Wednesday, September 10, 2014

THE SURVIVOR - Dennis Parry

The Survivor (1940) by Dennis Parry, newly reprinted by Valancourt, is a distinctive novel of the supernatural that has been too long overlooked. As I say in my introduction, "it is surprising that it has not gained a greater reputation among enthusiasts of supernatural fiction. It is true that the near-omniscient E.F. Bleiler does give it qualified praise, noting the book’s “many good touches and flashes of wit”..." but very few other readers or critics seem to have noticed it.

It is a story of possession set in the wintry fens around Ely during a virulent epidemic. The haunting is not a matter of fine shading and ambiguities. The spirit that returns is arrogant, boisterous and cunning: it exercises a sardonic sway over a remote village just as it had in life. Dennis Parry presents us with a cuttingly modern ghost story inflected with irony and Saki-like wit. At the same time, in the remorselessness of the fatal plague afflicting the country, he creates a chilling dystopia that adds to the bleakness of his work.

It seems to me that Parry achieved with The Survivor a strikingly different and contemporary kind of supernatural story and it is a pity he did not continue to extend the possibilities of the form. I can imagine him working towards a smilar achievement as Robert Aickman or Elizabeth Bowen. As it is, this book is well worth our attention as an impressive contribution to the field.

My introduction provides some detail about the author, but briefly (from Valancourt's announcement), "Dennis Parry (1912-1955) was the author of ten critically acclaimed novels but fell into an undeserved obscurity after his untimely death in a car accident at age 42. His third novel, The Survivor (1940), a classic story of the supernatural, earned rave reviews from critics, who ranked it alongside Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and the works of Algernon Blackwood."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

THE WANDERER - Timothy J Jarvis

A lost writer, an old manuscript (partly in unknown tongues), a sinister puppet show, a timeslip into the far future, and a bitter understanding of what lies behind the façade of the world.

It’s a brave writer who could take those ancient rituals of the dark fantastic and make them work in a fervid new form. But that is the achievement of The Wanderer by Timothy J Jarvis, an astonishing debut novel deeply infused with the traditions of supernatural and metaphysical fiction.

It has been devised with a subtle understanding of the motifs and mechanics of the strange and visionary in literature. The skilful use of stories within stories suggests Arthur Machen’s The Three Impostors, while the scenes of a ruined city after a catastrophe, bring to mind images from M P Shiel’s The Purple Cloud, or Edward Shanks’ People of the Ruins. And there are also suggestions of a wider cosmic tragedy such as we encounter in Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, and even of the serene realm of Shangri La in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon.

It is an unusual meditation on the nature of fantasy, that shunned half-brother of literature, which also astutely exemplifies the form: a book essentially about the mainsprings of the macabre that works itself as a significant new coiling of the dark. But it is far from an academic treatise. The book shifts between sordid pubs and smeared rooms, evoked with grimy authenticity, and weird horizons in worlds of dream or hallucination.

Most of all, though, The Wanderer is that rare thing, a thoroughly engrossing and exhilarating story, laced with playfulness, which also glimmers with intelligence and audacity. We should be wary, though. The book itself reveals a force seeking out certain artists, poets, and others, as prey it can pursue forever through the underworld – an infinitely dark and cruel game of the kind hinted at by Sarban in The Sound of His Horn, but vaster still in its remorselessness and terror. How do we know it isn’t one more lure in that labyrinth?

Don’t read this book unless you’re ready to defy the gates of Hell.

Mark Valentine

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Le Visage Vert no. 24

A belated note to call attention to the recent new issue (June 2014) of Le Visage Vert, which showcases two American stories, "Marjorie Daw" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, and includes an article by Xavier Mauméjean on the latter writer.  Other stories in this issue include "The Air Serpent" by William Page  and "Le Visionnaire" by Rudolf Lindau (a German diplomat who lived for many years in Paris), the latter story being best known in English as "The Seer" from Blackwood's Magazine (January 1881) and the subsequent Lindau collection, The Philosopher's Pendulum and Other Stories (1883).  Michel Meurger discusses William Page's story as an inspiration of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Horror of the Heights".  Another fine issue of Le Visage Vert.  Ordering details can be found here (scroll down). 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


'In musty blackness above old stables,
Forgotten shelves in crowded, disused rooms
Where a faded rose silk wallpaper blooms ; ...'

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF BOOKS: Six poems by Henry Wessells on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics. Photographs by Paul Schütze. Published by Temporay Culture.

A fine meditation on the nature of books and of book collecting and of much else, and a fastidious example of the book-maker's craft, hand-bound and hand-assembled by a kitchen-table publisher, with delicate care and attention to detail.

With eight duotone photographs tipped-in, full of the ancient texture and dimmed light of old books. Text printed on Mohawk Via Vellum Jute. Set in original foundry Centaur types, digitized by the Nonpareil Typefoundry. Design by Jerry Kelly. Hand sewn in heavy card covers, pictorial dust jacket.

