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.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Back Burning and Other Stories by Sylvia Petter, Interactive Press

Back-burning is the term used when man-made fires are deliberately started in a desperate bid to swamp other, out-of-control, brushfires and steer them away from habitation as damage limitation. Here, fire is used throughout as a metaphor in differing situations amongst different characters. Collectively, this might be summed-up in the title story.

A daughter accompanying her mother from her second husband's funeral challenges her allegiance: '"Why didn't you leave Dad...if you loved Ralph so?" "There was you." "Then why didn't you let Ralph go?"(Her mother) sighed. "You know what happens when the brush fires come. You can't escape them when the wind hits and the bush starts to burn."' Petter should know. Born in Vienna and a graduate from the University of New South Wales, she has divided her literary education between these alliterative nations. Such a fate takes a hand in the following twenty-seven titles - each an easily digestible two - six pages - where subjective perceptions are suddenly subverted - and diverted - by circumstance.

In 'The Colour Of Haze' I am reminded of another Sylvia P. with Austrian roots. A German couple are bringing up their daughter, Anna, born in post-war Australia where they now live. One day, Anna returns home from school in tears having been accused by a classmate of being a Nazi; a word she's never heard. Her mother comforts her, but the cold receipt of the news of the death of her father's brother - innocently brought to the kitchen table by Anna - reveals his allegiance. I also wonder if Anna is Petter herself.

The following tale - 'The Past Present' - continues the theme, dealing again with Austrian emigres in Australia. The now middle-aged husband, down on his luck, is encouraged by his wife to teach the old language. But it is one he'd been trying to forget, considering the rest of his past it would inevitably bring up. But a brief contact from a grateful Polish mother of two students builds a touching, unforeseen bridge. The final story builds another bridge; back to the first tale. Only by now the perception has darkened. A seemingly innocent relationship between a daughter and her mother's boyfriend has tragic consequences. Again, the daughter figure narrates, to whom, again, the author seems to relate. Though not obviously 'uncanny,' these tales - making up Petter's second collection - pleasingly twist into shadow as much as light. While there is a faith in human nature that, assuredly, embraces both.


An Antique Land: A Cryptic Caprice Collected & Edited by John Shire, Invocations Press

A slender pocket book running to just 56 pages, you will find, concieved within, a little esoteric patchwork of past meditations on travel; specifically, two metaphysical journeys intercut with mystical woodcuts of vague or unknown provenance. Its contents - piecemeal and incomplete - are inspired not so much 'found' formations as disparately 'sent' submissions, the point of their acquisition long forgotten by the equally long forgotten editor who first advertised for them more than a century ago.  

In his letter accompanying this copy for review, John Shire - Invocations Press founder - admitted to a lack of any grand vision. "I'm still making it up as I go along." What he described to me as "a small love letter to books, disguised as an experiment in cheap publishing..." pulls you in with moments of 'Boys Own' high drama, suddenly interrupted with the seemingly unrelated woodcuts and scenes from a second tale of haunting melancholy. Each is incomplete and the source of nearly all, anonymous. But there is no frustration in this. Rather, such brief glimpses into worlds that never were only serve to whet the pallet for further metaphysical glimpses. On this evidence, I hope what Shire considers a lack of clear direction sustains him further. Then, perhaps this was because I was in transit myself at the time - on a number 31 bus.


A last word on another great new £2.99 release from Wordsworth Edition's 'Mystery & the Supernatural' range. 'Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson' fills a gaping void with tales out-of-print for the last twenty years. Credit to Derek Wright, David Stuart Davies and their colleagues for the additional research, bulking out the seminal collection with further uncovered titles, clocking in this release at an extraordinary 702 pages.