Friday 28 September 2012

The Old Knowledge by Rosalie Parker, The Swan River Press

A deceptive simplicity of language harbours the road to the unforeseeable twist in this reissue of Rosalie Parker's first collection, originally published by Swan River in 2010.  
  In 'The Rain,' we are with the seemingly innocent protaganist Geraldine all the way, as her city girl ways are frowned upon by rain-drenched, surly yokels of whom she asks assistance and gains little sympathy. Until an encroaching callousness on her part not only questions our allegiance to her but her own perception of what is real.
  In 'Spirit Solutions' ( a tale considered unique enough for immediate entry into Wordsworth Editions 'The Black Veil' anthology back in 2008) a daughter's journal records the last days at the family residence after the death of their father. Holed-up in their sold, snowbound home, with the food running out and computer sole link to the outside world, a website offers salvation from the poltergeist that's long plagued them. But is the true cause of its presence closer to home than any of them realise? Again, we have only the diarist's word as to the facts. This is an extraordinary tale, so ambiguous in protaganist motive that it bears several

  'In The Garden' begins as so innoucuous - a woman talking to someone of her love of gardening - that you doubt any eventual denouement at all, until the final paragraph reveals the very black object of her attention and intent. (Evoking those Amicus horror anthology films of the Seventies').
  Further intimations of madness arise by the end of 'Chanctonbury Ring' where a benign archeologist-cum-geologist has a ghostly encounter with one who reaches to him from the past, for a particular sanctuary he has little choice but provide.
  'The Supply Teacher' of the title has a dubious provenance, engaging her class - in her last lesson - in procuring what they know about the "circulatory system" and the life force that drives it. By class's end, we discover just who it is being supplied. A slight tale with a well-worn theme, but welcome for its wry humour for all that.
  The title tale returns us to the rural, folksy-type settings of 'The Rain' and 'Chanctonbury Ring' where a disturbance of the past (the levelling of a ceremonial burial mound in this case) is undermind by a protector with a particularly unforeseeable motive.
  'The Cook's Story' finds a young woman, (not unlike Geraldine of 'The Rain'), seeking solace after separation in a contrasting remote setting. In this case, a huge Tudor house run by a wealthy, slightly estranged, but kind married couple. An undercurrent of possible unconsumation is beautifully realised throughout with a last desparate action - intended or otherwise - that changes everything. A minor classic.
  Lastly, is 'The Picture'; a traditional-style horror, redolent of early Blackwood, Stoker et al, with a modern setting, as an antique collector buys a portrait of "a dark haired, curiously androgynous figure, half-draped in a voluminous white garment, gaz(ing) adoringly, imploringly, in profile at some unseen entity above." That the seller tells her he had sold it before, tells you he'll most likely be seeing it again as life threatens to imitate art.
  If not breaking new ground with every tale, what's striking in all eight is their perfect pitch. It is clear Parker already knows the rules of the uncanny (of what to hide, what to reveal, and when) and how, ideally, to express them. One of the sub-genre's hardest sleight-of-hands to achieve, but it is with these she reveals her strength.

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