Once again the tempus has fugit, and so a review from the back catalogue to bridge that gap.
This one originally appeared in Black Static #21 back in 2011, and the book had sold out before it did, suggesting either I need to become a little more timely in my reviewing practises or Swan River need to do larger print runs.
The former seems unlikely, but Swan River have just announced a second printing, so this reprise might actually have a purpose to it after all.
What I didn’t mention in the review and probably should have done, is that this is a rather splendid looking book, a thing of beauty.
The review appears exactly as it did back in 2011, and the mentions of Scott are references to Randall’s Round by Elinor Scott, which I reviewed immediately before the Parker volume.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, allegedly, and you can see something of that in THE OLD KNOWLEDGE & OTHER STRANGE TALES (Swan River Press hardback, 114pp, sold out), a beautifully produced collection of nine stories by Rosalie Parker, in which themes of ancient knowledge intruding into the modern world seem every bit as pertinent as they were in Scott’s collection of eighty years previous.
Opening story ‘The Rain’ has city wise Geraldine taking a weekend break in the country and finding herself increasingly alienated from her old life by judgemental locals and the incessant rain. Slow at first, the story gathers pace and builds convincingly, with the mood changing to one of subtle menace and a growing sense of dislocation as previously amiable characters become hostile. In ‘Spirit Solutions’, which bears a passing resemblance to Scott’s ‘The Room’, a man’s four children gather at the family home to decide its fate after his death and are put upon by what appears to be a malicious poltergeist. The story held my interest all the way with its mounting tension and family disagreements, while cryptic internet communications from a third party added to the fun, but ultimately the narrative thread seemed to lose its way, or at least it lost me, and fizzled out with an understated resolution that didn’t quite satisfy. Short ‘In the Garden’ was a canny exercise in tone of voice and madness, as the narrator’s monologue primes the reader to expect some terrible revelation, and we are not disappointed. The next piece begins with a man finding an abandoned baby at ‘Chanctonbury Ring’, but there’s an undercurrent to the story that hints at time dislocation and dimensions overlapping. Events subtly shift and gain new significance as the narrative progresses, with a conclusion that may involve the narrator either going mad or finding a break in the fabric of space-time.
In another very short offering, ‘The Supply Teacher’ tells her class the facts about blood and inevitably there are asides on the matter of vampirism, only the final twist of this subtle tale hints that things may be very different from how we imagine them to be. Title story ‘The Old Knowledge’ has a young girl interested in the excavation of a local barrow, only her interest is somewhat other than the narrative initially suggests. An absorbing tale with fine characterisation, the end twist here casts events in an entirely different light, revealing the motives of young Maisie to be other than suspected. My favourite out of all that’s on offer, there’s a delightful ambiguity to ‘The Cook’s Story’, with the possibilities being that either the wife who attempts to poison her husband is mad or that he really is some sort of werecreature and a danger to their unborn child. The atmosphere of a country house and the life of wealthy people are brought to vivid life in a tale told from the perspective of the hired help, with a sense of the madness and alienation that’s bubbling away beneath the surface and just waiting to explode. Finally we have ‘The Picture’, which confers good luck on whoever owns it, but eventually there is a price to pay, as with one possessor who finds that her financial gains are offset by emotional problems in a clever variation on a familiar theme.