From the pages of Black Static #20, a little something for the weekend:-
From the same publisher we have LITERARY REMAINS ((PS Publishing hardback/traycased hardback, 195pp, £15/£35) by R. B. Russell. The title story to this collection of ten, ‘Literary Remains’ is related by a woman who, in her student days and after, worked in a bookshop, meeting a man called Robertson, who was once a celebrated writer of ghost stories and becomes famous once again after his death. She tells of what was possibly a supernatural encounter that took place while helping to clear the deceased’s flat. The story is beautifully written, with some excellent touches of atmosphere and character details, but it doesn’t quite seem to go anywhere, is simply a chain of events that the reader must enjoy for their own sake, and appealing as that is it didn’t really satisfy. More substantial is ‘An Artist’s Model’ in which we get a love triangle of sorts between an art student, his teacher and the gorgeous woman who models for and inspires them both, with the story again told with conviction and the hint of something outré and terrible running through the text but Russell showing admirable restraint in the ambiguity of the ending. The protagonist of ‘Llanfihangel’ is sucked into the scheme of somebody who claims to have been a school friend of his but may just be a con artist, the story deftly drawing the reader into its web, and leaving us no more certain of what has actually taken place than the ‘victim’, who wants to do good but simply doesn’t know if it is possible.
‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ has a young man turning up to meet the woman his father had an affair with and explaining the circumstances of their break-up (his father died, when he should have gone to the woman), but ghosts of the past invade the present as secrets are laid bare in a story that seductively twists first one way and then another. In ‘Another Country’ a publisher seeks out a foreign writer, only instead of being grateful the man is angry about how his work has been edited, and turns the tables on the publisher with a sinister final twist. The tale strongly conveys the minatory nature of its foreign setting, the sense that the protagonist is adrift both geographically and psychologically, with the idea that there are different sides to every story at its centre. ‘Loup-garou’ is a film the narrator saw many years ago and now wishes to share with his wife, to see if his memory is correct and that it contained references to their relationship, but memory itself appears to be malleable, as is reality in this strange, short piece. In ‘Blue Glow’ David’s fascination with his neighbour results in him taking on the other man’s life, his wealth and girlfriend, all with the man’s consent and encouragement, though it results in estrangement from the people who could matter to him, the story obliquely touching on how we are entranced by glamour and never follow the path that is best for us, one where triumphs are earned, not simply given.
‘A Revelation’ is the story of a council worker and what he found in the attic of one tenant’s house, with nothing particularly gruesome presented, but the strangeness of what takes place all the more disturbing. ‘Asphodel’ is the name of a vanity publisher and the story tells of an author who is certain his book will sell, and he turns out to be right, with one employee trying to figure out how and why, the story shot through with hints of the apocalyptic, but never quite coming out and saying where it’s at. Last story in the book, ‘Where They Cannot Be Seen’ has a couple who cheat on their spouses attempting to get away to a place of safety, when they discover a secret room in a rented house, but things go terribly awry, the story perhaps offering a comment on the nature of their love and how fragile happiness is.
This is an engaging and enjoyable collection from a writer whose work, through the power of suggestion implicit in each text and the oblique narrative strategies, brings to mind that of Aickman, perhaps crossed with some of the more adventurous strands of European cinema. While he is not as assured in the execution (no criticism – few people are as assured as Aickman was) there is the same sense that, strange as the things recorded on the page undoubtedly are, they are only the tip of an iceberg, and it’s to our benefit that we never see the full picture. Recommended.