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The Death Spancel and Others - Running Review, Part 3

I have to admit that lockdown has not done me much good when it comes to reading. I have struggled to focus on books, just as I've found it difficult to commit to TV series or films. At the moment I feel weary and despairing, but I must finish this review of an excellent book. So, here goes.

The last two stories in this Katherine Tynan collection are typically imaginative. 'The Picture on the Wall' appears, at first, to be one of those haunted portrait tales, as a young man goes to the north of England to meet the rather grim family of his fiancée. But the portrait turns out to be something rather different - a two-faced work of art that reveals a terrible family history. In marked contrast is 'The Fields of My Childhood', prose-poem reminiscence. Tynan could offer healthy sentiment and grim plot twists with equal aplomb.

The collection also includes three non-fiction pieces, two of them about Tynan. One is 'Sweet Singer from Over the Sea', in which a reporter from the Sketch visits the writer. This dates from 1893 and underlines how well-known and popular she was during that Celtic Twilight era. The second piece, from 1903, is entitled 'Ghost Story of a Novelist' and features an intriguing twist on the idea of a double or spectre of the living. 


Those are relatively slight pieces, but the last item, 'Dunsany', is more substantial. It offers an attractive portrait of Irish literary life in the run-up to the Great War. And I was delighted by a cameo appearance from H.G. Wells, one of my literary heroes but someone whom Tynan found alarming. No, not for the reason you're probably thinking - she does not, in fact, explain why she was worried about Wells, but he comes over quite well in her piece. It's also ironic that Dunsany assumed he would not come back from the war, on account of his height. Too big a target, you see. But of course he did.

Taken all together, this collection is a valuable, many-faceted celebration of one of Ireland's most prolific short story writers. Tynan might not stand in the first rank, but look at who that includes. She is, however, a worthy 'rediscovery' in the field of Gothic fiction. And, as I said when I began this review, this Swan River Press volume is very beautiful. And beauty seems rarer these days than ever before.

Click to enlarge the lovely


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