Tag Archives: Paul Finch

Terror Tales of East Anglia

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

A book I purchased from the publisher:

TERROR TALES OF EAST ANGLIA – edited by Paul Finch

Gray Friar Press 2012

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my other real-time reviews since 2008 are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

My previous reviews of Gray Friar Press books: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/gray-friar-press-my-real-time-reviews/

As ever, I shall only be reviewing the fiction stories.

Authors included: Paul Meloy, Gary Greenwood, Christopher Harman, Roger Johnson, Simon Bestwick, Steve Duffy, Mark Valentine, Gary Fry, Paul Finch, James Doig, Johnny Mains, Alison Littlewood, Edawrd Pearce, Reggie Oliver. (14 Oct 12 – 2 pm bst)

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Loose – Paul Meloy & Gary Greenwood
“I bring Dan the green beens he ask for.”
The best scene in the story that bit. Hilarious play on beans and beens with green rubbish bins. The rest, for me, is disappointing. A run of the mill story, one about East European immigrants in awkward interface with the English natives’ ‘lazy racism’ as they work in a Suffolk hotel. Some feral curse concerning a ‘wolf strap’ – and  easy swear words that seem tacked on rather than intrinsic. Thinly characterised, but with odd  moments of deft horror passages. Not much point, I feel, in looking for deeper meanings, as is my usual wont, nor in recounting more of the plot. [The print is too small for comfortable reading and, also, I hope I shall not need to continue this service of typo spotting as I read the rest of the book: i.e.  ‘sou chef’ should be ‘sous chef’ on p2; wrong hard return after ‘year-‘ on p4; ‘his slid his legs’ on the same page; who on earth is ‘Steve’ on p6?; and should it be ‘Sprite and ice cubes’ on p7 rather than ‘Spite and ice cubes’?] (14 Oct 12 – 2.55 pm bst)

Deep Water – Christopher Harman
Pages 21 – 31
“‘Towards’ was the operative word.
I am about halfway through this substantive story, and already I am as much elated by this work as I was disappointed by the previous one in this anthology. This promises to be a landmark reading experience for me, and not only because I am long familiar with Dunwich, Sizewell, Woodbridge and Hambling’s sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, and not only because this is, at least partially, a superb classical music story (please see my Classical Horror anthology book I recently published), but also because the prose style, the characterisation etc. are wonderful — please see the police character as an example, and the protagonist himself who first reminds me of that in Reggie Oliver’s great senile dementia story ‘Flowers of the Sea’, here with the circumstances of his Celia going missing amid a whole wonderful Davy Jones’ Locker claustrophobia/ exquisition ambiance (my words, not the story’s necessarily) ….. But not completely like that Reggie Oliver character, because this Harman one has arguably betrayed his wife with another woman? Absolutely wonderful, so far, including the Takemitsu, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold references….. [Also, so far, no typos to report, so hopefully those in the previous story were examples of a one-off aberration.] (14 Oct 12 – 6.25 pm)
Pages 31 – 42
“…as if he were one of the lost souls who gravitated towards seaside resorts.”
The first half’s promise, for me, has been fulfilled. This is quite a tour de force, with prose tendrils so outlandish they seem the sea itself. The ‘policeman’ – called Trench – we know now why his legs were earlier described finnish, and the ‘green beens’ from the previous story at least link here with the greenness of ‘Celia’ in the swimming pool.  This is a story with which every reader needs to make his or her own bespoke rapprochement – no review can prepare you for it.   There are so many examples of turns-of-phrase or turns-of-plot that I could give you but they would still only give very little idea of what sort of experience this story is.  It is Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’ taken perhaps to new depths… where the slippery shape of the missing one vanishes and reappears and vanishes again round the corner of aquarium or street or beach, till you wonder if the missing one is you yourself not someone else. A symbol for sea as the growing communal dementia? A ‘mad wife’ as seen by her husband is only mad because she deemed him mad first (thus his perceptions of her were as they were). “Vivaldi was dry, rational until slow pizzicato strings described hard claws tiptoeing across a striated sandy floor. Bach’s contrapuntal lines entwined in his head like smooth tubular growths.” [Meanwhile, I myself attended, as it happens, a live public concert in Clacton-on-Sea last night where my own wife was singing alto in a chorus performing, inter alia, Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ after months of rehearsal]. (14 Oct 12 – 8.10 pm bst)

