Thursday, 19 July 2012
On The Hill Of Roses by Stefan Grabinski, Translated by Miroslaw Lipinski, Hieroglyphic Press
One of four initial releases from this new independent, their decision to translate the uncanny works of neglected Eastern European writers for a Western audience is admirable indeed.
This collection, originally published in 1918, was Grabinski's second (though first under his own name) leading to his press-inspired, if misinterpreting, moniker of 'the Polish Poe.' For Grabinski's tone of cool introspection pre-empts that of western authors who'd follow in his understated trail. On each occasion, the senses are assailed and conflicted.
"I knew how to arrange the disorderly chaos of stimulants by tracing each one back to its source," claims the narrator in the title tale. So is the case with the other six; each relater emerging from some undefined psychological trauma for a supposed period of convalescence to face, perhaps intentionally, that which they most fear.
One wonders - who are they kidding? Away from the overstated Gothicism of the previous century, Freud's theories now show their influence. Grabinski's characters purposely question and analyse their own 'madness' from a position of self-induced isolation. Here, they study themselves. The sense of dread communicated is thus sourced from the kind of manic depression we recognise today; something internal turning against the self rather than the cliche of the ghostly external force. The spirits are therefore inside us and so our own.
Possession is another linking motif; the father of 'The Frenzied Farmhouse,' the sado-masochist companion of 'Strabismus' and the wish-fulling architect of 'Projections.' 'At The Villa By The Sea' is a personal favourite. A man's harboured familial guilt finally revealing itself in an idyllic setting in which he'd appeared master, seems to pre-empt Aickman. A wonderfully subtle and mature tale for its time.
Allied to short, spare sentence structure, all these tales, in fact, feel especially modern. It would make this collection one closer to the Horror genre, except, as translator Lipinski points out in the Intro;
"(Grabinski was) not interested in just providing a moment of shock or gore...for their own sake...(but the) intricate dynamics of the human mind."
The translations themselves are sound, revealing the economic, intelligent beauty noted in the originals. In the first two stories, these are ever-so-slightly undermined by a few technical 'typos,' but, from this new committed publisher, such teethings will surely be corrected.
If the uncanny of Eastern Europe has yet to come under your radar, this is as good a place as any to start. Grabinski, at least, was one ahead of the game.