Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Why you should read . . . Thomas Owen

Thomas Owen (Gérald Bertot)

I’m never happier than when discovering a new writer to introduce to our customers. A good example is Michael Reynier, whose short story collection Five Degrees of Latitude (2011) - his first piece of published fiction - helped Tartarus win this years’ World Fantasy Award.  Or, more recently, Jason A. Wyckoff - writer of the stunning Black Horse collection. Sometimes, though, I find a writer who may be known to others but is new to us – in this case the Belgian Symbolist Thomas Owen (1910-2002), whose The House of Oracles is our next book.

Owen is a master of the fleeting, fantastic, erotic short story – pithy and earthy and strange. I first came across a brief mention of him (real name Gérald Bertot, who also wrote as Stéphane Rey), in a reference work, and noted him down as writer to look into. It took me some time to track down a copy of The Desolate Presence (1984, William Kimber), which is a selection of Owen’s short stories, superbly translated by Iain White. What struck me most, apart from the quality and interest of the stories, was Owen/White’s beautifully economical, deceptively simple prose. Owen is very fortunate to have such an accomplished translator. Iain White also provides the Introduction to The House of Oracles, which includes an illuminating history of the Belgian Symbolists and their place in to the wider European movement.

Luckily for us Iain agreed to augment the existing stories with seven newly translated examples, including the superb title story, and the wonderfully atmospheric ‘The House of the Dead Girl’ and ‘The Gate’. The stories come from six original collections: La Cave aux crapauds (1963), Cérémonial nocturne (1966), La Truie (1972), Pitie pour les ombres (1973), La Rat Kavar (1975) and Les Maisons suspectes (1978). 

The House of Oracles joins a growing body of European literature in translation published by Tartarus, through which we aim to help to keep the works of these wonderful writers in print in the English speaking world:
The King in the Golden Mask (2012) by Marcel Schwob, also translated by Iain White; Clarimonde by Theophile Gautier (2011), translated by various hands; Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier (1999, available as an ebook), translated by R.B. Russell; The Sand-Man and Other Night Pieces (2008) by E.T.A. Hoffman, translated by various hands; Tales of Terror (2008) by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Arnold Kellet; The Golem (2004) by Gustav Meyrinck, translated by Mike Mitchell (out of print).

Rosalie Parker, November 2012

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