Real-Time Review continued from HERE

Shuck – Simon Bestwick
“Blood-red first, for the sunset’s heart; orange to surround that, then lilac, purple, lemon-yellow, mingled with clouds tinged gold and umber.”
I have a confession to make – when writing my review yesterday, I forgot to mention the first paragraph of ‘Loose’ (this book’s first story) for which, today, on reflection, I can forgive anything that followed it in that story, a first paragraph that gave us the book’s opening ‘genius loci’ also with Suffolk colours…. Meanwhile, here, in this bestial Bestwick, the above quoted landscape colours are that from a woman painter’s brush, alone in the middle of Suffolk’s nowhere with just the cottage she’s staying at close by…. Crows like a ‘bin-liner’ or, later, ‘bin bag’, black ‘beens’ not green, loosely in tune again with ‘Loose’… And a sudden young male intruder (crudely aggressive but good-looking), an intruder upon her nowhere, himself pursued by his own mis-symbiotic intruder (with shape-shifting potential to become the feral monster in ‘Loose’ or the ‘gargoyle’ in ‘The Watchman’ or Trench in ‘Deep Water’) against which he battens down her cottage – with smeared herbs for its windows and doors, such openings like metaphorical vital points sunk beneath some skin of human bestiality. This parallels for me the woman painter’s own various mis-symbioses seen through the cruelly revenant lens of her past relationships (like that in ‘Deep Water’ between the husband and his ‘mad wife’), such talking visions instilled by this siege upon the cottage… This horror story, when taken on its own honest terms as such, is skilfully disturbing as well as healing via, in the end, a suckling pathos when another vital point rises to the surface of the skin (like the sharp end of a cone?)… (15 Oct 12 – 12.45 pm bst)

The Marsh Warden – Steve Duffy
“… A faint trail of greenish-black slime, such as may form on the margins of a stagnant woodland pond,…”
I am of course familiar with the Essex marshes. The story’s eponymous public house is thus a handy stay-over for the gentleman seeking “sundry avian miscellanea” until unwelcome smells impinging on food and even upon the beer within casks arrive from the pub’s accidentally acquired contiguous land, as it were, like a form of riparian law, but here it’s supposedly static ground not a sinuous or even sluggish flow. And internal stories — less salubrious than the evident gentleman narrating the main story whence they emerge — tell of a flow of curses from legends that are shape-shifting like Bestwick’s ‘monster’ but here it’s the ‘genius loci’ itself that shifts its shape into decomposing quicksands of horror, often with stomach-turning force of narrative current. As in the Johnson story, there is a gentlemanly protagonist but, here, he is in turn narrated by what seems to be an even more gentlemanly narrator (not Duffy) who becomes an over-arching character all in himself (definitely male) with his words like ‘juncture’ and ‘commodious’, a narrator  who has escaped Duffy’s pen to roll out his own decidedly convivial story about the bird-watching protagonist and the encroaching smells, it seems to me, and to try to reclaim the ‘warm and comfortable terror’ that I’ve noticed in this book before… like unto its own riparian law or audit trail of leitmotifs TOWARDS gestalt, beyond even the editor’s control? Yet, surely Duffy finally wins out with a residual aftertaste generated by a disturbing quality in this story of infiltratative seepage from the vital points within the body-soul, a factor that is also evident in the Bestwick, reaching further in and further out TOWARDS the parts even cask beer cannot reach. “…drawing him inexorably to the mouth of some soft and unimaginable pit, where but seconds ago had been cold flagstone and the promise of security.” [tab needed before ‘With a frantic effort’ on p90; ‘mSatter’ should be ‘matter’ on p93.] (15 Oct 12 – 3.20 pm bst)



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