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Mad scientists, parrots from Atlantis, witches, madmen, monsters, korrigans, demons, magical paintings and a water sprite trapped in a mirror are but a few of the amazing characters featured in this collection of 45 stories aptly entitled The Crazy Corner which maps out the frontier between madness and nightmare.
Of all the late 19th century writers of contes cruels, Jean Richepin
(1849-1926) was the cruelest when it came to the treatment of his characters,
not so much in the nasty fates to which they were often delivered -- which
are typical of the entire genre -- but in the merciless way in which he
describes and characterizes them.
Cover by Amar Djouad
Published by Black Coat Press in January 2013
Review by Glenn Russell
Amazing, remarkable, wonderful, marvelous, mind-blowing stories, December 12, 2013
Each of the 45 stories translated, annotated and introduced by author/French literature expert Brian Stableford makes for fun reading, lots and lots of fun reading, crazy, horrible fun reading not that common in the world of literary fiction. But then again, Jean Richepin (1849-1926) was not a common author -- tall, with thick wild hair and a face covered in a full beard, he was a larger-than-life flamboyant literary artist, an outlandish 19th century top-hatted cross between, say, Salvador Dali and Allen Ginsberg, who refused to belong to any one literary school. These stories of his defy category; they contain elements of naturalism but he was not a naturalist; they contain qualities of fin-de-siecle decadence but he was not a decadent; they contain a touch of horror but he was not a writer of horror fiction.
So, what can we say about his stories? Well, for one thing, the stories collected here are short with the exception of a 40 pager and a 13 pager, all the stories are about 5 pages in length. They all have a dab of ghoulishness and cruelty and we can encounter, among other monstrosities, madness, nightmares, fiends and witches. And also, they usually contain an unexpected twist at the end. More could be said generally but I will focus on a 4 pager entitled The Enemy to give a more specific taste of what a reader will find in this collection.
The first-person narrator of this story is a graphologist, that is, a specialist in inferring character from handwriting. We read the opening lines, The name engraved on the visiting-card did not strike any chord in my memory. On the other hand, the few lines traced after the name in question immediately and irresistibly rendered me sympathetic to the unknown visitor. Those lines, in fact, revealed on graphological analysis, without the slightest possible hesitation, a noble, dolorous and desperate soul. Without a doubt, the man who had written those lines was not lying in affirming that he had come to ask for mental assistance in a matter of life and death. In a way, all of these Richepin tales are about life and death. Hey, what do you expect from our larger-than-life author?
The narrator/graphologist receives his visitor and sees from his gaze that his is, indeed, noble, dolorous and despairing. The visitor goes on to tell him how he is being persecuted by a most abominable enemy. Through this interchange, the narrator listens to this gentlemans pleas of not being mad but concludes he is, in truth, definitely dealing with a case of insanity, more specifically a case of insanity involving delusions of persecution.
And why does he conclude thus? Because he sees this gentleman has the wealth to effectively deal with any real flesh and blood persecutor and the good-looks and noble bearing to deal with any female, ergo, his enemy is purely imaginary. The gentleman instantly reads the narrators thoughts and not only replies but insists the enemy haunting him is truly human and made of flesh and blood. And when the narrator asks for more specifics, the gentleman relates how his enemy underlines the faults of his verse in pencil; his enemy renders odious the woman he loves; his enemy spits on the food he eats.
Rather than saying anything further and possibly spoiling the ending of this story, let me pause and note how there was one thinker much admired by the French decadent fin-de-siecle writers, a thinker who held the imagination of cultured, educated people of the time in his grip: German pessimistic philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, hater of ordinary work-a-day life and spoiler of romantic love. It doesnt take that much to see how the gentleman in this story, who by nature wants to write romantic verse, love women and enjoy the everyday round of life, is haunted and tortured by Schopenhauers pessimistic philosophy.
This is but one modest take on one of these amazing, remarkable, wonderful, marvelous, mind-blowing stories. Should I go on? I think not, as it should be clear I highly, highly recommend this book by one-of-a-kind author, Jean Richepin.
The Brian Stableford Website