Candle in the Attic Window, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve just finished reading this book recently. I kept it beside my bed throughout the holidays like a box of chocolates, picking it up to read it one story at a time, so that I could savor each piece.
I can see why this book might have difficulty finding its intended audience. It has a serious problem: it’s billed as a tribute volume of sorts, an anthology of Gothic horror, but the vast majority of the work being done here is just MUCH TOO ORIGINAL.
There are only one or two stories here which actually seem to brush coatsleeves with the writers of the 19th century. Orrin Grey posits that a schlock horror director of the 1960’s might take it into his head to try and make a cheeseball B-movie out of “The King in Yellow”, for example. Joshua Reynolds explores the inner life of a minor and quickly dispatched character from the most famous novel of the Gothic genre in “Elizabeth on the Island”. But these are only two stories out of twenty-seven; of the remainder, a sizable majority of the writers seem to have kicked off the cozy blankets of pastiche some time in the night, and we are left lying in the cold cold night of the unexpected.
Far too often these stories are breaking entirely new ground, rather than walking in the old rut. The book is divided into sections, with stories grouped by very broad subject matter. It is amazing what a diversity of stories you can place under the heading of “Dwellings and Places”–alongside the old family manse and the traditional cursed monastery you can also find a movie set, a private school, a massive industrial complex. Stories about “Lovers and Desire” need only to end badly to be Gothic, and a bad end can come to people in any number of ways. Stories about “Objects and Mementos” can be about any object, from the traditional letter or book to a deck of magical cards or an Egyptian mummy. And if the subjects is “Ghosts and Death”, the sky is the limit; in the great history of Dying in the World there is an endless supply of story material.
The overall quality of the individual pieces in this book is very high, and I was particularly impressed with a few of the stories and poems. There is some wonderful work being done here. “Desideratum” by Gina Flores struck me on the first reading, and reminded me pleasantly of García Lorca or Marquez. Mary Cook’s poem “The Forgotten Ones” was a wicked little dagger of ice, and would not have been out of place in a Norton anthology of English literature. Of the stories that slipped back into a historical setting, I found Martha Hubbard’s “I Tarocchi dei d’Este” the best; I particularly liked the way it evoked the hand-painted Tarot decks of the Renaissance, many of which were quite beautiful. And Berit Ellingsen’s “The Ascent” made me extremely hapy, I must admit. It was one of the best pieces of horror fiction that I read in 2011; despite its deceptively simple structure, this story is a real literary achievement in terms of sensual detail and a truly unusual setting. I would like to see more from the author in the future.
Overall, I think this volume is exceptionally good and I certainly will be writing about it in more detail later/elsewhere. For now, I would simply say that if you enjoy literary horror, and you can appreciate the paradox of an anthology which is simultaneously a tribute to the great tropes of Gothic fiction without containing many direct pastiches of Gothic horror writers–you might find this book is a real treat.