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TALES OF THE GROTESQUE by L.A. Lewis

THE CONTINUATION OF MY REAL-TIME REVIEW (FROM HERE) WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I READ EACH REMAINING STORY:-

8 responses to “*

  1. The Chords of Chaos
    “And somewhere, locked in the fathomless heart of Nature, existed that foul combination of sound-waves which could turn the whole human race into a race of maniacs.”
    On the face if it, this is a rather crude, simplistic tale of a medium who channels astral music, music that here summons visions – along the lines of the ‘Tower of Moab’ materialisation – visions that become nightmarish and threatening for all of us should we also hear the same music. Mass hysteria or a real apocalypse of riven souls? Yet, as elsewhere with Lewis, there is something else, a sense of a real Beyond radiating from the text, and here this concerns, for me, the stated explicit concept in this work of a ‘double consciousness’ – as if Lewis is the reader and the reader is Lewis – during the course of reading his work.
    A shudder just came over me as I realised that, during my adult life, I have effectively spent much of my leisure time listening to atonal music in all ranges of ‘hideous discord’, from Xenakis to Stockhausen … as if, now, in hindsight, compelled to seek that very combination of sound-waves of which this work speaks…

  2. The Meerschaum Pipe
    “…the distorted artistry of his mutilations.”
    This again, on the face of it, is simplistic – also predictable from the start. But the Lewis power still came through, as this self-made man (despite the ‘pinch’ felt by others) buys a large property the previous owner of which was a demented serial killer of the most brutal kind. The infection of the earlier ‘double consciousness’ is here concentrated on the eponymous object that despite sterilisation ineluctably brings us, with an irresistible shudder, to the obvious conclusion even before the protagonist did.
    The reader with this book, as the protagonist with the pipe? But it is difficult even to attempt to sterilise a book…
    Meanwhile, I had to laugh at the servant whose ‘hobby’ was polishing!
    And the old-fashioned, now politically incorrect phrase of ‘needing to take a wife’ tickled me, too, with its now obvious irony in the light of the ending of the plot.
    I was a bit disappointed there were four minor typos in the printing of this story.

  3. Haunted Air
    “So pronounced and regular was the movement that it could only be caused by someone moving the dual stick in the other cockpit — but he had taken off solo!”
    This is a truly remarkable story when flying planes was really flying planes with the cut and thrust of joysticks and ailerons and lamina flows plus Bermuda triangles of unlucky airspace, pluck, derring-do, bravery, cowardice, crashes – written by someone who truly seems to understand the art of flying like Biggles would understand it – when Croydon had an airport (an airport that featured in one of my favourite novels by Elizabeth Bowen whom I mentioned earlier) – and I dare you to fly this story; it is has that ‘double consciousness’ again, now getting nearer, almost making sexual advances to you, yes definitely making sexual advances, a ‘lingering caressingly’ between you the reader and whoever is piloting these words you’re reading … A masterpiece.

  4. The Iron Swine
    “‘It is one of those foreign, all-metal jobs,’ he began, ‘built of ribbed duralumin, of course, for lightness, but it looked like a sheet of corrugated iron, flying around a with a hunch-backed whale-like body stuck amidships.'”
    In the same old-fashioned derring-do flying universe as the previous story; not such a great story in itself, I feel, as that one, but with hints of the double-consciousness cockpit, here looking like pig-like eyes, yet it is mainly about the aircraft itself having its own devilish soul, a creation that reminds me of a cross between this author’s own ‘Hybrid’ and a Japanese cartoon cinema film entitled Porco Rosso.

  5. Animate in Death
    “…dimensional overlap…
    Again the Lewis story is in the horror not in the story about the horror. This scenario of a boat on the Norfolk Broads is melodramatic, essentially predictable in the old school of writing, superstitious power in objects, two gentleman investigators, one a known psychic, charming in itself and I love it. But with Lewis, again and again, there is something far more. The Broad’s missing girl from erstwhile cruising there with her friend, is genuinely cast as frightening, with feelings of water currents, fishes and eels now being the consciousness that begins to infect the reader as well as the story’s protagonist. Gory and shivery, exponentially, as you progress with the words, as if the words themselves are fishes and water currents riddling your own future corpse that has now come back to haunt your current body. Judging by my own prior sense in this book of being hooked within what I am now beginning to see as its ‘fishing-lines’ of print, not only by dint of Lewis’ undoubted powers of fiction creation but also, superstitiously perhaps, by dint of our common name, it is unsurprising perhaps that I could only shudder toward this story’s end when this was said out of the blue without prior warning that it was the character’s name: “‘Mr Desmond,’ he asked in a stronger voice, ‘what is in that cabin?'” I also felt that the psychic character’s feeling that he was taken for granted as someone who could solve such horrific hauntings, as if other people assumed he could readily brave any such nightmares, reminded me of the circumstances surrounding the foolhardy derring-do in the previous two stories. Air and water equally brimming with evil denizens? Or the once empty page?

  6. The Author’s Tale
    “…and whom, for want of a better name, we will call Lester.”
    I don’t know how significant this might be, but I have noticed throughout this book that Lewis’ sub-leased storytellers often change the ‘real’ names of characters for ‘fictitious’ ones, for various reasons. Here the storyteller indulges in sexual fantasy when telling of Lester’s serial marital shenanigans, and this story is, in today’s terms, politically incorrect to the nth degree, even to the extent of Lester’s planning to torture his most recent wife for the ‘best’ of reasons, i.e. teaching her a lesson, and he is repaid by being approached sexually, it seems, by some evocatively described ghosts of an “unnatural pallor reminding him of the flaccid whiteness of dressed tripe.” It is all genuinely creepy, but perhaps not in the way Lewis intended.
    “Well, I suppose successful writers, like actors, must live in their parts.” A telling sentence from this story. And Lewis is a good example as long as he doesn’t overlap with his readers, too!
    The expression ‘acute uneasiness’ is also used in this story and this is, I feel, a good expression for the whole book – hence the overall subtitle, I guess.
    This is a book to remember. Yet I still can’t guess which of these stories, if any, is the one I should remember.
    At least, my methods of ‘real-time reviewing’ during the past 5 or 6 years now act as a useful ‘dream-catcher’, useful as long as I don’t get too entrammelled in its nets! At least nobody can accuse me, to quote Lewis in this last story, of “never bothering to audit the books”.

    Thanks to Shadow Publishing for producing this pleasantly aesthetic physical object of a book reprising, as it does, this wonderful Lewis collection from 1934 for a generation of new readers … and for me.
    A slight disappointment was I guess around a dozen minor typos.

  7. PS: My grandmother, mentioned earlier in this review, was always known by the name ‘Lal’ by her friends (a shortening of ‘Alice’).

  8. PPS: Following a conversation here, I think the LAL story I must have read many years ago was THE CHILD, although I had no sense of this memory when I read it a day or so ago.

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