‘The English-speaking reader has not yet discovered the works of Bioy [Adolfo Bioy Casares]. Though his books are published in the United States, they are not read… The ignorance of the English-speaking reader never ceases to amaze me.’ (Alberto Manguel, A Reading Diary)
For the purposes of this list, ‘strange fiction’ includes fabulation, surrealism, fantasy, the interestingly odd and unclassifiable as well as things dark, uncanny and gothic.
The list consists entirely of titles translated into English. It makes no attempt at consistency or comprehensiveness; there’s much more out there. No attempt either at a bibliographic listing of various editions; I’ve gone a little way in that direction; additional information can be found through internet searches. With a handful of exceptions the titles belong to the 20th century; some obvious names are omitted (Borges, Calvino, Kafka, Schulz) on the grounds that they need no further notice; I have however included less celebrated works by Hoffmann, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov and Hermann Hesse. There are, unfortunately, only four translated female writers on the list (Carrington, Morales, Raspe, Tolstoya); I’d like to think that this reflects a general state of affairs rather than my own bias. Relevant anthologies are included in a separate section at the bottom of the scroll.
Brief descriptions of content are mainly extracted from book-jacket blurbs, hence a tendency toward hyperbole and frequent invocations of Kafka as a point of comparison; in a few cases introductions or reviews are quoted and I’ve added sundry comments of my own.
Inclusion of an item in the list is not an endorsement; I’ve indicated my good opinion of a number of entries (see also the Introduction to this blog), and my poor opinion of at least one other. But I haven’t by any means read all of the below (I wish…), and in any event there’s no accounting for taste.
[Click on images to enlarge]
Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Cruel Tales
Oxford UP, 1963, 1985; tr. Robert Baldick
‘…the essential strangeness of Villiers’s tales. He deliberately and invariably tries to disturb his readers, either by transporting them to the distant realms of his own prolific imagination or by making them see their world through the distorting prism of his unorthodox view of it.’
See also Brian Stableford’s two collections of Villiers translations/adaptations, The Vampire Soul and The Scaffold
Kobo Abe, The Ruined Map
Knopf, 1969, Vintage, 1997; tr. E. Dale Saunders
‘a literary crime novel that combines the narrative suspense of Chandler with the surreal imagery of Kafka… Mr. Nemuro disappeared more than half a year ago… The only clues the nameless detective has to go on are a photograph, a matchbox, and the sparse facts offered by Nemuro’s alluring though alcoholic wife… In pursuit of the vanished Namuro, the detective is gradually drawn into Tokyo’s seedy and dangerous underworld, where, before long, he begins to lose the boundaries of his own identity. The result is a dreamlike, haunting masterpiece…’
Guillaume Apollinaire, The Wandering Jew and Other Stories
Rupert Hart-Davis, 1967; tr. Rémy Inglis Hall. This UK edition includes Beardsley-style illustrations by Antony Little.
‘There is a unique fascination in these stories; many of them are macabre or deliberately shocking… The admirable translation by Rémy Inglis Hall succeeds in transmitting the strange and haunting atmosphere of the original.’ A fascinating collection that deserves to be reprinted, preferably with Antony Little’s illustrations.
See also, The Poet Assassinated.
Fernando Arrabal, The Compass Stone
Grove Press, 1985; tr. Andrew Hurley
‘The Compass Stone is in the form of a memoir by an unnamed chronicler, a twenty year old woman who lives in the greenhouse of a mansion occupied by her crippled father, the Maimed One, and his two grotesque handmaidens, the Sisters. The high walls surrounding the mansion enclose a world unique to Arrabal’s imagination, a Boschian allegory world in which guilt, sadism, bondage and murder all fit together to form a surprisingly coherent universe.’
See also The Burial of the Sardine
H.C. Artmann, Under the Cover of a Hat/Green-Sealed Message
Quartet Books, 1985; tr. Derek Wynand
Under Cover of the Hat [miniature story-texts]– ‘Artmann introduces us to the surreal and often nonsensical world of “Tessa, The Girl in the Gas-Light of Nightfall”; “Craigwill, The White-Slaver of Montmartre”, “The Cellar of the Murderer’s Grandfather” and “The Fiend of the Circuses.”…
‘Green-Sealed Message is a witty and haunting book of ninety dreams, each of which has some numerological significance’
Marcel Béalu: The Experience of the Night
Dedalus, 1997; tr. Christine Donogher
‘Adrien visits Monsieur Focat, an ophthamologist. In order to comply with the prescribed treatment he acquires a job in a mysterious workplace and takes lodgings in an unusual house on a square whose apparent respectability is belied by the monstrous humans living on the side streets off it. Then things get stranger still. Adrien’s adventures include living on a seemingly endless avenue, becoming a figure of adulation, having eye surgery that gives him both the chance to see the underlying beauty in his surroundings and a destructive power, being hounded for no reason by a mob, and willingly becoming a prisoner in a palace apparently constructed by M. Focat in which the statues are in fact robots of some intelligence and great malignity. It has the power to catch the reader up in happenings that, however incredible, seem real and threatening.’
Michel Bernanos, The Other Side of the Mountain
Gollancz, 1969; Sphere 1971; tr. Elaine P. Halperin. New translation by Gio Clerval included in Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (eds) The Weird, Tor, 2011
‘A ship is becalmed; hunger and thirst drive the crew mad; like the wrath of God a cyclone destroys the galleon, leaving only two survivors. A man and a boy are cast up on a weird, godless shore. No life exists there beyond a jungle of dreadful, man-eating plants. Desperately the two survivors trek through the jungle towards a great fiery range of mountains. There, on the slopes of a burning, pulsating crag they meet their destiny…’
Andrey Biely, The Silver Dove
Grove Press, 1974; tr. George Reavey
‘the story of a writer’s involvement with a peasant woman who stands under the strange influence of Kudeyarov, a local carpenter and head of the secret sect “the Doves.” After many bizarre occurrences, the writer breaks with the carpenter’s magical influence and the carpenter arranges for the writer to be murdered.’ ‘From its ominous beginning to its hideous end, The Silver Dove progresses… through a hazy landscape… It is a world of unreal figures, of disturbing allusions to some transcendent, ineffable reality. Through a veil of mystery, we recognize the figures, vaguely, as human beings. We have an idea of how they look, where they live, but in the nightmarish fantasy through which they move, the familiar objects that surround them… seem uncanny in their very commonplaceness…’ One of the few properly symbolist novels (i.e. intended as such by a writer who counted himself as a symbolist)).
Massimo Bontempelli, The Faithful Lover
Host Publications, 2007; tr. Estelle Gilson
‘The Faithful Lover (1953) is a collection of short stories by Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, the father of realismo magico (magical realism). This genre works as an evolved form of traditional French surrealism. Bontempelli has commented on the writing style by saying, “the real norm of the art of narration is to describe the dream as if it were reality, and the reality as if it were a dream.” The stories begin with ordinary people and feel normal enough. Yet as the stories continue, Bontempelli starts twisting the screws until cracks appear in mechanism of reality. He uses this technique with varying degrees. At times the effect is full blown while in other stories it bubbles under the surface. Real life becomes infected with dream qualities, the results are strange and beautiful. For L’Amante Fedele (The Faithful Lover), Bontempelli was awarded the “Strega Prize,” Italy’s highest recognition for literature. The book has a wonderfully mysterious tone. Some stories are cloaked in darkness while other will stand in broad daylight. No matter what setting Bontempelli chooses, his stories never become murky or lose their intended effect. The book itself is short, and thus the stories come at you in quick bursts like flying embers. Immediately the reader is ushered into the story. By the first paragraph, Bontempelli has drawn you into his imagination. All the while, one never gets the feeling of being rushed. Things happen in a plausible manner and so we go along without question. The magic of his writing permeates the mind like a fast acting drug whose effects are wonderful.’
