Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ghosts by R. B. Russell

Ghosts; Putting the Pieces in Place and Bloody Baudelaire by R. B. Russell is his debut publications in the genre of supernatural fiction. The book also contains the story In Hiding which was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Awards in 2010. It is published by The Swan River Press. The cover is beautiful, designed by Meggan Kehrli, with a black and white soft focus photo of an Edwardian-looking woman looking out at you. With that Mona Lisa 'is-she-smiling-or-isn't-she-smiling?' look, she gazes straight at the reader. The dust jacket quotes Charles Baudelaire, "I can hardly conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy", and this sets the tone of the book.
(This leads me to an aside-talking of production, as I sit on the station platform looking at this evening's commuters with e-readers, this element is all lost on them. You might cite the old don't read a book by it's cover but to me it's a vital aspect of the book and one that sets the tone for the journey inside. Anyway, moving on....)

In the introduction Mark Valentine, for whom The Swan River Press will be bringing out a collection of stories at the end of this month, calls it "literature of the dark" and explains how supernatural stories began to change in the twentieth century to become tales which avoided clear explanation, citing Walter de la Mare and Robert Aickman with whom he groups the more modern Russell.
'Putting the Pieces in Place' is about an obsessive (who is a) collector, living in a supposedly haunted house, who has been using a female 'detective' to track down the reel-to-reel tapes of a violinist he heard performing when he was  seventeen. With literary references to Alain Fournier and Henry James, this story carries a sense of mystery as the story and then the story behind the story reveals itself.
In 'There's Nothing I Wouldn't Do' the story of a young woman's experience is told by a friend from school and university. The tale that emerges comes from her time spent in Odessa doing a PhD where she meets and is flattered by the attention of a young man called Taras. With a tip to the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and Russell's obvious love of language, the student is availed of an interview with the great architect Alexander de Saussure, but the theme is the obsessive again as suggested by the title as quoted by the boyfriend Taras "There's nothing I wouldn't for you."
'In Hiding' follows David Barrett M.P. as he travels to the Greek island of Elga to hide from a financial political scandal, ironically staying courtesy of a man living in well-paid retirement after he sold a story to the newspapers.
'Eleanor' is set at a science fiction convention with the author of  Eleanor written twenty years ago and his one and only novel but seen as a celebrity to those at the convention. The presence of a guest dressed as the character 'Eleanor' unnerves him, giving the ensuing story an uncertainty and supernatural frisson.

'Dispossessed' tells Jayne's story, homeless and jobless after the death of the old lady she was housekeeper to for ten years. Offered a flat rent-free for the interim by a family member, this however slips to the wayside when she meets a stranger in a pub, confides her troubles and ends up in his flat "together for almost a year." The story develops in it's strange way when she eventually goes to the flat she was given keys to by the relative.
'Bloody Baudelaire' at seventy-six pages is nearly a novella. The title is foreboding and the first paragraph warns us that something eventful is to occur,"Almost immediately afterwards he became so frightened of forgetting details...that he wrote it down." It is Lucien Miller's story of time spent in Cliffe House and jealousy plays its' role as does the discomfort of house guests during arguments. With quotes and references to Baudelaire it's like an English country house drama with a lurking mystery and sexual tension.
 Russell, co-proprietor of Indy publishing house Tartarus Press, has an engaging writing style. His characters are strange but real and we believe in them however odd and get drawn into their lives and stories. The collection has a Twilight Zone/Tales of the Unexpected feel about it and I look forward to seeing more of his writing in the future.

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