Saturday, 12 August 2017

Buried Shadows by John Howard, Egaeus Press

After the authentic smell of coal-dust and the pulsing feel of blood shed pervading early Victorian Grand Guignol and penny dreadfuls in Egaeus Press's Murder Ballads, Howard returns us to his post-war European territory of metaphysical maps, submerged memories and echoes percolating from the past; topics at which he has established himself as something of a master.
  With this in mind, I do hope he might one day embark upon a novel. Over the past five years in particular, he has proven to his readership that he patently has the product knowledge to enlarge upon his well-researched secret histories. Several of his characterisations would thus benefit with the consequent fleshing-out; adding to the evidence that there is more to the uncanny than the long trodden tropes of horror. It is a pity that many of our generation appear so reluctant; so, for the rest of us, a loss.
  Buried Shadows features ten tales on one of Howard's pet themes; the objectification of city-scapes and their effect upon a protagonist's psyche. Five of the ten showcase Howard at his best. In 'To The Anhalt Station,' a Berlin train station, demolished post-war, has a submerged afterlife between what had been East and West Germany.
  In 'Mr. S and Dr. S,' a journalist arrives in Portugal to interview the country's military President; a man he is surprised to find seemingly enjoys a second life away from the stresses of his duties. But is this really the same man, an unwitting double or a pre-arranged imposter? Uncertain, the journalist knows he must tread very carefully. In 'Least Light, Most Night,' Mr. Bentley invites fellow office worker Mr. Thomas around to his home in a part of London unfamiliar to the latter. On arrival, Mr. Thomas finds the flat cold and in receipt of equally cold drinks and edibles. This coldness takes on a subtley sinister turn when a number of additional guests start to arrive. A successfully Aickmanesque entry.
  The title tale involves a brilliant vanished architect and the unspoken motive of one of his longtime admirers. More Ballard-ian in its clever melding of architectural and psycho-sexual envy. The final, and longest, tale, 'The Floor Of Heaven,' comprises stories-within-the story related to the mysterious fate of author, Stephen Vaughan, and his sole release, 'Lost And Changing London,' as seen through the eyes of the author himself and various obsessives; each intent upon the elusive, sought after edition of a street map that spawned the writing of the original book.
  Featuring illustrations based upon the drawings of the architect and theorist, Balthasar Holz; two of many quotes attributed to this little known figure being, 'each thing is growing and decaying at the same time, only at different rates' and 'a finished building is really unfinished; the first frame of a descent to destruction.' With the non-linear nature of the tales, so I belatedly discover Howard's primary points of departure.

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The Origins (Excerpt from Cemetery for the Living) by Lima Barrreto / Monsters by Alfred Jarry / Black Mirror by Leopoldo Lugones – Three chapbooks from Raphus Press, Sao Paulo

The greatest service this new independent imprint offers is in its desire to translate French, Spanish and Portugese authors into English. Introductory essays by Alcebiades Diniz Miguel, (Raphus founder and author of the novel, Lanterns Of The Old Night (Ex-Occidente, 2016)), link these releases of near-forgotten decadent and post-decadent era tales, long lost in literary periodicals and magazines. Released under the umbrella banner The Golden Age of Clairvoyance, the first have been rehabilitated in three well designed chapbooks, augmented by appropriately chosen classical art from public domain.
  'The Origins,' described as an 'excerpt from an unfinished novel,' is a glimpse into a man's reflecting upon the possible source of his self-loathing. Inevitably, we want more, to see where such brooding leads. Alfred Jarry, the one author I know here, based upon his cult status in inde circles, presents a short, descriptive rumination on "for the most part Indian and Indo-Chinese" iconic imagery in woodcut, also reproduced here. 'Black Mirror,' my favourite of the three, is a fully-fledged short tale.  An uncanny electrical charge is claimed to reflect those foremost in the mind while manifesting parallel emotions in colour on a perfectly flattened disc of coal. Inevitably, it becomes a warning to the curious, but, in Lugones pre-empting later Blackwood, draws me into wanting more.
  The initial print-run of all three is, of course, low, so any interested readers should make a quick decision; because I do hope Raphus continue on their path of intriguing little translations of the recovered uncanny and esoteric.

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