The Watchman – Roger Johnson
“…somehow the glaziers didn’t quite manage to reproduce the colours. I don’t know: there’s something about mediaeval glass…”
There something paradoxically warm and comfortable about fictionally exploring a country church (here a Suffolk one) despite horrors emerging regarding legends underlying its history. This is a very effective version of such a tale in traditional garb, telling of watchmen, robbers, gargoyles and come-uppance, believably accreted by references and quoted passages. Warm and comfortable maybe, but I did feel a frisson of terror at a simple phrase and what I imagined underlying it in the context. No mean feat of writing. That phrase: “…and began to do certain things.” (15 Oct 12 – 11.10 am bst)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW NOW CONTINUED HERE.

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The Screaming Book of Horror

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

A hardback book I purchased from the publisher:

THE SCREAMING BOOK OF HORROR – edited by Johnny Mains

Screaming Dreams 2012

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my other real-time reviews from 2008 are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

Authors included: John Llewellyn Probert, John Brunner, Alison Littlewood, Robin Ince, Bernard Taylor, Anna Taborska, Paul Finch, Rhys Hughes, Kate Farrell, Alex Miles, Craig Herbertson, Alison Moore, Claire Massey, Reginald Oliver, David A. Riley, Steve Rasnic Tem, John Burke, Christopher Fowler, Janine-Langley Wood, Johnny Mains, Charles Higson. (8 Oct 12 – Noon bst)

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Christenings Can Be Dangerous – John Llewellyn Probert
“Well, a graveyard wasn’t such a bad place to be scared in,…”
This is an interesting case study to start this book with. Babies often scream even when they’re not scared, you see, but Horror concerning innocent babies can be shocking, and this one, for me, is! That, despite a humorous tone with a slight tongue in a slight cheek. Gratuitously horrific (unless one accepts these strange outcomes of the protagonist’s retributory madness regarding his ex)… and iconoclastic in terms of today’s  mœurs. Yet I wondered, would I have thought it was so shocking had I experienced this in the 1960s or 1970s within the Pan Books of Horror that I read at that time?  Rhetorical question. As a story in itself, at the beginning, it seems artificially to withdraw authorial omniscience regarding the protagonist’s thought processes, then meting these processes out to us regarding the circumstances of the christening church’s yew tree etc before Hell breaks loose (the latter scene very effective, TOO effective!) (8 Oct 12 – 3.05 pm)

[As is common with all my RTRs, I shall avoid other reviews and the book’s own introduction until after I have read and publicly reviewed the whole book.] (8 Oct 12 – 4.30 pm bst)

Larva – John Brunner
“‘Larva’, she amplified, ‘is a Latin word that originally meant both spectre and mask.'”
One’s whole body as the mask for self? This is another shockingly cross-grain story, one that revels in iconoclasm and PUS. It tells of uncouth muggers who prey on ‘poofters’ and ‘nignogs’, with, here, another baby victim (what chances that any anthology could start with consecutive stories that both themselves start with nipples being bitten!) – a baby who takes revenge not only for what happens in this story but what happened in the previous story! Meanwhile, I take suck or succour from this work not for its run-of-the-mill  morality tale of the protagonist’s eventual meted-out come-uppance but for its brilliant metaphysical larva conceit. And its  accomplishedly conveyed PUS AND VOMIT. [I thought John Brunner wrote SF and died some years ago, unless this is a different John Brunner or an uncharacteristic long-lost horror story discovered by Mr Mains?] (8 Oct 12 – 7.30 pm bst)

