but both ultimately explore similar themes, of being lost and found, remembered or forgotten, loving someone and receiving indifference in return.
Amy, her sister and parents are gathering at their old family holiday cottage, which they haven't visited since Amy was a child. Being around Sara, the older and more accomplished sister, reminds Amy of her own failures. It doesn't help that she's waiting for her new boyfriend to arrive and he's sending unusually cold text messages. This could just be a story of how difficult families can be and how uncertain one feels in a new relationship – until Amy remembers something from a book of children's folk tales that Sara insists she must have imagined.
The Unwish brings otherworldly elements into an everyday situation masterfully; the realistic dialogue is a particularly effective touch. With her realisation about Sara, I wondered if Amy was going to take a form of revenge with another 'unwish', but if she does, it is left unsaid. The final sentence, however, is haunting.
I've never been to Bremen, but Claire Dean's short story made me feel like a) I really want to and b) I can picture it so vividly that it's almost asI've never been to Bremen, but Claire Dean's short story made me feel like a) I really want to and b) I can picture it so vividly that it's almost as though I already have. It starts with a very intriguing vignette: a tourist is enticed to a stall by an old woman making marzipan figurines; a man watches, and steps forward with a warning, but is unable to form words. From here, the narrative steps back to explain who this character is and what he is searching for. It's a bittersweet, lonely fantasy, a sad modern fairytale, filled with evocative sentences that bring the setting to life: 'rain needled down through the early dusk'; 'bitter chocolate laced the air'; 'a small crowd was gathered in the dim drizzle staring up into the night'.
Loved this unusual little story about a man who falls in love with a chess-playing automaton. The first-person account is framed as having been foundLoved this unusual little story about a man who falls in love with a chess-playing automaton. The first-person account is framed as having been found among 'the effects of a British infantryman who fell in the Third Battle of the Aisne, May, 1918'. The narrator, William Bradney, lives with his parents in an ailing Somerset theatre, the Comedy. The Automaton – 'a slim waxwork woman seated at a desk' – arrives along with the 'impresario', who calls his creation 'Madame' and fawns over her in a disturbingly mocking fashion. The Automaton's trick is the ability to win any game of chess, even against the most talented opponent. As William observes her distinctly non-mechanical movements, her 'fluid deliberation', he becomes increasingly obsessed, and one night he sneaks into the auditorium after dark to challenge her to a game himself...
It's all very uncanny, but what intrigued me most was the section that comes before all this, about William visiting his landlord's country house and meeting the housekeeper. It seems to have almost nothing to do with the rest of the plot. Does William's encounter with Mrs Lisle, particularly his fixation with her hand, foreshadow his later preoccupation with the dexterous Automaton? Are Elizabeth's leg splints an allusion to the blurred distinctions between (wo)man and machine in this story? If we are being told something about the way William perceives women, does it follow (since we only have his point of view) that the Automaton is not really an automaton? I'm still not sure, and the fact that such a short story made me consider so many possibilities is, I think, a testament to its many layered nuances.
The background of Paymon’s Trio is interesting: the author wrote it in 1949, when she was 22 years old, and tucked it away in a folder until it was unThe background of Paymon’s Trio is interesting: the author wrote it in 1949, when she was 22 years old, and tucked it away in a folder until it was unearthed by a relative in 2016. I mention this particularly because it has flaws which are, perhaps, a little more forgivable if you know about its origins. The plot is entertaining enough – it’s old-school horror fare, with a musician finding an 'Infernal Dictionary' at a book stall, and within it sheet music for a disturbing piece which he and his friends unwisely attempt to play. It’s all a bit hoary, and the phrasing can be clunky ('I will start at the beginning and try to impart all its vividness up to you'), but I do like the idea of chapbooks like these from Nightjar Press being used to resurrect the older work of unknown authors.