Best British Horror 2018

This one came to me as a review copy through LibraryThing. I asked for it solely because it had stories from Reggie Oliver and Paul Finch.

Review: Best British Horror 2018, ed. Johnny Mains, 2018.

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Cover by Daniel Serra

This could have been titled Best British Weird Stories 2018 because the anthology has some of the flavor of those Year’s Best Weird Fiction put out by Undertow Publications. Most of the stories are not horror of the visceral, gruesome, and frightening sort. They range from surrealism – mostly pointless – to well-done variations of old horror situations.

The Reggie Oliver stories did not disappoint even if one, “A Day with the Delusionists” is a satire on poets and Oxford University, wit and no horror though there is a murder. The Delusionists is an Oxford club of students, and, at one of their costume parties in 1973, an aging poet ends up dead.

The other Oliver story is decidedly something else. First appearing in a theme anthology built around Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Love and Death” reverses Wilde’s premise of a portrait that absorbs the moral and physical failings of its subject. Here the circus strongman, who stands as the model for Love in the titular painting, begins to weaken. Too late, the painter realizes that, John Keats to the contrary, beauty and truth are not the same as the figure of Death changes in the painting. Continue reading “Best British Horror 2018”

“Sredni Vashtar”

This week’s piece of weird fiction is from Saki, aka Hector Munro.

Review: “Sredni Vashtar”, Saki, 1910.

Saki’s tale is one of an unhappy child, Conradin.

He is under the guardianship of his cousin, Mrs. De Ropp:

in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination.

Where Conradin’s imagination ends and reality begins is what makes it a weird tale.

He is a lonely child. He escapes the domination of his cousin, whom he dubs “the Woman”, by hanging out in a tool-shed on the property. In it are two animals. The Houaden hen is recipient of all the affection Conradin cannot give elsewhere.

And there’s a pet ferret, kept secret from the Woman, and dubbed Sredni Vashtar. Continue reading ““Sredni Vashtar””

“The Monkey’s Paw”

This week’s subject of discussion over at the Deep Ones weird fiction group on LibraryThing.

Review: “The Monkey’s Paw“, W. W. Jacobs, 1902.

This story has been adopted so many times in so many media as well as parodied that’s there’s no point in discussing it in detail. You probably know the story and can guess the ending. (For some reason, the Deep Ones group has never discussed it. We just assumed we had given its such a well known story.)

It’s the three-wishes story, the three wishes being fulfilled in ways you really don’t want.

It’s a nicely done tale. Jacobs has a deft touch with how the idea of the monkey’s paw and its wishes are treated by the Whites who are given the paw by a family friend returned from army service in India. (He suggests they burn the thing. He got his wishes already.)

At first the Whites are skeptical about the idea and then, understandably, decide to test to see if it works. They even start by wishing for a smart and modest thing – enough money to pay off the mortgage on their home. But that money comes as an indemnity for their son’s death. The idea that the wishes would be granted in a way that could be interpreted as non-miraculous is a nice touch.

Of course, the climax – where the knocking of the dead son is suddenly stopped – shows that there really was something supernatural at work. Jacobs nicely conveys Mrs. White’s desperation to have her son back and Mr. White’s equal determination not to have whatever came up from the cemetary in the house.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

 

 

 

“No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”

This was last week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Ralph Adams Cram, incidentally, was a very noted American architect who dabbled in fiction. I frequently pass by one of his churches in the Gothic Revival style.

Review: “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”, Ralph Adams Cram, 1895.

I get the impression that there were many American “ghost stories” in the late 19th century that involved rich Americans in France, and this is one of them.

It’s also one of those weird fiction stories where a great deal is left unexplained. Sometimes, that can seem the writer failing to transmit an affecting vision. Other times, though, it works to create a memorable account of an odd incident. After all, what is weirder than us brushing against forces and events we cannot explain? Continue reading ““No. 252 Rue M. le Prince””

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

No, I haven’t given up blogging. I’ve been on a rare vacation and am catching up on the weird fiction readings over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, Edgar Allan Poe, 1841.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Yes, it’s the story with the razor-wielding orangutan. As I did with my review of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, I’m not going to bother summarizing or reviewing such a well-known story. Rather, I’ll summarize some observations on the tale made by others and talk about some of its oddities.

I’d forgotten that it takes awhile for Poe to get to his story. The first two pages of a 26 page story in the Stephen Peithman annotated version are taken up by Poe discussing the superiority of analysis (its original etymology deriving from disentangling elements) to mere calculation (which derives from combining elements). Analysis, which Dupin is the epitome of, requires reason, imagination, and observation.

This leads to Poe arguing that checkers and whist are games requiring the successful player to have greater intellect than chess. Whist, in particular, he argues, requires skills more applicable to general application in life – observation of players to know when they are bluffing, deducing what they are concealing, and memory – than life. I’m half convinced by this argument. I’m sure there have been some men (and, yes, virtually all the top players are men) who are expert chess players and who have been, as they say, well-integrated socially, but, having recently read a biography of Bobby Fisher, I know that’s not always the case. In any case, I’m, at best, a mediocre player of all three games, so I can’t claim any great personal insight. Continue reading ““The Murders in the Rue Morgue””