The Swarm – Alison Littlewood
“As jellyfish thrive they feed upon fish eggs and larvae,…”
…and thus the cycle goes on, here a calmer cosmic osmosis as it turns out stemming from the crueller, laddish threads set up by the two previous stories. Here the cruelty of the swarm – skilfully imbued with the tang of the sea – somehow becomes a spiritual culmination of the earth soul that may have been seeded from literature like that of John Cowper Powys (whom I serendipitously happen already to be reading). But there is an added frisson when we read in the Littlewood that each participant in the gestalt-‘creature’-from-leitmotifs (represented by a line of glowing lights) has 24 seemingly brain-disconnected eyes and then compare this to the creature with a ‘myriad of tiny pink eyes’ in the Probert. The fact that Littlewood’s  protagonist, at story’s end, is still narrating post-culmination (on the precise point of becoming beyond consciousness) did not seem to matter. This throws a retrospective light on Probert’s earlier gradual going up the gears of narrative omniscience… (9 Oct 12 – 3.05 pm bst)

[It hadn’t quite dawned on me fully how Littlewood’s jellyfish gestalt is arguably an allegory of my earlier stated reference on this page to my real-time reviewing technique of accreting leitmotifs (light motifs) to form a gestalt – nor how the overall title of this anthology is something that my edited ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’ anthology book (horror stories about actual Horror anthology books) would have loved to contain a story about a Screaming Book of Horror! In fact, thinking about it, was there one? I shall have to re-read it!] (9 Oct 12 – 6.15 pm bst)

Natural Selection – Robin Ince
“…not a bad structure really for the accident-prone system of evolution by natural selection and its adaptation of previous fish parts along the way.”
…and so the cycle continues from story to story. Here, a gem of a Horror Story, truncated to prose perfection, except it’s about the problem of what exactly to truncate in order to travel “along the timeline” (the book’s audit trail toward its gestalt?) so as to provide that perfect potential of a baby, screamer or not. Here, ostensibly a feminist tract, where, like in the Probert, the protagonist (this time female) seeks to truncate  her next ex and his baby but, here, by creating a new baby, a better one!  Gratuitousness  with a moral, like the Brunner. The image of cutting off  a human ear is wonderfully done. [As an aside, without ears, one cannot hear screams, only see them, like the one in Munch’s scream.] “…when was he going to stop screaming?” (9 Oct 12 – 7.05 pm bst)

[Further to my comment above about ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’, I have found in it a quote (i.e. from the Rhys Hughes story): “Wasting no more time on nostalgia, he cut out the entire Appendix and cast it aside. It was bloated and disgusting. The book screamed during the operation, but it was over in seconds.” (I note there is a Rhys Hughes story I’ve yet to read in ‘The Screaming Book of Horror’). Also, the story in the HA of HA entitled ‘Common Myths and Misconceptions Regarding Rita Kendall’ by AJ Kirby is predominantly about a scream: in fact the most famous audible scream in the world!] (9 Oct 12 – 7.35 pm bst)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE

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Occultation – by Laird Barron

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews of fiction, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of the collection entitled ‘Occultation’ by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books 2010).

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

The Forest

“The smell reminded him of hip waders, muddy clay banks and gnats in their biting millions among the reeds.”

It is as if we are here to gather, by the sometimes hard-reached tenacity of reading mature fiction, the occult motes – from Nodes and Nadines – yes, to gather the Snail Cone truths  that cohere from the backhead masks of this memorable story’s words themselves: the cosmic cancer of retrieval through memory or photographs or re-modelling, through a highly satisfying texture of prose and dialogue alchemically made to breathe real situations and filmic dramatis personae in exotic heat that wavers for me from the work of Mike O’Driscoll towards Graham Greene or Malcolm Lowry or Ian McEwan laced with Lovecraft or Henry S Whitehead….perhaps ending up with a Barronial style I have yet to fully explore and nail…. (26 Nov 10)

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Occultation

“– I think you might have an enlarged prostate.”

Almost can be seen as a continuation of the previous story (soaking up more styles), now by co-whoring rather than cohering, benchmarked by a psycho-delia-cooked Henry S Whitehead reading his own lips, with continentally punctuated dialogue as a couple in a Barton Fink room watch an <again dangerous visions ‘title’ is a black blob> grow inferentially into further cosmic cancers between the stars, except the claustrophobic ending is probably the most frightening I have recently met.  Only beds ride on the back of snail cones, not universes, but that may be irrelevant to the story.  A story I loved. (26 Nov 10 – three hours later)

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The Lagerstätte

“The crimson seam dried black on the bedroom wall.”