Valeri Briussov, The Fiery Angel
Neville Spearman, 1975; tr. Ivor Montagu and Sergei Nalbandov.
‘The story of Rupprecht captivated by a lady called Renata, who is tormented by demons, and their subsequent struggles… an archetypal tale of horror and possession. The set piece of the witches’ Sabbath is particularly powerful… Prokofiev’s opera, The Fiery Angel, was based on Briussov’s novel.’ Rich in gothic atmosphere, this novel deserves to be better known.
Gesualdo Bufalino, The Keeper of Ruins
Harvill, 1994; tr. Patrick Creagh
‘… the present collection of short pieces: fables, fantasies, meditations, imbroglios, all expressive of that same imaginative world, in which the impulse to rejoice strangely survives the shocks of human existence, and the amazed apprehension of the world’s beauty coexists with a sharp awareness of its horror… Sometimes identities become unreliable; a man may be taken over by a seraph, another may lose his own memory and find he has gained someone else’s, a puppeteer’s apprentice finds himself merging with his puppets… death and imagination side by side in the same railway carriage.’
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs
In Bulgakov et al, The Fatal Eggs and Other Soviet Satire, Quartet 1993; translated and edited by Mirra Ginsberg
‘Bulgakov’s novella charts zoologist Professor Persikov’s chance discovery of a strange light ray that accelerates growth and reproduction in living creatures. When a plague obliterates Russia’s poultry stocks, the government… seizes Persikov’s untested invention as the answer to their problem. The consequences are disastrous, as malevolent mutations terrorise the country. While being an example of early science fiction at its best, The Fatal Eggs is also an incubator for the distinctive satire and surrealism that we find in The Master and Margarita.’
Paul Busson, The Man who was Born Again
Dover, 1976; tr. Prince Alexander Mirsky (1927), extensively revised by E.F. Bleiler
‘perhaps the finest adventure fantasy in early twentieth-century German literature. The story of reincarnated memories in eighteenth-century Germany and France, it offers a fine integration of supernatural powers, ghosts, witchcraft, black magic, demons and evocations of the dead; it is unique in its combinations of wild imagination and realism.’ (The Dover edition also includes Meyrink’s The Golem – see below).
Elias Canetti, Auto-Da-Fe
Jonathan Cape, 1946, 1962, Picador 1978; tr. C.V. Wedgewood
‘the story of a distinguished scholar, a prodigy of erudition, whose mind gives way… On either side of him stand his illiterate and grasping housekeeper, Therese who tricks him into marriage, and Benedikt Pfaff, the brutish concierge… Between them the victim is forced out into the underworld of the city, a purgatory where he has for guide a chess-playing dwarf of evil propensities.’ ‘It is a strange, eloquent, terrifying book, which tells us as much about the madness of our age as Kafka’s The Trial.’ Canetti’s Professor Kien is a committed bibliophile: ‘He was the owner of the most important private library in the whole of this great city. He carried a minute portion of it with him wherever he went. His passion for it, the only one which he had permitted himself during a life of austere, exacting study, moved him to take special precautions. Books, even bad ones, tempted him easily into making a purchase.’ This is a novel designed to give nightmares to fellow bibliophiles.
Emmanuel Carrère, The Mustache
Scribner’s, 1988; tr. Lanie Goodman.
‘It all begins playfully enough: “What would happen if I shaved off my mustache?” But for the hero that simple questions catapults him into a metaphysical nightmare, as his wife, friends, and colleagues not only fail to notice his clean-shaven appearance, but deny the existence altogether of his former mustache. Is he the victim of some bad joke? Or have they suddenly all gone mad? Robbed of his daily references and tormented by the absurd – of false appearances and shifting realities – he is driven toward one final, desperate act.’ Critics have noted echoes of Gogol in this short novel, but there’s also an echo of Topor’s The Tenant, particularly the conclusion.
Alejo Carpentier, Baroque Concerto
André Deutsch, 1991; tr. Asa Zatz
‘The travels of a wealthy Mexican nobleman to Europe in the eighteenth century reveal much that is as disconcerting as it is enchanting.’ ‘This novella is a bizarre and compelling fantasy, a labyrinth-like journey laced with layers of allusion, insights and humour.’
Leonora Carrington, The Oval Lady
Capra Press, 1975; tr. Rochelle Holt
‘Carrington’s talismanic tales conceal a wealth of occult wisdom and speak in verbal hieroglyphs and ideograms of the powers of the plant world and the zodiac expressed through vegetal and astrological imagery. They intimate that the sun, the moon and the planets affect our psyche and induce altered states of consciousness… The act of reading Carrington leads us to question why the fruit salesman incubates eggs, what it means to water one’s deceased wife, what the significance is of a corpse that is not entirely dead, and how we are to interpret the language of the cypresses.’
See also The Hearing Trumpet, The Seventh Horse.
Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, A Life on Paper: Selected Stories
Small Beer Press, 2010; tr. Edward Gauvin.
‘stories as familiar as they are fantastic. A Life on Paper presents characters who want to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and present, the real and the more-than-real.’
Giorgio de Chirico, Hebdomeros
Peter Owen, 1964; Margaret Crosland
‘In this brilliant picaresque of the imagination, de Chirico relates how Hebdomeros and his companions move from place to place and witness many extraordinary events – surrealistic, enigmatic, often comic… Horses may appear suddenly among broken columns and ships sail into a sea of flower-studded fields, yet tangible human elements are also vividly delineated.’
René Crevel, Babylon
Quartet,1988; tr. Kay Boyle.
‘a novel of stylistic elegance and psychological depth which probes the interplay between the rational and the subconscious. The story concerns a free-spirited young girl who looks on as her father elopes with a beautiful English cousin. The chambermaid runs off with and then kills the gardener, her grandmother seduces her mother’s new fiancé, and her mother finally accepts an arranged marriage with the bizarre Mac-Louf, darling of the Society for Protection by Rational Experience. Among these marionettes of French society the child-becoming woman pursues her own dream and seeks a world bathed in an unknown light.’ The Quartet edition includes images created for the text by Crevel’s fellow surrealist Max Ernst.
Géza Csath, Opium and other stories
Penguin, 1983; trs Jascha Kessler & Charlotte Rogers (originally published in the USA under the title The Magician’s Garden and Other Stories, Columbia UP, 1964)
‘Opium addict and therefore a specialist in dreams, Csath wrote short stories comfortless as bad dreams, sometimes decorating them languorously with the art-nouveau impedimenta of lilies, lotuses, and sulphurous magic, at other times relating them in the cool neutral language of the case book.’
A Night of Serious Drinking
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979; trs. David Coward and A.E. Lovatt
‘The Narrator describes his experiences during a drinking bout – his is a vision of hell which recalls the savage humour and poetic vision of writers such as Rabelais and Swift… Combining satire and poetry, the narrator tells of his encounters with the Fidgeters, the Fabricators of useless objects, the Clarificators and others – all of whom he describes with humour, pity, cruelty and elegance.’
City Lights, 1959; tr. Roger Shattuck
‘An extraordinary voyage on the yacht Impossible and the partial ascent of a symbolic mountain serve as the narrative touchstone for this intriguing spiritual autobiography. The members of the expedition to Mount Analogue form a lively group of knowledge-seekers, artists and scholars who… overcome preliminary difficulties, and gradually begin to grasp the strange transformations of meaning their expedition undergoes. For, little by little, scientific concerns and theories… become unimportant, and each person is faced with the major responsibility of advancing … toward a hitherto unknown continent.’
