Thursday, October 24, 2019

Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women 1890-1940 - edited by Melissa Edmundson

The nights have thoroughly drawn in already (and will do so even more at the weekend when the clocks go back), leaves are finally falling off trees, and it is definitely the season to be easily spooked.  I've been anticipating 'Women's Weird' from Handheld Press for months now and it has not disappointed.

There's nothing in here that's too terrifying, but plenty that's unsettling enough to make it the wrong book to go to bed with. It's also an object lesson in what an editor can do when putting together a collection. I need to dig out my Virago book of ghost stories for comparison, because Mellisa Edmundson has concentrated on the domestic here in a way I haven't particularly noticed before.

The opening story 'The Weird of the Walfords' by Louisa Baldwin sets the tone for the book - its male protagonist has conceived a dislike for certain family traditions and is determined to break them, but the traditions have other ideas. Baldwin makes her old house and its trappings not haunted but greedy for birth and death, especially death. Domesticity and expectations are equal burdens here, and so the place that should feel safest becomes the most dangerous.

Mary Cholmondeley's 'Let Loose' places the unseen menace in the crypt of a church - another place that should offer sanctuary but does not, and proves an ineffective prison to boot. 'With and Without Buttons' by Mary Butts is a masterwork in taking something mundane and making it terrifying - this one really did give me the creeps with imagery that's hard to forget.

I had read Margaret Irwin's 'The Book' before in the British Library anthology 'The Haunted Library' and remembered it as a particular gem. It still is, with the added bonus that now I can consider the difference the context of the anthology it's in makes. In the BL collection it was the details that I noticed, here it's that once again the horror has invaded the home.

Appropriately there are 13 strange stories in total, the strangest probably being May Sinclair's 'Where Their Fire is not Quenched' which thematically feels quite different to the other tales which all deal in a more familiar sort of strange or uncanny. 'Where Their Fire is not Quenched' is troubling for altogether different reasons, it's inclusion part of what makes this book more than the sum of its parts.

Altogether it's an excellent collection of stories that are agreeably scary whilst your reading them, and provide much more to think about when you're not. Officially published for Halloween it's ridiculously cheap if you want a kindle version, otherwise go direct to Handheld (the paper version is extremely nice to handle, the print very easy on the eye, and they have a really great list to explore).

2 comments:

  1. Sounds wonderful. I'm adding this to my wishlist.

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  2. Thanks for your review. This looks like a collection I'd really like!

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