A substantial story of a being haunted by a survivor’s guilt regarding two late loved ones, husband and son.  I am incredibly impressed by the traction of text that this book generally so far presents, with horror for horror’s sake, a bit like all our lives … yet with a meaningful undercurrent that horror thus transcended into an art form of character/plot machination makes one’s own life another satisfying, if painful, traction beyond the trivial it would otherwise be. That’s the only way I can explain it. However, there is almost a glut of horror images here, albeit horror images quite beyond the run-of-the-mill gore, skirting poignancy that has not quite yet brought tears to my eyes. Cf: the ‘external os’ and ‘worm-cored rod’ of the two previous stories respectively and here the lagerstätte… (26 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)

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MYSTERIUM  TREMENDUM

1 & 2

“I sometimes wondered if it’d been accidental or closer to the protagonist’s opt-out in that famous little novel by Graham Greene.”

So far a more ‘compos mentis’ story than the previous three, one about two modern couples as a foursome of friends  – one of whom (the narrator) is dreamy while also naturally searching (as we do) the net as part of life’s own plot . They are presumably preparing to use their chance discovery in a shop of ‘The Black Guide’ book (aka ‘Moderor de Caliginis’ 1909) for an already planned trip…  [I idly speculate: a Strantzaic trip as in ‘Cold To the Touch’? – but my sleepiness intervenes as it does with the Narrator.] (26 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

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3 & 4

“Every channel  was full of snow and shadow, except for the ones with the black bar saying NO SIGNAL.”

Fulsome sexual-laddish characterisation by protagonism and dialogue; premonitions of their trip-to-come, via the gavinostic Guide, possibly story-ripe with dolmens and occultation; eventually the  past backdropped and projected by the dialogue’s cleverly spawning the ghosts of people previously spoken of  … and protagonists as they may become one day, given the foresight that fiction, ‘in media res’, cannot fully achieve, except possibly in the head of the narrator or reader, if not officially in that of the author himself. (27 Nov 10) 

5, 6 & 7

“A city boy was always a stranger…”

I continue travelling story-pleasingly with the lads as they trace ley-line diagrams of outdoors plot-action along with our narrator’s more inward, arcane diagrams from the fatefully-owned Guide – and I wonder if the erstwhile <‘external os’ and ‘worm-cored rod’  […] the lagerstätte>  are here soon to fuse as a boner in unending circle? (27 Nov 10 – two hours later)

8, 9 & 10

“He recoiled like a worm zapped by an electrode.”

Powerful stuff that is blair-witching even me out.  Like its style. The brash encounters with gut fights, the spunky, spooky elements. The tooth wrenching out, the nose bone being put back into joint, nearly shooting oneself in  the foot. The nether-pit that seems somehow to be waiting for me to fall beneath the words into it, like the one old humpin’ Tom fell into before he became a ghost?  The ‘animal’ shapes that ‘drain’ away into that pit? Mighty stuff. No spoilers. Only wrenchers.

“From there the anonymous author claimed it to be an hour’s hike to the dolmen.” (27 Nov 10 – another two hours later)

11, 12, 13, 14 & 15

“‘This is weird,’ said Victor. ‘You guys think this is weird?'”

Journey’s end. But my ‘vanilla life’ does perhaps need to release its deadbolt and let the weirdnesses in, ever since nearly being enticed as a small child by an oldish person (or oldish to me, then) into a shrimp-hut on the quagmirish backwaters where I lived in the Fifties.

But that gives no clue to the ending of the happenings of this story. Its bottomless pits where lurk McMahonites and Strantzals and Cardinals and Gavinals and Unsworths and Gaffries and Duffies and Barronial Lairds: their faces in the the pit, enticing me towards darknesses I cannot credit.  Or, rather, me enticing them back out, but to what?