An edition of 226 copies presently emerging from the bindery.

'...sleeping gods of old empires await
Some new interpreter to light a fire
Against the slow and irreversible cold.'

Sunday, August 3, 2014


The adventurous Invocations Press of Brighton have announced a new publication, Lost Cartographies: Tales of Another Europe, a collection of curious fiction by Wormwood contributor Cyril Simsa of Prague. "Europe has always been Other, and there have always been other Europes" they remind us, and offer "Six stories, six Europes. All of them teetering on the very edge of the map."

In his introduction, the author explores how the idea of the Other has haunted the European imagination, sometimes located in terrain close by, just across a boundary, sometimes far away, in realms regarded as exotic and truly outland. He tells us: "These are my reports from the far side of our culture's ambivalent European identity. From the weird germ-lines and the mapless demesnes on the left-hand side of the family."

The stories are in the Central European fantastic tradition of Gustav Meyrink and Leo Perutz, where travellers encounter places stranger than the coasts of Bohemia, and ancient spirits adapt themselves to modern shapes.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Pallid Lily Press: A Checklist

The Pallid Lily Press: A Checklist
Mark Valentine

With thanks to the Press' publisher and designer, David Cowperthwaite. All pieces by John Gale unless stated.

Remembrance: A Hunt in Masks. Single sheet, ivory paper, illustration by Wilhelm List (‘Votive Offering’, 1900), signed in jade ink to verso, with separate pale cream card stiffener with Celtic interlacing ornament and imprint label. February 1999. Limited to ten numbered copies.

Lilies of Zircon: The Final Letter from Kuusian to Baiirnah. Booklet, 8pp. Grey parchment paper covers, cream imprint label on back cover, enclosed in a white envelope with cream imprint label. October 1999. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

Two Lord Kandra Parodies by John Gale & Mark Valentine: ‘From Pillow to Post’ by John Gale. ‘Untitled’ by Mark Valentine. Booklet, 8pp. Pale yellow parchment paper covers, cream imprint label on back cover, enclosed in a manilla envelope with cream imprint label. February 2000. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

A Rhapsody for the Goddess of Autumn, For Three Female Voices, With Improvised Music on Cithara, Flute and Two Tabla. Yellow parchment paper cover, with two pages, bound in a gold ribbon, and enclosed in a white envelope with cream paper labels, with an autumn leaf attached to top left corner by gold ribbon. November 2001. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

Phulygia. Single sheet. On recto, cream paper pasted on to black card. Title and signature in gold ink. On verso, limitation and publication details in gold ink. Limited to 10 numbered copies. February 2002.

The Unpassing Sorrow of Lady Winter. Booklet, 12pp. Crimson parchment paper covers with pasted illustrated title plate on front recto, paper snowflake pasted to front verso and back recto, gilt decorated title letter on first page of text, enclosed in a golden envelope with white title label, Beardsley illustration and white snowflake to front. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2004.

Ashghul: A Tale of Lord Kandra. Booklet, 20pp. Cream paper wrappers with gilt and lilac decorated ornament, magenta inner wrappers, enclosed in a royal blue envelope with silver calligraphic titles and imprint. Limited to 10 numbered copies. March 2006.

Fallen are the Domes of Green Amber. With three interior decorations by Margaret Russell. Booklet, 20pp.Transparent paper wrappers, green card boards, bound with light brown ribbon. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2008. [There exists an earlier version, not issued, with a different cover, dated Christmas 2005].

The Votaries of Autumn. Booklet, 12pp. Scarlet paper wrappers bound with bright yellow ribbon, enclosed in a cream envelope with decorative silver and black title plate to front, and cream imprint label on flap. Limited to 10 numbered copies. Samain [ie, November] 2008

The House of Silent Ravens. Booklet, 20pp. White card illustrated covers. Together with The House of Silent Ravens: Discarded Plumage. Booklet, 12pp. The two held together by black ribbon bow with loosely inserted black feather. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2011.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Silver Voices - John Howard

The Swan River Press has announced a new edition of The Silver Voices by Wormwood columnist and essayist John Howard, collecting seven stories set in the Transylvanian town of Steaua de Munte, hill of the stars, a place of several distinctive languages and cultures, and with its own unusual history and legends. As in his stories for Secret Europe, the volume conjures the atmosphere of the interwar era and its legacy with subtle understanding, in writing imbued with an austere clarity.

In an interview with Mat Joiner, John describes how his interest in such borderlands began when young. Picking up a school atlas, he recalls "being plunged into a world of shifting frontiers, with empires rising and falling in tides of different colours washing across the pages as I turned them, which were decades and centuries passing."

Though he often works within the classic tradition of supernatural fiction, he explains that while his stories may not be about conventional ghosts, they do evoke the metaphorical hauntings we all experience - "our obsessions and longings and fascinations and hates and dreads" - and adds, "I doubt we can ever entirely escape our ghosts, desirable as that might be, because that would mean escaping from a part of our very selves. But come to terms with them, yes."