The observant among you will have noticed that I have begun work on a Book Review Index for this website. I’ll get that finished shortly, and then throughout the remainder of July and August I’ll continue to add random reviews as ‘filler content’ as and when it suits me, before getting into something more systematic come September.
This was posted to the old TTA Press website on 21 June 2007:-
THE DARK DOMAIN by STEFAN GRABINSKI
Dedalus paperback, 153pp, £6.99
Polish writer Grabinski (1887–1936) was largely unrecognised during his lifetime, but his reputation as a master of the weird and supernatural has grown ever since. This volume, published under the series heading European Classics, continues Dedalus’ fine tradition of bringing neglected writers back into the public eye and collects together eleven of Grabinski’s best stories.
‘Fumes’ has a man experiencing a strange sexual encounter at a remote inn, the reader’s sense of unease growing with each fresh paragraph and hints of the monstrous relationship between the giant innkeeper and his attractive serving girl. The spirit of the modern age seems to be encapsulated in ‘The Motion Demon’, whose protagonist learns that he is, in fact, a demonic being, forced to travel the railway lines as a macabre genius loci. A writer whose creations take on a solid form when he ceases to commit them to the page, meets a terrible fate in ‘The Area’, while ‘A Tale of the Gravedigger’ is more usual horror fare, the dead wreaking a grim vengeance on the man who mocks their final resting place, the story beautifully constructed and with delightful touches of invention.
‘Szamota’s Mistress’ concerns a man who conducts an affair with a beautiful woman, who is either a dead spirit or may be himself, again with clues deftly planted in the text so that the reader has more idea of what is taking place than the character, the story revelling in its ambiguity and attendant feel of decadence. ‘Strabismus’ serves up a compelling variation on the doppelganger theme, with an aesthete dogged by another man who seems to embody all of the qualities he himself despises, the two of them halves of the same coin. In ‘Vengeance of the Elementals’ a fire chief who wages constant war against the spirit of flame is possessed by the impish elementals, a larger than life narrative giving credibility to an idea that is superficially bizarre. ‘Saturnin Sektor’ is a superbly constructed story about a man who denies the existence of time confronting his nemesis, the town’s watchmaker, who finally turns out to be himself, the story taking on all sorts of philosophical questions. Similar concerns are addressed in ‘The Glance’, when a man’s obsession about the door uncharacteristically left open by a woman who died almost immediately after leads him to question the whole nature of reality and retreat into his own solipsist universe with fatal consequences.
Grabinski’s prose may at times seem dated to the modern ear, but any such shortcomings are more than compensated for by his unceasing invention, and the contemporary feel of most of these stories. He seems to stand at a crossroads in the history of the macabre tale, and implicit in his work is the realisation that not only are these tales to chill but also fitting vehicles with which to deal with fundamental concerns. If ‘Strabismus’ harks back to Poe’s ‘William Wilson’, there are other stories that look forward to the concerns and methods of writers such as Bradbury, Leiber and Aickman. Grabinski is an important figure in the literature of the fantastic and this recapitulation of his genius deserves to be read.