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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tales of Unease, 8 Jan. 2009
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This review is from: The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease (Paperback)
Fourteen modern writers were sent Freud's essay on "The Uncanny in Literature" and were asked to produce a story in response. Freud's essay concludes with a list of eight principle causes of the uncanny in fiction, a rather ragtag set that seems unequal to the task of summing up the realm of horror literature, but perhaps understandable considering Freud really only concentrated on the work of one writer, E T A Hoffmann, and in particular his masterpiece of weird nightmare, "The Sandman", which bagged all but two of Freud's eight causes (inanimate objects mistaken as animate, animate beings behaving as if inanimate or mechanical, doubles, being blinded, the all-controlling genius, and confusions between reality and imagination -- and the last two are: being buried alive (for which, of course, see Poe) and the rather vague "coincidences or repetitions"). A nice enough stab from a man who wasn't, after all, working in his chosen field, and certainly an interesting point to kick off an anthology of new writing.

This book is subtitled "Tales of Unease", but most of the authors have taken their inspiration from the items on Freud's list rather than striving for the uncanny itself, meaning that some of the stories don't necessarily produce the feeling of unease. But this is not a complaint, as one of the better stories is Hanif Kureishi's mostly angstless "Long Ago, Yesterday", in which a man meets his long-dead father in a pub and has an amiable drink with him.

But it's that feeling of not so much horror, as the unrelieved tension of unease which I was hoping for. Too often horror fiction anthologies lump the gory with the subtler, weirder, more ghostly stories, although I'm not convinced the readership for the two types is all that mixed. The New Uncanny certainly caters for the latter taste. Ramsey Campbell's excellent opener, "Double Room" (one of two of the book's stories set in a hotel, and one of many about people returning to old haunts) perhaps raises the bar unfairly, as Campbell is an old hand at the uncanny, and here he is certainly on form. Many of the subsequent stories update Hoffmann's automata theme, with Tamagotchi in Adam Marek's story, Sims in Frank Cottrell Boyce's, and an automated massage device in Jane Roger's "Ped-O-Matique", though none of the writers provide merely an update. The award for the best title surely goes to Ian Duhig's "Un(heim)lich(e) Man(oeuvre)", (though perhaps without the brackets!)

Inevitably in an anthology, some of tales weren't to my taste -- I found the less experimental, more straightforward approach captured the uncanny feeling most effectively, with A S Byatt's "Doll's Eyes" being a highlight -- but everyone who comes to the volume will have their own likes and dislikes.

Overall, it's one for those looking for that rare subtle strangeness in their fiction rather than out and out horror, and perhaps with a more literary bent -- the disturbing, or simply the weird, in the tradition of, say, Robert Aickman and Walter de la Mare.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Apr 2010 15:38:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 Apr 2010 15:40:49 BDT
That's a very helpful review - thank you very much.
At first, I was a tad put off by the title of Etgar Keret's story (which I won't divulge here) but the story itself grew on me after a few readings.
Just as a matter of interest, what did you make of the Christopher Priest story? (I'm a fan of Priest's SF but, even after his rather Gothic-tinged novel 'The Prestige', I was a bit surprised at his sudden surfacing among such specialists in the uncanny as the mighty Ramsey C.)
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