Robert Desnos, Liberty or Love
Atlas, 1994, 2012; r. Terry Hale
‘a novel… which never behaves as one would expect… Characters appear and vanish according to whim and desire, they walk underwater, nonchalantly accept astounding coincidences. It’s a hymn to the erotic, an adventure story illumined by the shades of Sade, Lautréamont and Jack the Ripper, a dream at once violent and tender, in fact the perfect embodiment of the Surrealist spirit: joyful, despairing, and effortlessly scandalous.’ If not the best novel written by one of the surrealist group certainly the most enjoyable.
Gollancz, 1978; tr. Andrée Conrad
‘While at first glance this series of three stories seems to be a satire of the interconnected lives of several bourgeois Mediterranean families, what eventually surfaces is the idea that even the most stalwart of people’s lives can suddenly be plunged into frightening and marvelous surreality. Donoso is in rare form in these tales… bodies being taken apart (particularly de-sexualized), objects and spaces disappearing from under one’s gaze, and the ability of the self to become the other.’
The Obscene Bird of Night
Nonpareil Books, 1979; tr.Hardie St. Martin &Leonard Mades
‘The Obscene Bird of Night is one strange, twisted, haunting, obscene book… The narrator is omniscient, omnipresent, it impersonates almost every character in this book, sometimes in the course of the same sentence. Just as the narrator’s voice passes from one character to another in a chaotic manner, also their personalities undergo several changes… for example, Humberto Peñaloza is, in turns, a poor and obscure young man/a failed writer/a monster through his normality, among deformed people/a mute and deaf/the seventh old woman deprived of sex/a baby boy who continues to shrink/an Imbunche (a deformed monster with all its nine body orifices sewn in, obstructed, with one of its legs bent backwards, over its back). Iris Mateluna is an orphan, but also Gina the slut/bearer of a miraculous pregnancy/mother of an old-woman-turned-child/Madonna with a child/Inés the pious. The characters also shift their traits – Jerónimo steals Humberto’s wound, while the latter steals Jerónimo’s potency. Inés Azcoitía imitates the voices of those around her, impersonating them… There are some parts of pure obscenity, raw, sickening images in this book. But there are also parts of pure beauty: unending paragraphs, in which the reader almost gets lost; a backyard full of broken statues of saints, from which new saints are randomly built… There is the legend of Inés the pious/Inés the witch, who was confined in a monastery by her father. There is the haunting story of the monstrous Boy, who was surrounded by a world of deformed people just like himself, thus reversing the meaning of normality and beauty. The whole novel is infused with the myth of the Imbunche, even the House is transformed gradually into one, as the windows are bricked-up, rooms and corridors hidden under false walls, as if they never existed. There is a continuous switch between inside and outside, dream and reality.’
(I confess I finally gave up on Obscene Bird after reading 260 pages of a 430 page tome. Donoso can write, and the narrative form and content are nothing if not grotesque, but I’m afraid I found it slow and low on interest. No doubt a matter of personal taste).
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double
Everyman/Knopf, 2005; tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky
‘The Double is a nightmare in which a minor official named Goliadkin becomes aware of a mysterious dopplegänger – a man who has his name and face and who gradually, relentlessly begins to displace him with his friends and colleagues.’
Andreas Embiricos, Amour, Amour
Alan Ross, 1966; tr. Nikos Stangos; reprinted by Green Integer, 2004
‘Andreas Embiricos, in this book of twenty-four stories, or “personal mythologies,” combines history and myth, poetry and psychology, to create sensual, original and fabulous universe. His characters, defying all convention , behave like the ancient gods in their murderous or pleasure-seeking expeditions, fulfilling instincts latent in everyone.’ Embiricos was the first and most prominent Greek surrealist. His huge (8 volume) novel, The Great Eastern (‘a fierce erotico-political utopia’) awaits translation.
Erckmann-Chatrian, Best Tales of Terror
Millington 1981; edited by Hugh Lamb
Classic 19th century contes fantastiques admired by M.R. James among others. The translations are probably late Victorian or Edwardian.
Hans Heinz Ewers, Alraune
Side Real Press (limited edition), 2010; tr. Joe E. Bandel
‘This is Hanns Heinz Ewers’ most famous novel, newly translated and uncensored for the first time in the English language. Alraune is a classic melding of the Frankenstein and Mandrake myth depicting the creation of a strange girl and her influence on those that love her.’
See also The Sorceror’s Apprentice, and two volumes of stories, all translated by Bandel. Ewers, along with Meyrink, was one of the two early twentieth century German writers working almost exclusively in the tradition of the fantastic.
Jean Ferry, The Conductor and Other Tales
Wakefield Press, 2013; tr. Edward Gauvin
‘The Conductor and Other Tales is Jean Ferry’s only published book of fiction. It is a collection of short prose narratives that offer a blend of pataphysical humor and surreal nightmare: secret societies so secret that one cannot know if one is a member or not, music-hall acts that walk a tightrope from humor to horror, childhood memories of a man never born, and correspondence from countries that are more states of mind than geographical locales. Lying somewhere between Kafka’s parables and the prose poems of Henri Michaux, Ferry’s tales read like pages from the journal of a stranger in a familiar land.’ Three of Ferry’s stories are included in Matthews’s Custom-House of Desire anthology (see under Anthologies below)
Carlos Fuentes, Aura
Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 1986; tr. Lysander Kemp
‘Felipe Montero responds to a Want Ad in a Mexico City newspaper. He’s exactly right for the job – it’s as though the ad was written just for him. At the address he meets a woman who surely must be over a hundred years old, and her young niece, Aura. A strange, haunting and beautiful story unfolds as Felipe is drawn into their lives.’ ‘A beautiful horror story, a horrifying story of beauty, a combination of Poe, Baudelaire, and Isak Dinesen.’ Very short – a novella rather than a novel.
See also Distant Relations
Nicolai Gogol, Collected Stories
Folio, 2009; tr. Constance Garnett
In addition to such classic stories as ‘the Nose’ and ‘The Overcoat,’ ‘Viy’ is an often overlooked gem of the macabre.
Witold Gombrowicz, Possessed, the Secret of Myslotch
Marion Boyars, 1982; tr. J.A Underwood
‘”Smuggling the most up-to-the-minute contraband in antiquated charabancs-that’s what I like doing,” Gombrowicz said of his work and in this latter-day Gothic novel he uses all the traditional paraphernalia of haunted castles, mad prince, and riddle from the past to tell the very modern story of two young people caught up in a drama of shifting identities.’
Though Possessed reads well enough in English, Underwood’s translation must be considered unsatisfactory. It’s based not on the original Polish text but on the French translation by Mailles and Wlodarzyk. Underwood made some further (‘minor’) abridgements and adjustments, and the latest Polish edition of the text includes an epilogue absent from the English version.
Jeremias Gotthelf, The Black Spider
John Calder 1958, 1965; tr. H. M. Waidson
‘It is a plague-legend about the little valley of the river Grüne… The spider theme is linked with motifs from ancient myth – the cheating of the devil, human sacrifice, the imprisonment of the demon within a beam of wood and others… Throughout the tale we are conscious of the presentation of the divine and the diabolic as co-existent with the material and the human world.’
Stefan Grabinski, The Dark Domain
Dedalus, 1993; tr. Miroslaw Lipinski
‘Grabinski’s stories, which he termed psycho-fantasies, are explorations of the extreme in human behavior, where the macabre and the bizarre combine to send a chill down the reader’s spine.’
