Or, Weird Fiction Against Brexit.
That’s too reductive a description but the timing of this publication – and editor Dan Coxon’s impassioned introduction – mean it’s not entirely flippant and not entirely inappropriate.
Coxon was angered by Paul Kingsnorth’s right-wing reading of Paul Wright’s stunning ‘Arcadia‘, a reading which “moves away from the weird, unsettling heart” of the film:
“The past isn’t tea and scones on the lawn, it’s malicious ghosts and weird goings-on in the fells, it’s witches burned at the stake and towns razed to the ground by vikings. Those who see it through rose-tinted glasses aren’t engaging with it, they’re simply fantasizing – and that’s always dangerous.”
Many of the stories in This Dreaming Isle explore things – legends, creatures, folk-tales – from the past which have been dug up, discovered or otherwise reactivated; some of them (Not All Right by James Miller springs immediately to mind) speak to this particular moment in British history.
I backed the book on Kickstarter (like the previous anthology from the editor, Tales from the Shadow Booth), and would recommend keeping an eye on Dan Coxon and Unsung Stories in the future.
Thumbnail impressions of the best:
‘The Knucker’ by Gareth E Rees is one of my favourites: a timeslip story, for which I’m always a sucker, its intersecting episodes move backwards through time. Cleverly structured and atmospheric – if perhaps a little quick to end – and set among the charged and changing landscapes of the Sussex coast.
Also structurally fun is Kirsty Logan’s ‘Domestic Magic’. A couple move into an inherited property and the things they find, left over from the previous owner, lead them item by item to a stunning realisation.
The protagonist of ‘Cold Ashton’ by Stephen Volk is like one of M.R. James’s Oxbridge dons, intrigued by the name of the village in which he finds himself. Unfolding slowly and satisfyingly, his investigations reveal the persistence of names, and their function as clues to moments – dark moments – in our past.
‘The Pier at Ardentinny’ by Catriona Ward plays a subtle game of misdirection throughout, enabling it to wrongfoot the reader right at the end (I won’t say how). In much the same way as the masterful Inside No. 9 TV series does, what you expect to be creepy, and what actually turns out to be creepy, are not the same thing.
The weird climax (that’s a good thing) of ‘In My Father’s House’ by Andrew Michael Hurley (author of The Loney) reminds me of the end of the film version of Michel Faber’s Under the Skin, except that the film led you to expect that such an ending was possible: here it’s a shock. A re-read, however, shows that Hurley sowed seeds from the beginning.
The aforementioned ‘Not All Right’ by James Miller is hilariously offensive, calculated to wind up Guardian readers (myself included).
Tim Lebbon’s atmospheric ‘Land of Many Seasons’ is about a landscape artist in South Wales who persistently finds a mysterious figure appearing in his canvases. Although somewhat let down by the very last sentence, it’s a moving and increasingly creepy tale, vaguely reminiscent of M.R. James’s ‘The Mezzotint’.
‘Dark Shells’ by Aliya Whiteley – a writer on the up – is an old woman’s tale, skipping across time as her memory flickers into and out of focus, and becoming steadily more unsettling as it does.
These are only my favourite stories. All are worth reading, none worth skipping (unless you already have Tales from the Shadow Booth, vol. 1, in which case you’ll already know Alison Moore’s ‘The Stone Dead’ which is good, but in this company feels like a filler).
A good read for the Christmas holidays. Or the January commute.