Song for a Saturday – Love is a Stranger

…in an open car

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Filler content with heresy

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-

THE BURNING TIMES
Jeanne Kalogridis
Harper Collins hb, 385pp, £16.99

The Burning Times is set in medieval France, an age in which heresy and rumours of witchcraft were harshly dealt with. In the walled city of Carcassone the young Abbess Marie Francoise awaits trial, accused of a pact with the Devil. When the Inquisitor Father Charles is taken ill the task of interrogating her falls to his scribe, Brother Michel. Michel once saw the Abbess perform a miracle. He believes that she is a saint and will take any step to spare her the auto da fe. But sight of the Abbess provokes a powerful physical response in him, and as her confession unfolds, containing as it does the story of the Race, a mystical sect connected to the Knights Templar and involved in worship of a mother Goddess, Michel is forced to question not only his faith but also his own identity.

Kalogridis’s novel is beautifully written, capturing perfectly the spirit of the period in which it is set, an age of superstition and bloody war between rival belief systems, her prose so vivid you can almost reach out and touch the roaring flames and smell the roasting flesh, hear the screams of the dying and see the angels glowing with an unearthly radiance. We follow the characters through war and plague, trials and ordeals, love and domestic life, learning to care for them as the larger picture of which they are a part is gradually revealed. The author’s evocation of the Race and their worship, with its hint of a spirituality far different from that of the patriarchal Church and a secret history behind all that we know of the past is compellingly done. What makes it stand out is the depth of emotion Kalogridis brings to the work, the feeling that for her this is a heartfelt story containing much of truth, one that moves her profoundly and therefore must of necessity also move us. Highly recommended.

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Trailer Trash – The Belko Experiment

High Rise with extreme prejudice.

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Filler content courtesy of an Argentinian

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-

THE MERCIFUL WOMEN
Federico Andahazi
Black Swan pb, 188pp, £6.99

Switzerland in 1816, and the poets Byron and Shelley with their women arrive at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva. Last and least in their entourage is Byron’s physician, the despised John Polidori, a man whose ambition far exceeds his reach. Polidori learns that the notorious Legrand Sisters are nearby, two women who were once stars of vaudeville, renowned for both their beauty and promiscuity, but it is the mysterious third sister, whose existence is unknown to the world, from whom he receives a secret communication. A deformed monster driven by a terrible craving, Annette offers Polidori the literary fame for which he hungers in exchange for his help in satisfying her own needs, and so a monstrous bargain is sealed, one with far reaching consequences.

In one sense this is a slight book (only 186 pages and many of them blank, with generous print throughout), and Andahazi is not the first to be fascinated by the events that preceded Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein, but seldom has the material received such an original and clever treatment.

An Argentinian, one cover blurb compares Andahazi to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but his writing is not as lyrical as the rich prose of Love in the Time of Cholera. Rather it is his fellow countryman, Jorge Luis Borges who springs to mind. The Merciful Women lacks the mock serious tone of Borges, is a more breathless concoction altogether, but there is the same love of games, the same blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction (e.g. the Legrand Sisters are descendants of the protagonist in Poe’s The Gold Bug), the same obsessiveness regarding literature and libraries, and at the end there is a revelation wholly worthy of the author of Labyrinths, one that suggests we revise all our ideas of literary history. This is not a great book, but it is a clever and intriguing fusion of sex, history, horror, literature, and humour, one that captures successfully the flavour of its progenitors while infecting the narrative with a spirit of playfulness that is uniquely its own, and it should be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in such matters.

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Song for a Saturday – Thorn in My Side

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Dreadful filler content

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-

DREADFUL TALES
Richard Laymon
Headline pb, 436pp, £5.99

If you go down to the woods today, you’ll find a naked woman tied to a tree and get stalked by a homicidal maniac, or at least you will if you’re a character in a story by Richard Laymon. For the rest of us treading in dog mess is about as nasty as it gets.

Laymon died of a heart attack on Valentine’s Day in 2001. A prolific writer he left behind a legacy of nearly fifty books. This volume brings together twenty-five previously uncollected stories, all very much representative of his in your face brand of horror, with its emphasis on narrative momentum and gory hijinks.

The quintessential pulp writer, offering cheap and cheesy thrills by the bucketful, Laymon was the illegitimate offspring of Roger Corman and EC Comics, raised by a wet nurse with a penchant for video nasties. Between the covers of this collection you’ll find axe and knife wielding psychopaths, rapists, femme fatales, hitchhikers with murder in mind, and just about every other brand of sicko the human race has conjured up in its long and often undistinguished history. There are even a couple of vampires for those who just can’t get enough.

The stories are told at a frantic pace, with minimum frills and maximum thrills, Laymon’s slick prose making it all seem so effortless. There’s deft characterisation, especially of horny teens, a Laymon speciality, and heavy reliance on the twist ending, about half of which come off.

This book won’t be to everyone’s taste. In particular those who come over faint at the whiff of anything that isn’t PC should stay well clear (I’ve read over thirty of his novels, so big fan, but still have reservations about some aspects of his work). Laymon is not a ‘serious’ writer, he is a writer who is content to entertain his readers, and if he puts a nutter with a big knife in the story then that’s all it is, no need to go looking for a castration complex metaphor. If there’s a subtext at all then it concerns our own fascination with such material, but this is something Laymon exploits rather more than he explores its implications. You could argue that there’s more fluff than substance here, but if so then it’s eminently agreeable fluff offering an undemanding and fun way to pass an hour or three in the Horror-Mood.

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Trailer Trash – Raw

Great looking trailer, but not sure if I have the stomach for the film.

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