But that gives no clue as to the ending of the happenings in this story. Or the way its striking prose ignites its denizens and their musical ‘dying fall’, their symphonic coda’s endgame-expedition of lads-into-men. You will need to read it for that. Just be persuaded by an older person who has read it. Even if he hasn’t lived it for himself … yet.

[Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment.  The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens?] (27 Nov 10 – another hour’s hike later)

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Catch Hell

“…priests walking with their heads on backwards…”

Much of Barron is generously sown with wonderful sentences that make you think that’s neat but then it expands in the mind and means even more. Also there is strong sense of ‘genius loci’ as there is in this story – a hybrid European /American lodge in America with statues, folklore-rich, run-ins with ruins, a place of a weekend-away feel where a child-haunted couple visit (difficult to summarise their abrasive relationship and past, their Satanic algorithms that develop with the plot exponentially) – a ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Paul Finch (eg ‘The Baleful Dead’) and Reggie Oliver (eg ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’) catch-hell-all, with nightmarish-mutant Romance Fiction elements…. “I’ve never seen so many weathervanes in one place” – “occasionally he meets up with a lost hiker” – “What the fuck do you know about academia, Cock-ring?” – “It wasn’t the end though. There’s no end to hell.” (28 Nov 10)

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Strappado

“A password!”

This is a story where the author’s skills truly come together. Literary prose style to die for. Horrors to work out.  Another ‘dying fall’.  Kenshi and Swayne’s sexual reunion in an Indian tourist resort. Characters not to die for exactly, but to keep in abeyance in case you need them in a lucid dream.   And a ‘dangerous’ art installation or happening, that the protagonists foolhardily approach with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. I just wonder which colour-of-door reader I am of this whole book as it leads me further along its audit trail of leitmotifs….? (28 Nov 10 – two hours later)

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The Broadsword

1 – 7

“…an old school radical who’d done too much Purple Haze in the ’60s…”

The Broadsword Hotel – a sort of ‘House of Leaves’ where Pershing lives with bugged paranoia and other buggage from his life – and the prose flows so sweetly (is it because I’ve been drinking wine this evening?) and there is Updike here, too, and Beat poets and more.  I think Barron is either the Nadal or Federer of Weird Literature. And I’m not sure which of these he is nor am I sure which writer is the other one? (28 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

8 – 16

“…spent months hiking the ass end of nowhere with a compass and an entrenchment spade.”

Pershing exchanges his House of Leaves for a House of Stars, amid his tangible-in-the form-of-his-guilt guilt as a previous trip’s dead friend speaks through vents — and his own age generation of once fearing ‘A bombs’ and green men from Mars – the darknesses or spaces between the strantzaic suns and the emotions as transparencies or palimpsests and a reprise of the Mysterium Tremendum trip as a trip indeed. They had trips in the 60s they never came back from, I guess. Maybe, I did. Maybe, I didn’t.  The choice of red or blue door notwithstanding. (28 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)

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–30–

“In the animal kingdom, paranoia equalled sanity.”

This is essential Barron, I guess. Substantial and very effective, a remote research station where, alone, another exponentially abrasive couple seek more from fleshy interstices than from corners of any loving affection, all mingled with lucid dreaming (I hope or fear this whole book is a lucid dream or at least a mutant Thing movie that will not take my eyes out one  by one but only if I am willing to believe in it or is that disbelieve in it?) with afForestation, coyotes, weird insects in potentially cosmic swarms, a lagerstätte os as trip-discovered horn, occultation…

He covered his good eye…” (29 Nov 10)

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Six Six Six

Despite its title, I had a confident feeling this would be a gentlin’-out, a coda to this enormously impressive weird symphony of a book – and in many ways this haunted house story about a young couple, a house inherited after the husband’s father’s death, could easily have been a fulfilment, a rounding-out, a gestalt-confirmation. But instead I’m left shaking.  To the flickering of a Muybridge and a Reichian drumming.  It’s as if my lantern will be pushed out as a catharsis of impulsive ricochet between author and reader. To the sudden sound of a helicopter crashing…

[I shall now read for the first time Michael Shea’s introduction in the book, but I will not be back here again to say anything more.] (29 Nov 10 – two hours later)

 

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