Monday 26 July 2010

Unpleasant Tales, Brendan Connell

Unpleasant Tales collects twenty-two short stories from Brendan Connell, who contributed "The Putrimaniac" (included here) to Dark Horizons 54 last year. Anyone who enjoyed that story will find much more to their taste here. For those who didn't have the pleasure, titles like "A Dish of Spouse", "The Skin Collector", "Mesh of Veins" and "The Cruelties of Him" give a good indication of what to expect, although every so often there's something like "The Nasty Truth About Dentists" to lighten the mood. On the whole, these stories live up to the book's title extremely well. "For an artist, all experiences are exquisite", claims the protagonist of "The Tongue", and this collection pushes that idea to its limit. The artists here are experimental to the fullest horrific extent of the word, though I hesitate to give examples; best discover them yourself for the complete effect. The selfishness of the artistic impulse, its lack of regard both for others and for one's own best interests, is here shown at its very worst.

There's not a story in here that wouldn't have been accepted for Dark Horizons in an instant, and taken alone each is rather brilliant. Reviewing the collection as a whole, a formula reveals itself: a character, usually male, is introduced, and then we discover his obsession – music, odour, body piercings, food, plants, tattoos, and so on – and learn about it in some detail, and by the end that obsession has overwhelmed him, usually with deadly consequences. Some stories break away from the formula, but I would recommend taking this collection a story at a time, rather than reading it all at once, to avoid that sense of repetition setting in. It's very well written, full of interesting words, and evidently well-researched throughout, given the level of detail. However, in a very literary book, typos can unfortunately be quite harmful to the overall effect, and there are quite a few here – and as in some other Eibonvale books they grow more frequent as the book draws on. Bobble for bauble and course for coarse stand out, as does "He fed her on a strict diet of deserts". In the end, though, far better to have been able to read this book, typos and all, than not to have read it at all.

Unpleasant Tales, Brendan Connell, Eibonvale, hb/pb, 284pp.

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