Monday, 26 November 2012

Why You Should Read . . . A Selection of Tartarus Classics

The Collected Macabre Stories of L.P. Hartley
The Man Who Could Work Miracles, The Supernatural Tales of H.G. Wells
The Triumph of Night and Other Tales by Edith Wharton
Tarnhelm by Hugh Walpole

The long winter evenings we’re experiencing (at least in the northern hemisphere) are perfect for reading – or re-reading – some of the classic authors of supernatural and macabre tales. The four authors I’m recommending for your fireside entertainment are better known for their mainstream writing, but all penned a substantial number of supernatural stories. Some of them are among the best ever written.


 Dipping first into our large purple volume The Collected Macabre Stories of L.P. Hartley (Tartarus Press 2005), reminds me of researching Hartley’s substantial oeuvre of short stories and realising that I had found an author – well known outside the supernatural genre for his perfectly realised novel of English Edwardian childhood, The Go-Between (1953) – who was no dilettante in our area of interest. Hartley was one of the first to introduce a strong psychological element to his macabre stories, and he is also one of those rare writers who can use a rather sardonic sense of humour to good effect (see ‘The Travelling Grave’ and ‘The Killing Bottle’). But he also took the traditions of the ghost story very seriously, calling it ‘if not the highest . . . certainly the most exacting form of literary art’. Stories such as the extraordinary ‘The Pylon’ and ‘The Crossways’ amply demonstrate Hartley’s range and versatility, and I am convinced that this collection represents one of the most impressive achievements of twentieth-century macabre fiction.

That remarkable polymath H.G. Wells was another English writer who more than dabbled in the supernatural. Admired by Jeorg Luis Borges, Wells’ shorter speculative works range from the borders of science fiction (‘The Plattner Story’, in which a fourth dimension is conceived as a realm of the dead), to the boundaries of outright horror, as in ‘The Strange Orchid’, and to the frontiers of fantasy in ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles’. ‘The Door in the Wall’ is a perfectly conceived and faultlessly executed exercise in a character’s desperate longing for a once-glimpsed paradise. In Wells’ work, genres soon come to mean very little. He had an immensely creative imagination, and is arguably at his best when conceiving an unusual idea and following it through to its end.

Among her many literary achievements, U.S. writer Edith Wharton was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (for her mainstream novel The Age of Innocence) in 1921. She also wrote an impressive body of supernatural short stories, many of which were collected together in the last year of her life in Ghosts (1937). Like Walter de la Mare and her friend Henry James, she is adept at evoking uncannily convincing atmospheres and characters. Her story ‘Afterward’ is a model of craftsmanship and skilful characterisation. E.F. Bleiler has described Ghosts as a ‘landmark volume in supernatural fiction’. Our Tartarus volume Triumph of the Night (2008), adds several more stories to those collected together in the earlier book.

Hugh Walpole had a deep and abiding interest in the supernatural and consistently incorporated macabre, mystical and supernatural elements in his work throughout his writing career. Like L.P. Hartley, his supernatural stories exhibit a markedly modern understanding of the psychological, and it is this that allows his more traditional ghost stories, such as ‘The Little Ghost’ and ‘Mrs Lunt’, to retain their power. Our raison d’être as publishers can be said to rest on his view that: ‘ . . . the creator who relies more upon the inference behind the fact than upon the fact itself, more upon the dream than the actual business, more upon the intangible world of poetry than upon the actual world of concrete evidence, this kind of creator will come into his kingdom again.’

Enjoy.


Rosalie Parker, November 2012

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