Monday, 28 August 2017

Darkly Haunting - 'Early Stages'



Over at Sarob Press we find an anthology of new stories by leading authors in the field of weird/ghostly fiction. I have received a review copy and will proceed with the usual running review over the next week or two. There are five long-ish stories, here, so there's plenty to get my yellowed, broken teeth into.

(Yes, I know that means I'm reading two books at once. I have done this before, it's not as hard as some believe.)

First, the cover - see left. It's another excellent dust jacket by Paul Lowe, complete with archetypal haunted house and a cat with glowing eyes. It's clearly intended to evoke the ghost story tradition, which is a pretty broad one, ranging as it does from Le Fanu to Hammer Productions, and from the Romantic poets to Nigel Kneale.

The first story is 'Early Stages' by James Doig. This is a solid, M.R. Jamesian tale of scholarly types biting off more than they can chew. It's also a multi-layered story in which the narrator sets off to deliver a lecture in the provinces on early English theatre. This is a fascinating subject, and Doig gives a good overview of ideas concerning the evolution of ritual into drama.

The story moves from poorly-attended lectures to a country estate with a strange folly in the grounds. A BBC radio producer plans to use the excellent acoustics in the odd temple for recordings. Things go badly wrong. Efforts to understand the nature of the problem lead to further revelations. Does English drama have its roots in something distinctly un-Christian? Here Doig uses a device familiar to horror movie fans, and the story - much to my delight - melds Jamesian and Lovecraftian elements. We end as we began in ambiguity, but with the suggestion that unwise decisions have moved us closer to some final, catastrophic, discovery.

All in all, 'Early Stages' is a great start. I'l

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