Julien Gracq, Château d’Argol
Pushkin Press, 1999; tr. Louise Varèse.
‘The gothic setting of a lonely castle in the middle of thick, dense woods, not far from a wild and inaccessible seashore, contrasts with the contemporaneity of the characters who inhabit it: a dissolute, rich, aimless young man who invites his best friend to stay in his newly-acquired château. The friend arrives not alone but with a beautiful woman whose detached amorality disturbs both men.’
Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl
John Calder, 1957; tr. D.P. Costello
‘…bridges the gap between the timeless literature of the East and the principle Western trends after Kafka. The Blind Owl could be described as a story from a twentieth century Arabian Nights, weird, macabre, deeply imbued with that almost mystical eroticism so close to the Arab heart.’
Franz Hellens, Memoirs from Elsinore
Peter Lang, 2000; tr. Howard Curtis
‘As a prime example of [Hellens’s] “fantastic realism,” this novel takes its narrator-hero Theophile, through a series of adventures that range from the touchingly down-to-earth to the extravagantly bizarre.’
Felisberto Hernández, Piano Stories
New Directions, 1993, 2014; tr. Luis Harss
‘The weird world of Uruguayan fantasist Felisberto is… a look into “slightly different but parallel dimension”, oddball humor meets phantasmagorical prose. Bizarre sketches etched with autobiographical authenticity that resemble Proust’s capturing of time and memory, automatic writing of the surrealist school, and the goofball antics of silent film comedy.’ Italo Calvino writes, ‘And then there are the stories of Felisberto Hernandez, a Uruguyan writer. In these the narrator, who is usually a pianist, is invited to lonely country houses where wealthy maniacs set up complicated charades in which women and dolls change places. He has a few things in common with Hoffmann, but in fact he is like no-one else.’
There is another Hernandez collection, Lands of Memory; these stories offer little in the way of fantasy, or even narrative, but readerly patience is rewarded by writing of considerable charm and imagination; Hernandez’s sensibility is distinctive; somewhat reminiscent of Proust (in miniature) and Robert Walser but possessing its very own flavour. If almost all of Hernandez’s writing touches on the piano it’s because he was for a number of years a struggling professional and concert pianist.
Hermann Hesse, Strange News from Another Star
Cape, 1973; tr. Denver Lindley
‘…collection of “Märchen” (fairy tales) by Hermann Hesse. Unlike his earlier work…, the line between fantasy-reality, dreaming-alertness has been blurred completely. These stories are concerned with dream worlds, the subconscious, magical thinking, and the numinous experience of the soul.’
See also Demian, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game.
E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Devil’s Elixirs
John Calder, 1963; tr. Ronald Taylor.
‘The Devil’s Elixirs is the story of Medardus the Monk who, tempted by the devil, falls into a life of sins and degradation… In this tale of murder and seduction, Hoffmann has caught the very essence of the Romantic Agony.’
See also various collections of Hoffmann’s short stories; the Penguin and the Dover collections are the most readily available.
Hans Henny Jahnn, The Ship
Scribner’s 1961; tr. Catherine Hutter
‘A ship with disturbingly complicated and secret-filled naval architecture sails towards an undisclosed location freighted with taboo cargo in impenetrable, coffin shaped boxes… The captain brings his daughter along for the ride; the fiancée stows away, is immediately discovered and accepted as a passenger and then everything starts to go slowly wrong… The prose itself is sufficiently rewarding to justify a reading… Like Gustav Meyrink, Jahnn has a bleached, moonlit, semi-gothic palette.’
Jules Janin, The Dead Donkey and the Guillotined Woman
The Gothic Society 1993; anonymous (1851) translation, slightly revised by Terry Hale
‘During the early part of the nineteenth century there flourished in France a literature of horror… christened “the frénétique school”… Of this short-lived movement Jules Janin’s The Dead Donkey is one of the finest and certainly one of the most unpleasant examples. Janin is supposed to have begun the tale as a spoof of the fashionable frénétique style; however, with its wealth of horrible incident and its sinister and claustrophic atmosphere, it seems likely that the author actually fell in love with his subject. The bizarre duality of the novel becomes, as a consequence one of its most striking qualities.’
Alfred Jarry, The Supermale
New Directions 1968; Jonathan Cape, 1968, tr. Barbara Wright
‘The Supermale, which first appeared in 1902, can be interpreted in many ways: as science fiction avant-la-lettre, as a masterpiece of surrealist imagination and of black humour; or as one of the most remarkable pieces of sweet-and-sour erotica ever written. The great final séance between between André and Ellen… draws great beauty from the strangest context ever provided for a sexual union.’
See also Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician in Selected Works of Alfred Jarry.
Ernst Jünger, On the Marble Cliffs
John Lehman, 1947, Penguin, 1970; tr. Stuart Hood
‘In the shadow of the Marble Cliffs, the Narrator and his brother Otho lead a near idyllic life as dedicated botanists… Then the Foresters of the Campagne take to roaming with incendiary torches in murderous midnight bands. Soon, time-honoured rituals are being turned to baser ends… In time, a miasma of evil blankets the country and at last even the botanists are drawn toward the final appalling holocaust.’ A resonant fable written by a German military veteran on the eve of WW2.
Pierre Kast, The Vampires of Alfama
W.H. Allen, 1976, tr. Peter de Polnay
‘In the secret heart of Alfama, the Casbah-like quarter of Lisbon… the outlawed intellectuals of the eighteenth century rub shoulders with alchemists, criminals, astrologers and magicians… Erudite, and at times frenziedly erotic, The Vampires of Alfama is a romantic and desperate love story. Peter de Polnay’s inspired translation communicates the bizarre and decadent spirit of the times.’
Ladislaw Klima, The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch: A Grotesque Tale of Horror
Twisted Spoon Press, 2008; tr. Carleton Bulkin
While the description of the main elements thus far may preclude some or average readers from a strong interest in the work, I must say that this work is immensely entertaining in its humor, wit, plot, and — here’s the point — it’s a fantasy, folks! The most grotesque aspects of the work — and there are only a few, however notable or shocking — recede into the background while the humor and the plot stay in the foreground.
Ladislav Klima regarded himself as a philosopher much in the style of Diogenes who dressed himself in a barrel and went without clothes. Klima wrote 30 novels in addition to works in philosophy, and this work is the first of Klima’s fiction to be translated into English. I think some of the lyrical flights expressed in the work were inspired by Klima’s philosophy and philosophical outlook; the beauty of many passages — yes, despite the grotesque elements — holds the reader’s attention not simply because of the style or the syntactical structure of the passages but because Klima’s philosophy penetrates the poetic language and the mind becomes aware of an inner logic that entices with metaphysical possibilities. This translation is particularly gorgeous and astounding because Klima’s language runs from the vulgar to the sublime and Prince Sternenhoch, the main focal point for the work, is someone who, in one moment, seems to live in the gutter while, in another moment, expresses the most super-celestial thoughts imaginable. Klima’s character also writes and speaks in Latin, using profoundly eccentric phrases in order to express himself. I felt Carleton Bulkin translated Klima perfectly — into the most contemporary, idiomatic and lyrical English the modern reader can only fully appreciate.’ (Charles G. Steiner)
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Autobiography of a Corpse
NYRB Classics, 2013; tr. Joanne Turnbull
‘The stakes are wildly high in Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s fantastic and blackly comic philosophical fables, which abound in nested narratives and wild paradoxes. This new collection of eleven mind-bending and spellbinding tales includes some of Krzhizhanovsky’s most dazzling conceits: a provincial journalist who moves to Moscow finds his existence consumed by the autobiography of his room’s previous occupant; the fingers of a celebrated pianist’s right hand run away to spend a night alone on the city streets; a man’s lifelong quest to bite his own elbow inspires both a hugely popular circus act and a new refutation of Kant. Ordinary reality cracks open before our eyes in the pages of Autobiography of a Corpse, and the extraordinary spills out.’
