For anyone who has been following the ups and downs at Waterstones it'll probably be fairly clear why I haven't got back to reading and posting as much as I'd like. It's been a challenging time on the shop floor and I'm both really tired and quite keen not to look at another book when I get home. I'm still loving the job, it's just very full on at the moment.
Even that couldn't put me off 'From the Abyss' once I started it though. Edited by Melissa Edmundson who proved she knew what she was doing from the first collection of Women's Weird from Handheld Press, this covers D. K. Broster's weird fiction from 1907 to 1945 and it's a treat. D K Broster was best known for her Jacobite trilogy written in the 1920s. I'm kicking myself a little here as I has a battered copy of 'The Flight of the Heron' unread for several years - and cleared it out still unread to a charity shop last summer. Never mind.
As it happens I have come across at least one Broster short story in another weird collection - 1933s Couching at the Door which is unsettling enough to be unforgettable. The really good thing about 'From the Abyss' is that the stories cover a long enough time period to show Broster's style thoroughly evolve. It always feels like reading the same woman, but with enough variety in tone to never be repetitive.
It also helps that Broster has an engaging sense of humour, especially for the tales that lean towards the decadent style, which honestly is most of them. I enjoy fin de siecle decadence quite possibly more than the next person (at least in this corner of Leicester) but a little can go a long way when you take it too seriously.
Which brings me back to 'Couching at the Door' wherein a poet who has been published in the Yellow Book and is now enjoying a life of aesthetic luxury in the Cotswolds with occasional trips to Europe for cabalistic going on finds out the meaning of the thoroughly modern phrase 'fuck about and find out'. Aleister Crowley's effect on the English imagination has been something he's undoubtedly have reveled in. The thoroughly deserving poet's persecution starts in the form of something he takes to be a ball of fluff about the size of a spider, something that when he manages to be brave enough to pick it up to drown it flutters unpleasantly in his hand.
The drawing fails, the thing continues to grow and pursue him, it's terror lies mostly in its movements, and our collective memories of that feeling of an insect in the hand, and maybe the deeper terror of putting a hand out to flip a light switch and finding another already there.
The Pestering (brilliant title) works in a similar way - a persistent spirit who makes his victims supremely uncomfortable. 'The Promised Land' was maybe my favourite - it flips from darkly funny, to plain dark in a moment and is haunting for completely different reasons to most of the other stories - with the possible exception of 'The Juggernaut' which has the same blend of comedy suddenly switching to a bleak kind of tragedy.
The title story, 'From the Abyss' cleverly takes an idea that is on the surface appealing - I won't detail this because it's a massive spoiler, and again imbues it with a subtle terror. Altogether it's a really strong collection that consistently managed to subvert my expectations. The bad things that happen are rooted in a sort of domestic banality set against gorgeously artistic backgrounds. It's a tremendously effective device and a book I'll turn to again and again. Big thanks to Handheld press for this review copy.