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The Reasonable Ogre

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The Reasonable OgreMuch as I appreciate retellings of fairytales, reading new ones is an altogether different pleasure; especially when these are fairytales for adults or mixed audiences, i.e. the original fairytale audiences.

I started reading The Reasonable Ogre in the summer and each fairytale was so powerful that lingered in my thoughts for days or weeks after and so I postponed reading the next one in order to keep that feeling, the feeling of a story that haunts your thoughts. And haunting is not always a bad thing.

In The Reasonable Ogre you will find stories with bad endings and stories with good endings; some will be didactic, some others not, some dark, creepy and mysterious, others comforting and tender. And this is what makes this fairytale collection so beautiful, how it denies to be classified in already known categories.

Grimus the Miser is the story of the Tooth Fairy, as you’ve never imagined before. Silver reminded me of old Japanese fairytales and Sloth’s Minions of Greek myths; Wear Me Last could have been an E.T.A. Hoffmann story. Yet these are all new original tales, alluding to themes from the big well of our collective cultural past, but never repeating any old patterns; they are only being aware of them.

Complementing Mike Barnes’s flawless and captivating prose are Segbingway’s illustrations. Often reminding of illustrations of The Sandman, portrayed by different artists in Neil Gaiman’s long saga, Sebingway’s black and white strokes add to the tales in a unique way. His style changes accordingly and creates a genuine atmosphere for each story.

My thanks to Biblioasis for the review copy.

 

Written by Georgia

November 17, 2014 at 15:52

The Vorrh, by Brian Catling

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vorrhI started reading The Vorrh because it gave me the impression it would be some very good fantastic literature. The fact that it was introduced by the usually reserved from public appearances, commentaries and endorsements Alan Moore was a guarantee for that. And let me clarify that by fantastic literature I don’t refer to all the books you will find in the bookstore shelves under ‘Fantasy’, but to the wider spectrum of fantasy fiction that includes Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Neil Gaiman, fables and fairytales and so on. This is the quality I expected and I was not disappointed.

But The Vorrh is so much more than that. It is a book that walks skillfully across genres, like only very good literature can do. It is as much fantasy as it is historical fiction and steampunk, playing all along with Jungian archetypes. The Bowman, one of the protagonists-narrators is such a one. The eye, and everything related to that (blindness, cyclopes, photography and much more), is another.  More protagonists include Sir William Gull, one of Queen Victoria’s personal doctors and the one who first understood and named anorexia nervosa, Eadweard Muybridge and his famous zoopraxiscope and Raymond Roussel, the author who influenced the Oulipo and the surrealists.

It is from Roussel’s novel Impressions of Africa (1910) that the Vorrh takes its name. Brian Catling’s Vorrh is a vast, unmapped territory with not so easily defined forms of existence and irreversible effects to whoever goes too deep or stays inside for too long. All the themes of the coloniser and colonised are revisited but in a new way, one of an author that has been exposed to and digested postcolonial rhetorics; this has a very interesting effect that feels at the same time recognisable and entirely new.

The Vorrh is also a metaphor for the savage, for the woman and the unknown. But most importantly it is a metaphor for reading. It is dense and intense and it will have an irrevocable effect on the reader, same as the forest has to those who dare enter its core. I cannot recommend it enough.

My thanks to Honest Publishing for the review copy. This book is one more piece of proof that small and independent publishers choose the best literature and should be whole-heartedly supported!

A literary House of Mirrors

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Alois Hotschnig’s collection of short stories Maybe This Time, published by Peirene Press, is like a visit to the House of Mirrors in a dark forgotten amusement park; you will only see your reflection: distorted, but still yours. Like with a David Lynch film, you know that a part of you understands what it is all about, even though you cannot properly articulate it.

Tzvetan Todorov describes the fantastic as lying within the moment of hesitation of the reader and the character, ‘who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from “reality” as it exists in the common opinion’.[1] Hotschnig’s Maybe This Time could be described as hesitating about hesitation. Should the reader even be hesitating? Is it fantastic, an allegory, a metaphor or just poetic uncomfortable realism? Karl in “Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut” mysteriously finds fragments of his past memories through the old lady’s uncanny dolls without being able to recall and understand these memories properly; in a similar way the reader merges into Hotschnig’s stories unprepared, wandering around in a territory of uneasy symbolism and wondering whether he should be having the questions that emerge.

Stories like “You Don’t Know Them, They’re Strangers” have references to the anxiety familiar from the work of Franz Kafka, however Hotschnig has his own particular style. A style which is more universal than just Austrian, his characters uncomfortably recognisable: family relationships that become a bit too suffocating, old relationships that didn’t work out, unresolved traumas, and the never-ending quest for understanding and defining oneself.

Haruki Murakami’s short stories also end without explanations, unresolved, but with Hotschnig the reader is left with a very uncomfortable feeling that he might have read them and interpreted them in a way that reveals something about his own self; this can be disturbing. Are these stories a deep psychoanalytic free dive, a fantastic realistic painting, a twisted metaphor, a strange mirror as most of the characters are for each other?

Hotschnig in an interview at BBC mentions: “I want to take the reader by the hand and seduce him into a forest and leave him there in the darkness.”[2] He has definitely managed to do that and the forest is haunted. You will be thinking of these stories long after you have read them; of course always depending on how many of your personal demons you encountered on your way back from the forest…


[1] Todorov, Tzvetan, The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre, Ithaca, N.Y. 1975: Cornell University Press, p. 41.

[2] The Strand, 16/09/11, BBC World Service

Written by Georgia

September 20, 2011 at 16:45