(‘Lodged in a cell-like room on the Arbat, Krzhizhanovsky wrote steadily for close to two decades. His philosophical and phantasmagorical fictions ignored injunctions to portray the Soviet state in a positive light. Three separate efforts to print collections were quashed by the censors, a fourth by World War II. Not until 1989 could his work begin to be published. Like Poe, Krzhizhanovsky takes us to the edge of the abyss and forces us to look into it. “I am interested,” he said, “not in the arithmetic, but in the algebra.”’)
See also The Letter Writer’s Club and Memories of the Future
Alfred Kubin, The Other Side
Gollancz, 1969, Penguin, 1973; tr . Denver Lindley; new translation by Mike Mitchell, Dedalus, revised edition, 2014
‘An artist is invited by Patera, a forgotten schoolfriend, to live in the Dream Kingdom, somewhere in Central Asia… The artist has hardly settled down before a wave of odd epidemics starts sweeping the country toward disintegration… Kubin’s only novel, written in the white heat of twelve weeks’ visionary inspiration.’ A key expressionist novel; an excerpt from The Other Side, in Mitchell’s translation, is included the Vandermeers’s anthology, The Weird.
An Autumn Story
Eridanos Press, 1989; tr. Joachim Neugroschel
‘a fugitive partisan accidentally finds shelter in an eerie mansion ruled by an aging aristocrat… the mansion begins to cast a spell on the guest, who furtively reconnoiters it, aware of an enigmatic being that seems to come from a mysterious past. Could the beautiful woman, whose image he finds in an ancient portrait, be haunting this place?… Narrated in a tone of ghostly nostalgia, this somber and poignant novel fuses Gothic horror with the modern quest for love.’
Words in Commotion and Other Stories
Viking, 1986; tr. Kathrine Jason
‘Landolfi’s world is a strange blend of fact and fantasy, where sharply observed details fuse with the surreal.’; ‘Heir to the tradition of Poe, Gogol, and Kafka, Tommaso Landolfi sees human life as constantly hostage to accident, chance and folly. His stories are disturbing, brutal, funny, mysterious…’
Comte de Lautréamont (Isidore Ducasse), Maldoror
Thomas Crowell (USA), 1972; tr. Alexis Lykiard; Penguin, 1978; tr. Paul Knight.
‘Lautréamont’s fantasy unveils a world – half-vision, half-nightmare – of angels and gravediggers, hermaphrodites and pederasts, lunatics and strange children. The writing is drenched with an unrestrained savagery and menace, and the startling imagery – delirious, erotic, blasphemous and grandiose by turns – possesses a remarkable hallucinatory quality.’ Paul Knight’s more idiomatic translation better reflects the French text, but I have a fondness for Lykiard’s often unidiomatic and verbally baroque version.
Michel Leiris, Aurora
Atlas, 1990; tr. Anna Warby
‘In a novel of absolute extremes, whose disgust with “things as they are” includes the whole idea of “novels,” Michel Leiris pursues his heroine, Aurora, through a visionary landscape shot through with catastrophes and disasters. His lucid and baroque language, with its incredible descriptions and ever more extravagant metaphors, is only just able to keep pace with the pursuit… Aurora is one of the highpoints of literary Surrealism.’
Gaston Leroux, The Real Phantom of the Opera and Other Tales
Alan Sutton, 1994; various translators, edited by Peter Haining
‘In this new collection of chilling tales…, most of them written in the 1920s when Leroux was at his peak, stories of macabre murder, of hauntings, of a husband who guillotines his wife, of a gambler who longs to lose and cannot do so, and of a horrifying night in a waxworks museum…’
Maurice Level, Those Who Return
Black Mask, 2008 ; tr. Bérengère Drillien
‘Those Who Return is a psychological thriller, a gripping page-turner, a tale of hysteria, madness, revenge and bizarre deaths in the contes cruels tradition… This short novel is told in crisp, sparse language yet contains elements of romanticism (the feelings and sensitivity of a passionate, poetic main character), decadence (the decay, the unclean, the unnatural), the tension between reason and science on the one hand and magic and ghosts on the other, and is a curious cross between, if you can believe it, James M. Cain hardboiled and Edgar Allan Poe macabre.’
See also Tales of Mystery and Horror and Tales of the Grand Guignol
Ghérasim Luca, The Passive Vampire
Twisted Spoon Press, 2008; tr. Krzysztof Fijalkowski
A crucial but neglected surrealist text, The Passive Vampire isn’t actually a work of fiction, however the second (and longer) of the two parts transcends the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, subjecting ‘reality’ to magical and libidinal transformations. A dark, delirious descendant of Lautréamont’s Maldoror, it invokes Fantomas, satanism and l’amour fou.
Naguib Mahfouz, Arabian Nights and Days
Doubleday, 1994; tr. Denys Johnson-Davies
‘[Draws] on the characters and the spirit of the classic tales of the Arabian Nights… Though it is set in an Islamic city in medieval times, the modern reader will find much in this novel that is surprisingly familiar. It depicts a city plagued by widespread corruption among its most powerful citizens and a pervasive sense of social unrest… Amidst all this, as in the Original Arabian Nights, genies appear out of bottles accidentally opened by innocent individuals, affecting their lives in exciting, sometimes detrimental ways.’
André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Blaze of Embers
John Calder, 1971; tr. A. Fitzlyon
‘The back cover of this book says that these seven stories belong to the literary movement of surrealism… however, there is also a lot of similarity to the fantastic literature of the 19th century, from romanticism to decadence to expressionism. “Les Pierreuses” is the most traditional; how many 19th century stories involved the survival of dangerously erotic beings from pagan times, which reappear unexpectedly to destroy a modern man? The beings in question, however, are certainly among the oddest of their sort. Even the frequent use of mirror images, and the preoccupation with half-dreaming states, is not entirely new, although particularly prominent in surrealism. Another traditional factor, for a French writer, is the use of exoticising settings, Italy, Mexico, and other points southward, and even more exoticised people – the superstitious Sardinians in “Rodogune”, the Jews in “The Diamond”, the bizarre Venetians in “Clouded Mirror”, the poor, dark-skinned Mexicans in “The Nude Among the Coffins”, etc. etc….
‘What’s most disturbing is that the author’s idea of eroticism invariably involves violence against women.’
Giorgio Manganelli, Centuria
McPherson & Co., 2005; tr. Henry Martin
‘[A] Decameron of fictions, each composed on a single folio sheet of typing paper… these 100 comic novels are populated by decidedly ordinary lovers, martyrs, killers, thieves, maniacs, emperors, bandits, sleepers, architects, hunters, prisoners, writers, hallucinations, ghosts, spheres, dragons, Doppelgängers, knights, fairies, angels, animal incarnations and Dreamstuff.’
Guy de Maupassant, Tales of Supernatural Terror
Pan Books, 1972; tr. Arnold Kellett. Reprinted as Tales of Terror, expanded from 16 to 32 stories in a limited hardcover edition by Tartarus Press, 2008.
