Customer Review

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fine edition of some really cranky stories, 3 Nov 2013
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This review is from: The White People and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I had been meaning to read some of Arthur Machen's work for a long time, since discovering some years ago that he and John Ireland, the composer, had corresponded over some of Ireland's mystical and rhapsodic pieces of music. This excellent new edition in the Penguin Classics series offered the ideal opportunity and I have just completed reading the selection of Machen's stories in it.

Machen, born in 1863, was a near contemporary of writers such as Arnold Bennett, H G Wells, Conan Doyle, and J M Barrie, and made a name for himself during the Edwardian era through journalism and by writing tales which conjured strange otherworlds of fantasy and mysticism. Since that time he has had a band of devoted followers who have kept his reputation reasonably bright. One such follower is the filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro, who has written a Foreword to this book.

I must confess however that I struggled with these stories because while they do indeed evoke strange worlds of the imagination, the prose style in which they are written is cranky, awkward and dated to a degree that would make one of those discussions on the old BBC Third Programme sound free, spontaneous and almost risque. Nearly every tale begins with a dialogue between two gentlemen who laboriously quiz one another over some peculiar event or antique object - a convention acceptable enough in the hands of Wells or Joseph Conrad, but Machen never manages to lift the subsequent story to a level where the prose takes flight. His language remains earthbound and prosaic, and in each tale he manages to defeat the object of his ambition, which is to carry the reader away into the landscape of his imagination.

After finishing the book which is, as I have said, an excellent edition in itself, I looked up Christina Rossetti's very strange poem, "Goblin Market", published in 1862, the year before Machen's own birth. I marvelled at how she had achieved all the weirdness, danger, eroticism and mystery which Machen strived so hard to create but, on the evidence of this selection of his work, signally failed to deliver.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Jun 2014 12:36:10 BDT
Hywel James says:
I've noticed that only 2 out of 7 people found my review here helpful. I have a sense therefore that there are some sturdy and brave Arthur Machen fans holding out in caves in the Monmouthshire hills whose devotion to the Master remains undiminished a century or more after his lugubrious tales were written!

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Aug 2014 18:26:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Aug 2014 19:00:30 BDT
Herod says:
I just voted your review as 'helpful' even though my opinion of Machen's work is very different to yours - I'm a big fan. Unfortunately, I often find that 'unhelpful' votes are cast when the review is unfavourable towards the artist; the partisan crowd rules around these parts! I found your review informative, intelligent and honest, and that can only be helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Aug 2014 12:19:14 BDT
Hywel James says:
Many thanks. You are right. Some people vote down reviews simply because they disagree with what's said, which is a bit "Yah, boo!" I really wanted to like Machen more than I did. I shall try Lord Dunsany next, and give his stories a go.

Posted on 25 Oct 2014 17:08:01 BDT
GlynLuke says:
A Yes from me too. I have the book, waiting to be read. I'll be intrigued to see if I agree with you.
My great discoveries in ghostly fiction in recent years have been the great Robert Aickman and - quite a surprise - E.F. Benson, he of the very unghostly Mapp & Lucia tales.
M.R. James is the master, but partly I think because so many other writers of this kind have, until now, been neglected.
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