Friday, 10 February 2017

A Twist in the Eye

First, an apology. I intended to provide a running review of this excellent collection of stories by Charles Wilkinson, but things got in the way. Among the things were deadlines, Christmas, and illness. But let me at least round off proceedings by giving a short review of the book.

What struck me most about the book is the combination of a confident authorial voice with a wide variety of themes and ideas. The two stories I published in Supernatural Tales, 'Cold Plate' and 'Hands', fall into the British 'ghost story' tradition. They concern strange things that happen to fairly normal individuals who are  doing fairly conventional things and not seeking out the strange. In 'Cold Plate' a woman falls in love with a mysterious man whose attitude to marriage is somewhat unconventional, yet horrifyingly familiar in some respects. In 'Hands' a lonely man takes a cottage near the sea and finds it haunted, but not by a conventional ghost.

Other stories evoke something like Folk Horror, as it has become known. 'Watchers in the Woods' proclaims its origins in its title - or does it? Because it takes an unexpected direction, yet one that makes sense and is satisfying. I can imagine a Japanese director making a nice vignette of this one. 'A Lesson from the Undergrowth' also involves strange doings in a rural setting, The theme of the son returning to his dead father's home and reconnecting with his boyhood is well handled, and again it offers an ending that surprised me. Both reminded me slightly of A.E. Coppard, a neglected British writer who may have anticipated 'magic realism'.

If Wilkinson has a motif, it is solitary people ending up in problematic houses. 'Choice' and 'An Invitation to Worship' both see individuals hiding out or holing up, and discovering that their place of refuge is no true sanctuary. Hotels also feature prominently, the oddest being in 'The World Without Watercress', which has a whiff of Fawlty Towers on LSD about it. It may in fact be the Hilbert Hotel, a mathematical fiction in which the number of rooms is infinite. Shades of Borges, and yet there is something almost touching in the Britishness of Wilkinson. His characters attempt to muddle through the most bizarre and disturbing situations,

I hope this, along with the previous running reviews in December, have given some impression of this fine volume. It is wrong to judge a book by its cover, of course. But this one is a good to read as it is to look at. And that is saying something.

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