Wilhelm Meinhold, The Amber Witch
Oxford UP (no date; c. 1930); reprinted in E.F. Bleiler (ed.) Five Victorian Ghost Novels, Dover, 1971; tr. Lady Duff Gordon (1844)
‘In a minor magazine of the day [1841-2]… there appeared several fragments of a seventeenth century manuscript chronicle. These fragments were obviously important, since they mirrored not only great events but a wealth of living detail during the Thirty Years’ War, particularly the persecution of witches… Meinhold… [composed] the first important novel masquerading as a primary document… The English version of The Amber Witch remains the most important witch novel of the nineteenth century English-speaking world.’ (E.F. Bleiler)
See Also Sidonia the Sorceress
Gustav Meyrink. The Golem
Folio 2010, Dedalus, 1995; tr. Mike Mitchell
‘This is the first meeting of Athanasius Pernath… with a shadow in his past, with the Golem, the strange supernatural force reputed to haunt the ancient Ghetto of Prague. From this meeting grows an incredible web of experiences within the twisted, crumbling walls and dark passages of the Ghetto. Strange mystical visions, wonderful transformations, lurking terrors and perplexing revelations come into being around the twin personalities of Pernath and the Golem, against a background of hatred and frustrated love, malice and cabalistic saintliness.’ The Golem was first translated by Madge Pemberton in 1928; her translation was revised and somewhat modified by E.F. Bleiler for the 1976 Dover edition which can be found without overmuch difficulty, not least for the sake of Paul Busson’s The Man Who Was Born Again, which is also included (see above).
See also The Opal and Other Stories, Walpurgisnacht, The White Dominicans, The Green Face and The Angel of the West Window, all published by Dedalus (most translated by Mike Mitchell). All are worth exploring, but none quite measure up to The Golem.
Adelaida Garcia Morales, The Silence of the Sirens
Collins, 1988; tr. Concilia Hayter
‘In a timeless, dark hillside village two woman meet: Maria is sensible, clear-sighted and modern; and Elsa is dreamy, mysterious and obsessively in love with a man whom she has only met but twice…. In the stillness of the night she contacts her lover through dreams… Gradually Maria is drawn into collaboration with Elsa’s fantasy, embarking on an exploration of Elsa’s dreamworld…. By the time Maria becomes aware of the dangers implied in such a journey…it is inevitably, proverbially too late… Insane, magical, gloomy and sprightly, a novella that in fable guise enchants but by labyrinthine turns mesmerizes, haunts…’
Apart from being one of the few female-authored titles on this list, it’s the only Spanish (as distinct from Latin-American) title. I confess, though, to having omitted the novels of Ruiz Zafón, also The Dumas Club by Pérez-Reverte and I would like to have included Javier Marias’s Dark Back of Time, except that it doesn’t qualify either as fiction or as fantasy (though John Gawsworth, Arthur Machen and M.P. Shiel all figure in its pages).
Vitezslav Nezval, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders
Twisted Spoon Press, 2005; tr. David Short
‘Written in 1935 at the height of Czech Surrealism, this parable of menstruation is a bizarre erotic fantasy of a young girl’s maturation into womanhood. Drawing on de Sade’s Justine, and Nosferatu and the language of pulp serials, this a lyrical, menacing dream of sexual awakening involves a vampire with a taste for chicken blood, changelings, lecherous priests, with an androgynous merging of brother and sister. An exploration of the grotesque, a meditation on youth and age, sexuality and death.’
Bernard Noël, The Castle of Communion
Atlas, 1993; trs; Paul Buck and Glenda George
‘The novel recounts an intense initiatory sexual quest which occurs on a mysterious remote island. Chosen as the moon’s lover, the hero undertakes a Dantesque journey through successive layers of pain and ecstasy. The book’s climax is a beatific rite of sexual purification in the Castle of Communion, which is described in a poetic language, at once incantatory, crude and almost mystical.’
The encounter between the strange, the perverse and the erotic is not uncommon in French literature; two notable examples are Octave Mirbeau’s Torture Garden and Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye.
Thomas Owen, The House of Oracles
Tartarus (limited edition), 2012; tr. Iain White (an expanded reprint of The Desolate Presence, published by William Kimber, 1984)
‘In these thirty-one stories, seven of which are newly translated… Owen explores love, desire and the uncertain boundary between reality and the unreal in deceptively simple prose.’
The Swedish Cavalier
Harvill (HarperCollins), 1992, tr; John Brownjohn
‘This short novel is a fascinating and strange tale which uses the myths of folklore to explore the human condition. It is a historical adventure story… as well as a legend where ghosts, incantations, angels and supernatural conditions mix darkly. Written in the peculiar, and quite enthralling, style of an old story that could have been told from generation to generation, this story of a man who takes another man’s place in a world still rooted in medieval superstitions, is a superb, thoughtful metaphor on fate, social classes, religion, human nature.’
The Marquis of Bolibar
Harvill, 1989; tr. John Brownjohn
‘The future of a besieged town is intertwined with the deeds of a seemingly un-killable hero, the whims of supernatural agencies, and a woman fated to be the desire of every man who sees her. These similarities between The Marquis of Bolibar and The Iliad can’t possibly be coincidence. And Leo Perutz justifies the association between Homer and this 1920 novel by pulling off a thoroughly entertaining adventure story, which Borges called “a perfect example of the novel of the fantastic in its purest form.” ‘
See also By Night Under the Stone Bridge. Perutz holds a prominent place in the annals of 20th century fantastic literature. His work isn’t easily classified in terms of genre; it employs elements of historical realism as well as fable and fantasy; ‘Friedrich Torberg, who once characterized Perutz’s literary style as the “possible result of an illicit union of Franz Kafka with Agatha Christie,” is among the critics who commend Perutz’s ability to sustain narrative tension while enriching his fiction with both psychological insight and macabre mysticism.’
Maurice Pons, Madamoiselle B.
St Martin’s Press new York/St James Press London, 1975; tr. Patricia Wolf
‘strange rumours have been circulating about a certain Madamoiselle B. Some townspeople think she’s the devil, some think she’s a bat. At some moments she looks seventeen; at others seventy. The men who are drawn to her small, isolated house behind the dyke don’t have long to live… What strange power does Madamoiselle B. unleash in her victims that pushes them to a violent death?’
Pierre-Alexis Ponson du Terrail, The Immortal Woman
Black Coat Press, 2013; adapted by Brian Stableford
‘In 1675, a female vampire possessing the secret of immortality was burned alive. Forty-five years later, during a dinner at the table of the French Regent, her then-lover, Marquis de la Roche-Maubert, discovers that another guest, Chevalier d’Esparron, is in love with the same immortal woman. However, her attraction to him is not to satisfy her hunger for blood, but to implement one of the greatest secrets of alchemy: the transmutation of lead into gold!’
Stableford is given to describing his translations as ‘adaptations’; it isn’t clear how much license this gives him. There is discussion of this point, particularly regarding his Paul Féval translations – here:http://www.gothic.stir.ac.uk/blog/paul-fevals-la-ville-vampire/. The conclusion seems to be that Stableford has on the whole provided reliable translations. But the sheer industrial quantity of his translating activity over a relatively short period of time inevitably raises suspicions, perhaps unfounded ones. For a full list see his Wiki page. He’s certainly to be congratulated for exploring some of the most obscure byways of 19th/early 20-century French ‘strange’ and feuilletonesque literature.
