Saturday, 15 February 2014

Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations by Molly Tanzer, Egaeus Press

'Rumbullion - An Apostrophe' is the meat of the book; a mid-18th century romp of a novella about mysterious sorcerer Count of St. Germain who accepts an invitation for a summer performance in the garden of the Bretwynde family, only to leave a fatality and a case of filial madness in his wake. We are back in the worlds' of Laclos's 'Les Liaison Dangereuse' and Gautier's 'Madamoiselle de Maupin' with all their moral and sexual ambiguity among the upper classes. The tale unfolds as a series of correspondence with the various attendees as Bretwynde son Julian seeks to uncover how his betrothed became so mentally afflicted by the experience. Being subjective views filtered through each character's prejudice or presumption, he - and we - are offered glimpses of horror and unholy possessions that hint at some greater scam. Is the pagan Count behind it all? Or have his alleged necromantic powers just unwittingly opened doors for far darker denizens to pass through? The tale, tautly written with its focus upon adven- ture, is never once undermined by its letter-written structure. The six short tales that fill out the book impress less by comparison. 'In Sheep's Clothing' is an overly proclaimed narra- tive of identity and cannibalism that might have been affecting if more understated. 'How John Wilmot Contracted Syphilis' is better, returning us to the 17th century, relating the title charcter's ruse of pantomimic disguises as a means of getting into (other)fermale patients' undergarments. One of two of the more successful tales. The other, 'The Poison-Well,' is an Angela Carter- like nursery tale. A lowly shrewmouse and a lordly mole argue over the latter's intended installation of a new sunken well to a fatal conclusion. A deceptively simple tale, which, to British suburban readers, may also harbour a whiff of allegory. 'Herbert West in Love' intrigues from the outset, utilising the Lovecraftian character in his student days at Miskatonic University, in a wholly original form. Unfortunately this excellent set-up ends peremptorily rushed, thus more like an early chapter from a projected novella than a short tale, leaving this reviewer in high anticipation while wholly unsatisfied. It might have found greater room, in a collection with a contemporary setting. The last two entries - 'Tubby McMungus, Fat from Fungus' (co- written with Jesse Bullington) and 'Go, Go, Go, Said the Byakhee' - are fripperies much less to my taste. The former, an anthropo- morphic tale for reading aloud to children with the latter, for a similar audience, in a surreal setting more akin to science-fiction. Still, this is another impressive production by Egaeus; like many of the European independents, beautifully produced on high-quality paper, with the added bonus of contemporary-style woodcuts. Each release is fast becoming an event.

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