Saturday 6 February 2021

Double Heart by Marcel Schwob, translated by Brian Stableford, Snuggly Books / Circles Of Dread by Jean Ray, translated by Scott Nicolay, Wakefield Press

Editorial: Well, well, well. A new Pan review? I surprised myself, unsure as to whether He'd ever be back. These will be occasional entries through the year; more semi-regular than regular. The following two - the first of the year - are shorter and less detailed than usual, since they were written for a start-up newspaper, The Word, rather than my own specifications. I hope you enjoy them, nevertheless. 
  I do appreciate you lovely people's ongoing support through your views and 'follows' over the past year. Has anything of significance happened since my last post? (LOL). Seriously tho', I hope you've been able to cope in your own ways. To have children you can't easily school and parents you can't easily see must be a nightmare. Brave heart, friends. You're always in my thoughts here...

Originally published in The Paris Echo from 1889 – 91, these thirty-four brief, dark, but wry tales of French Symbolism very soon reappeared as the collection Coeur Double in that final year.  
  SF / Fantasy author Brian Stableford has produced its debut English translation with very helpful footnotes, explaining some of their more obscure colloquial terms. Veering from uncanny mystery ('The Veiled Man') to lovelorn rural fable ('The Sabine Harvest') to drug-induced decadence, ('The Portals of Opium'), the diverse sub-genres are embraced by the main subject that pertained to the Symbolist Movement - the pre-eminence of Art. 
  Mayer AndrĂ© Marcel Schwob – known mainly outside of France for the beautiful fairy-tale collection The King In The Golden Mask (1892) – began his short-lived literary career, and life, as a journalist. Schwob's father, a civil servant, returned with his wife from Egypt in the mid-1860s' to live in Chaville (Hauts-de-Seine), where Marcel was born in 1867. His father proved to be the key enabler in Marcel's future direction. The former's political activities embraced Republican newspapers such as Le Phare de Loire, (The Loire Lighthouse), in which many of the tales in Double Heart swiftly reappeared, in The Paris Echo, continuing after Marcel's older brother, Maurice, inherited that editorship in 1892. 
  'Very interested in languages,' Marcel studied philology in higher education until interrupted by conscription into the military. His experiences in all three disciplines would influence the content of this, his first collection. 
  He soon became one of a small group who helped translate Oscar Wilde's Salome manuscript into French, to avoid the British law forbidding the depiction of Bible characters on stage. A contemporary of Proust, and influence upon Borges, Schwob was robbed of wider fame when, in 1905, aged 37, he succumbed to a chronic intestinal disorder. It's gratifying, however, that new series of translations, from both Snuggly Books and the Wakefield Press in the US, are reigniting his brief light.

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Circles Of Dread follows Wakefield Press's recent reissues of Whiskey Tales, Cruise Of Shadows' and The Great Nocturnal in their bid to reintroduce Jean Ray's short story collections to a new, English-speaking audience.  

  Slightly more strange and macabre than Schwob, Ray's work, nevertheless, resides in similar territory, sharing that writer's mordant wit throughout. In his Whiskey Tales introduction, Nicolay cites Ray as favouring 'a wicked whiplash irony, (which) rapidly developed into a nuanced and unparalleled ability to punch around corners as his career progressed'; a purveyor of 'show, don't tell' and 'be careful what you wish for,' adhered to by purveyors of what's been broadly termed 'horror' ever since.  
  Belgium-born Raymundus Joannes de Kremer (his birth name in 1887) harboured over two-dozen nom-de-plumes throughout his life - and they weren't all mere 'pen names.' 1926 – the year after his Whiskey Tales debut – found him imprisoned, serving a six-year conviction for embezzlement; though released after two. While incarcerated, he'd penned novellas and the short tales that would appear in subsequent collections. His now tarnished reputation compelled him to write under his second pseudonym: 'John Flanders.' 
  Circles Of Dread – his fourth collection and, here, English translation – reveals Ray at the height of his powers and just one release away from what would become his most famous work; the macabre novel, Malpertuis, that same year. (1943). This, produced amidst a record-breaking output of commercial fiction, led by his pulp-ish, German-sourced 'Harry Dickson' detective series, which he'd taken over from other writers, and ultimately 'owned' as sole author. 
  A few weeks prior to his death, in September 1964, he wrote his own mock-epitaph in a letter to a friend, summing-up how little esteem he felt writers were held in, in the wider world: "here lies Jean Ray / A man sinister / who was nothing / not even a minister."

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