Jan Potocki, The Manuscript Found at Saragossa
Viking, 1995; tr. Ian MacLean
‘Alphonse van Worden… spends the night in a haunted inn in the Sierra Morena where he is plunged into a series of adventures, by turns mysterious, erotic and nightmarish… He joins a band of wanderers… who travel aimlessly while regaling their companions with a hundred and more stories, and stories within stories… And this nest of stories frames yet more stories, driving the reader ever deeper into a labyrinth of sadism, satanism, the cabbala and other phantoms brought forth by the sleep of eighteenth century Reason…’
Raymond Queneau, The Blue Flowers
Atheneum, 1967 (USA); Bodley Head, 1967 (UK edition, entitled Between Blue and Blue); tr. Barbara Wright
‘Is the Duke d’Auge dreaming that he’s Cidrolin, or is it the other way round?…. It all starts off on a barge on the Seine and gallops along at 175 year intervals through French history. In 1264 he refuses to go off on a crusade;… in 1614 he gets mixed up with alchemy; in 1789 he’s off to paint prehistoric caves. And finally in 1964, the Duke d’Auge and Cidrolin meet – or is it merge? That may be, in a manner of speaking the plot, but it’s not the story. The story billows and flows and overflows these pages with breathtaking vitality and inventiveness. More that’s believable, unbelievable, fathomable, unfathomable happens per page that in any other novel of its price or size.’
Horacio Quiroga, The Decapitated Chicken and other Stories
University of Texas, 1984, tr. Margaret Sayers Peden
‘One part de Maupassant for fluidity; one part Kafka for the uncanny or Freud’s das Unheimliche; and one part Edgar Allan Poe for psychological horror and; the last portion belongs to him alone: his own inimitable narrative and plots; and what we have is a writer to admire, one who preceded all of the magic realist writers… Several of his stories deal with the horrific and the perverse. “The Feather Pillow” is a vampiric story that involves a wasting disease of unknown etiology and a pillow. “Sunstroke” is told from a dog’s perspective about his master’s innate stupidity. I can’t even describe the unexpected outcome of the story, “The Decapitated Chicken”… I am convinced that there has been no other writer who has had a more cursed life. His father died in an accident with a shotgun. Horacio’s stepfather, when he had become quite ill, killed himself. Horacio had been the one to discover the body. Quiroga’s first wife committed suicide, leaving him with two small children. When they had grown up, they too became suicides. Sadly, when Quiroga was suffering from intractable pain from advanced prostate cancer, he chose to end his life with cyanide, but not before leaving over two hundred short stories to posterity’
N.B. one of Quiroga’s creepy tales ‘The Feather Pillow’, is included in Richard Dalby’s excellent anthology, Dracula’s Brood.
Edogawa Rampo, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Charles Tuttle, 1956; tr. James B. Harris
‘These nine bloodcurdling, chilling tales present a genre of literature largely unknown to readers outside Japan, including the strange story of a quadruple amputee and his perverse wife; the record of a man who creates a mysterious chamber of mirrors and discovers hidden pleasures within; the morbid confession of a maniac who envisions a career of foolproof “psychological” murders; and the bizarre tale of a chair-maker who buries himself inside an armchair and enjoys the sordid “loves” of the women who sit on his handiwork. Lucid and packed with suspense, the stories of Edogawa Rampo have enthralled Japanese readers for over half a century.’
Renate Raspe, A Family Failure
Calder & Boyars, 1970; tr. Eva Figes
‘The “family failure” is Kuno, and it is he who tells the story of his family’s attempt to turn him into a tree. The life of the entire family–the boy, his mother and his stepfather–is dedicated to this task…. He tolerates near-starvation, he allows his legs to be tied together with wire that cuts deeply into his flesh. His ears are stopped up with wax to exclude all sound, and his eyes are taped to blind him. Finally it is time for Kuno to be “planted,” placed in a magnificent antique brass pot filled with earth… A Family Failure will remind many readers of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, for the characters are as eerie and the scenes as starkly knotted with the strange.’
Jean Ray, Malpertuis
Atlas, 1998; tr. Iain White
‘A manuscript stolen from a monastery, the ancient stone house of a sea-trading dynasty, which may be haunted. These are familiar ingredients for a gothic novel, but something far more strange and disconcerting is taking place within the walls of Malpertuis… The techniques of H.P. Lovecraft, when transplanted to the suffocating Catholic context of a Belgium scarred by the inquisition, produce in Jean Ray’s masterpiece a story of monumental intensity from which events of startling ferocity break the surface… Terrifying, all absorbing, this novel is one of the most celebrated examples of the modern gothic genre in Europe.’
See also The Horrifying Presence and My Own Private Spectres.
Henri de Régnier, A Surfeit of Mirrors
Black Coat Press, 2012; tr. & ed., Brian Stableford
‘Régnier updated classic fairy tales and told stories of ghosts, monsters and creatures from Faerie, all set against the cold palaces and enchanted forests of the past centuries. In this classic of high fantasy, you will discover untold tales of Bluebeard and Scheherazade, learn of the legends of the Lady of the Seven Mirrors and the Knight Who Fell Asleep in the Snow, marvel at the adventures of Hermagore the Fisherman and Monsieur d’Amercoeur, who frequented the beds of princesses and the courts of kings, who bore the sword and wore the mask…’
Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-La-Morte
Atlas, 1993, tr. Thomas Duncan (1903, slightly revised by Terry Hale). New translation by Philip Mosley, University of Chicago, 2008
‘…one of the greatest achievements of the Decadent movement in French literature. Ostensibly it is the account of a doomed love affair which culminates in a bizarre murder. As important, however, is its dream-like evocation of the “dead city”: Bruges, a city of silence, of ennui and of desolation.’
Jean Rollin, Little Orphan Vampires
Redemption Books, 1995; tr. Peter Tombs
‘Rollin decided to create another female duo who would be the opposite the pair from Les Demoiselles. In that book they had powers of clairvoyance and were almost archetypally ‘innocent.’ In the present book the girls are both blind and amorally ‘evil … Rollin took as his starting point a famous French Melodrama from 1874 called Les deux orphelines. This was a typically sentimental weepy, with two starving waifs at the mercy of the evil city of Paris. Rollin turned the story on its head, made the girls the aggressors and their victims the innocent benefactors who try to ‘save’ them. French readers would recognize at once the element of parody. Hopefully some of the black humour of the original survives in the present translation.’ Connoisseurs of Eurotrash cinema will be familiar with the name of Jean Rollin, whose best films provide a mannered mix of horror (usually vampirism), surrealism and eroticism. This novella represents one of his ventures into writing.
Raymond Roussel, Impressions of Africa
John Calder, 1966, 1983; trs. Lindy Foord and Rayner Heppenstall
‘Impressions of Africa is the first of two major prose works… an adventure story put together in a highly individual fashion with an unusual time sequence, making use of fortuitous wit and jeux de mots and using all the surrealist techniques of automatic writing and private allusion.’ Of the twentieth century’s great, eccentric, original prose voices (Walser, Firbank, Pessoa), Rousssel’s is the most remarkable.
See also Locus Solus
Marcel Schwob, The King in the Golden Mask
Carcanet, 1982; tr. Iain White; expanded reprint, Tartarus Press, 2012
‘[Schwob] is a master of telling lyrical compression. He draws his material from an astonishingly wide and curious learning… His characters are recreations and stories stay in the mind by virtue of their unique atmosphere, subtlety and artistry – whether the subject is a stone-age murder, mummifiers in the frontier provinces of Roman Egypt, Petronius, the heretics of the late middle ages, Jeanne d’Arc’s judge, Paolo Uccello, or Burke and Hare, the Edinburgh resurrection men.’ White’s translation includes most but not all of Schwob’s masterpiece, Vies imaginaires – Imaginary Lives. A translation of the complete work by Lorimer Hammond was published in paperback by Ace (USA) in 1952; this may be the version that was used by Creation/Solar for their 2009 publication of Imaginary Lives – see image above.
