Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Women Only

ST is now open to submissions from women writers until the end of August.

With luck this will help correct the magazine's long-term gender imbalance, which has been bothering me for some time.

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'The Nun's Tale'

The final story in Tree Spirit and Other Strange Tales by Michael Eisele is a good, old-fashioned yarn. It pays splendid homage to all those tales told by Chaps Seated By The Fire At Their Club. Only in this case the chaps are retired priests at a nursing home in Northumberland, and the central heating is somewhat inadequate.

The story begins with a discussion of transfiguration, which has a specific religious meaning I'm not too clear on. The point is that one priest, who has previously said little, is moved to recount his strange experience as a missionary in South America. The priest was sent on one of those expeditions that are famously ill-fated - a quest to find out what happened to the last lot. In this case, the last lot were a group of nuns led by the formidably unpopular Sister Mary Joseph, a large and aggressive 'bride of Christ' that any sensible saviour would want to divorce.

The priest recounts his voyage upriver into the territory of a tribe who worship a jaguar-deity in a large stone temple. Significantly, the priest encounters a large, beautiful and terrifying jaguar before he arrives in the village. Communication problems make it difficult for him to grasp what happened to Sister Mary Joseph, but the tribal leader says she is now 'with God'. Assuming she is dead the priest decides to see if he can find any trace of a grave. But then, when he enters the temple, he encounters a naked woman who recognised him at once...

There's a distinct feel of the inter-war era about this one. It might have been penned by Hugh Walpole, L.P. Hartley. It also bears traces of the late Lucius Shepherd and other modern fantasists. With its steamy exoticism and now familiar clash between civilisation and older, earthier cultures it makes a suitable ending to an extremely good collection.

And that's the end of this running review. I now have four books of short stories lined up from the Tartarus, Sarob, and Swan River Presses, so expect another volley from me any day now. It's just a question of choosing which one to do next...

Monk-y Business

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Well, I'm struggling with this one. In 1972 Luis Bunuel finally saw his adaptation of Matthew Lewis's OTT Gothic novel filmed. I've no idea why Bunuel cared that much, as it is a silly story that makes for a rather dull film. The situation is not helped by the fact that Franco Nero, as the eponymous anti-hero, looks very like Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus.

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See what I mean? Okay it's Gothic drama, not 'proper' historical drama, but did monks ever have such fine, full beards? And were they ever so dim that they couldn't see a novice called 'Brother John' was in fact a woman, complete with long titian hair? I mean, it's Nathalie Delon. Vows of celibacy and your mind on higher things? Yeah, right, but we're talking serious ophthalmic problems.

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This film drags and I don't think I'll finish it. The only cast member who is convincing is Nicol Williamson as the very, very evil Duke of Talamur. He is blithely monstrous in a way that convinces. This, you feel, is how a truly amoral man would behave in a culture where wealth and status let you get away with anything. Sadly, the rest of the cast are doing Corman-by-numbers with a dash of pretension. Sorry, Luis, but you needn't have bothered.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

'The Selchie'

I try to avoid picking favourites, but this is for me the best story so far in Michael Eisele's new collection. As it's the penultimate story, we're in a sort of World Cup last-minute nail-biter situation.

'The Selchie' begins with an Inuit woman in difficulties. Onnai's tribe has been driven out of its old hunting grounds by rivals. She seeks a kind of salvation in a lone kayak voyage, and this part of the story is written with loving attention to detail. This takes her far from her ancestral seas to a strange land where very hairy, gruff-voiced people show her some kindness. The man who helps her, who calls himself 'Eean', gives her a new name, to reflect the fact that she appears to be a seal-woman. She helps Eean's people when they, too, struggle to harvest the sea. And eventually the two become lovers, having already forged a strong friendship despite their differences.

This is a very positive, uplifting story. It offers a near-flawless melding of Eisele's two main preoccupations - the rich cultures of 'uncivilised' peoples and the marginal people of Western civilisation. He also mixes history with myth, as Inuit kayakers did indeed reach Scotland in the late medieval period. The Celtic legend of the seal-folk dovetails with Onnai's  deep desire to be at one with creatures her people exploit but also revere. No summary from me can do justice to this novella. Please seek out this book if you can. We need more humane, intelligent fiction in these crass and brutal times.

It's been a long but very rewarding running review, and now the finish line looms into view. Thanks against to the author, and of course to Tartarus for providing me with a review copy. Next, the final story, which seems to be about nuns...