See also The Book of Monelle.
The Accursed: Two Diabolical Tales
George Allen and Unwin, 1967; Coward-McCann, USA, 1967; tr. Bernard Wall
‘Both stories take place during the nineteenth century, in the swampy farmlands of the Sologne region, near Orléans, where its peasantry lives in the grip of medieval witchcraft and local legend. From their infancy the heroines of Malvenue (the Unwelcome One) and Marie the Wolf have been possessed by evil spirits. Unable to escape the power of the devil, they are given to irrational and sometimes perverse behavior – behavior that leads inexorably to tragedy.’
The Nightcharmer and Other Tales
Texas A&M University Press, 1983; tr. Eric-Hollingsworth Deudon.
‘These eight tales of mystery and the supernatural feature sorcerors, the Grim Reaper in a horse-drawn coach, a beguiling bird of death, a long-dead saint turned devil, and a whole retinue of creatures of the night.’
Patrick Süskind, Perfume: the Story of a Murderer
Hamish Hamilton, 1986, Penguin, 2010; tr. John E. Woods
‘As [Jean-Baptiste Grenouille] grows up two facts begin to dawn on him. One is that he is blessed with an extraordinarily sharp sense of smell. The other is that he has no smell of his own… In Paris Genouille seeks the secret of the world’s perfect perfume, the scent which will give him the power to make people love him. But murder can never be the instrument of love… Part fable, part surrealist fantasy, part novel of suspense…’ One of the very few translated weird fiction titles (Kafka & co. aside) that was widely noticed and became well-known to general readers.
Antal Szerb, The Pendragon Legend
Pushkin Press, 2006; tr. Len Rix
‘At an end-of-London-season soirée, Janos Bátky is introduced to the Earl of Gwynneth, a reclusive eccentric who is the subject of strange rumours. Invited to the family seat, Pendragon Castle in North Wales, Bátky receives a mysterious phone-call warning him not to go… Into this, his first full-length novel, Szerb poured all his enthusiasms… In it he draws on, and quietly parodies, popular crime writing, gothic horror, romantic fiction, the regional novel, various forms of occult treatise and the historical memoir.’
Abram Tertz, The Makepeace Experiment
Harvill Press, 1965, Vintage Books, 1966; tr. Manya Harari
‘Satiric and ominous overtones are blended in the guise of a folk tale or a fantasy, superficially in the manner of Gogol, but heightened by modernist devices (mock-pedantic footnotes etc.). The plot proper concerns the adventures of Leonard Makepeace, an obscure mechanic and expert on bicycles who becomes the revolutionary head of “the free City of Lyubimov,” and effects remarkable scientific, bureaucratic and social progress. Throughout Tertz makes ingenious and frequently hilarious parallels with certain aspects of Soviet history… A delighting and disturbing work.’
Tatiana Tolstoya, Sleepwalkers In a Fog
Knopf, 1992; tr. Jamey Gambrell
‘In seven short stories and a novella, Tolstoya makes the ordinary extraordinary and mesmerizes us with the lives of those we might never have noticed. Here is Denisov, who fears his greatest accomplishment in life will be the treatise he wrote – and tore up – on the impossibility of Australia’s existence… Working freely… in the tradition of Gogol, Chekov and Bulgakov, Tatiana Tolstoya, through her kaleidoscope of shifting moods and colors, feelings and fantasies, gives us a crystalline vision…’
See also The Slynx
Roland Topor, The Tenant
Black Spring Press, 1997; tr. Francis K. Price
‘This is the tale of Monsieur Trelkovsky, an ordinary man, against whom apparently ordinary circumstances conspire until he is enmeshed in an extraordinary and terrifying situation. It portrays a nightmare world which is only separated from everyday life by a sliver of sanity.’
Michel Tournier, The Fetishist and Other Stories
Collins, 1984; tr. Barbara Wright
‘Michel Tournier takes… modern views of ancient themes. Adam and Eve, Robinson Crusoe, dwarves, ogres and woodcutters people his world; but they are concerned with the things that touch us all most deeply – fantasy and change, sexuality and death.’
See also The Erl-King.
Boris Vian, Froth on the Daydream
Rapp and Carroll, 1967; Penguin, 1970, tr. Stanley Chapman
‘Rich, handsome Colin lives in a luxurious flat complete with erudite manservant Nicolas… When Colin gives his indigent friend Chick 25,000 doublezoons to get married things start going wrong… Colin’s own fortune evaporates, his new wife Chloe falls ill, his flat starts mysteriously shrinking and Nicolas ages years in a week… Boris Vian’s masterpiece hinges on the agony of growing up, the painful exchange of bubbling irresponsibility for grey obligation. A dazzling tour-de-force, it is the funniest yet most poignant of all novels to burst out of the surrealist tradition’
See also Heartsnatcher.
Robert Walser, Jakob Von Gunten
Vintage (papercover, USA), 1983; Serpent’s Tail, 1995 (UK edition, retitled Institute Benjamenta); tr. Christopher Middleton
‘Published in 1908, the novel is a notebook, a boy’s impressions of life at the school for servants run by the brother and sister Benjamenta. The lesson of the school is humility and the rejection of power and ambition. It is a lesson that the narrator, Jakob von Gunten, learns well’ ‘Robert Walser is a bewitched genius… Transfixed by his uncanny way of seeing, we behold, as he puts it, ‘a spasm of the soul.’”
See also The Walk.
Frank Wedekind, Mine-Haha
Hesperus, 2010; tr. Philip Ward
‘At once a dystopian fantasy and a critique of sexual norms, Mine-Haha describes a unique boarding institution for girls, part idyllic refuge, part prison…’ ‘Mine-Haha is a fairy tale that morphs into something far more grotesque – a psycho-sexual expressionist fable.’
The Belgian School of the Bizarre
Edited and translated by Kim Connell, Associated University Presses, 1998
The Custom-House of Desire: A Half Century of Surrealist Stories
Edited and translated by J.H. Matthews. University of California Press, 1975
An impressive collection; it includes stories or extracts from writers featured in the main list, and more than a few female-authored stories.
European Tales of Terror
Edited by J.J. Strating, Fontana Books, 1968
With two exceptions (Balzac, Maupassant), the selections are 20th century; the Belcampo story, ‘The great Event,’ is particularly noteworthy: other selections include Marie Luis Kaschnitz, Josef Nesvadba and Valetin Kataev.
Great Tales of Terror from Europe and America
Edited by Peter Haining, Gollancz, 1972, Penguin, 1973
Focused entirely on the late eighteenth – early nineteenth century vogue for the gothic, Germany gets the lion’s share, with an excellent selection of Romantic-gothic tales. Most of the remaining European stories are anonymous.
Oriental Tales of Terror
Edited by J.J. Strating, Fontata Books, 1971
Somewhat disappointingly, two thirds of the stories are by western/Anglophone writers (albeit set in the orient); one story by Tom Kristensen is translated from the Danish.
Stories Strange and Sinister
Edited by Laurette Pizer, Panther Books, 1965
Six of the nine stories – by Maupassant, Tolstoy, Akutagawa, Marcel Aymé, Borges and Yury Olesha - are translated. See also More Stories Strange and Sinister.
Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, Tor (USA); Corvus (UK), 2011
Big (c.1100 closely printed pages) with a wide selection of translated titles; as near-definitive as one could hope for.
See also the various anthologies produced by Atlas and, especially, Dedalus Books.
‘depraved by an unbridled lust for rare books’