Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Couple of Weird Tales...

Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's 'The Weird' is far too big to tackle in a single sitting, or write about in a single review for that matter. Other bloggers have come up with ingenious ways of cutting the book down into bite size chunks, leaving me to either come up with something even more ingenious or to just dedicate a post every now and then to a couple of 'Weird' tales. Me being me, it was far less hassle to go for the latter option :o)

One of the things I really love about 'The Weird' is that its sheer size means a quick skim through the contents page always throws up a few suprises. Like Neil Gaiman for instance, I had no idea he had a story in 'The Weird' (and the book has been sat on my shelf for months now) until I just happened to see his name the other day. I had to have a read and it turned out that I'd actually read 'Feeders and Eaters' a long time ago, in Gaiman's 'Smoke and Mirrors' collection I think (please someone correct me if I'm wrong). Gaiman's always worth a re-read though and 'Feeders and Eaters' delivers second time round with an unsettling tale of what you might just find going on in the big city, if you're very unlucky...

What I liked about 'Feeders and Eaters', straight away, is how deliberately vague and nebulous Gaiman keeps things. You don't know who the narrator is, although I like to imagine that it's Gaiman himself recounting this tale, and he makes a point of saying, 'I won't tell you which city' it all goes down in. Just that one sentence has the reader thinking that this kind of thing might just be happening where they live. Kind of makes you glance nervously over your shoulder doesn't it?
Gaiman's deliberate approach of keeping things vague really brings the weirdness into sharp focus when we finally get round to it. And it is weird, quite horrifyingly weird in fact as it is presented in such a matter of fact way.

'I'm an old woman, she says, I need my meat.'

Gaiman keeps things simple and it really pays off as there's no build up to the 'Weird' of this tale, it just hits you bang in the face before you even realise what you've just read. What happened to the cat and the strange fate of Eddie Barrow are conveyed with imagery that will stay in your head for a long time to come.

I'm not so sure about the ending though...

'On the milk train back to the big city I sat opposite a woman carrying a baby. It was floating in formaldehyde, on a heavy glass container. She needed to sell it, rather urgently...'
Gaiman might have been using the story of Eddie Barrow to open up a whole world of weirdness for our narrator but it came across as 'over egging the cake' when there was no need. 'Feeders and Eaters' worked just fine as it was...

The other story I read goes to show that there's a whole lot more to 'Weird' than tentacles in the dark and little old ladies who are far more than they seem. Augusto Montetroso's 'Mister Taylor' takes a seemingly innocuous situation (a traveller sending a souvenir home) down a path so absurd that it can't help but feel a little weird as you read it and see just what humanity will do to make a quick dollar. Again, it's the serious (almost matter of fact) way that Montetroso presents his tale that brings the weirdness to the fore although I'd say that it's more of a humorous piece than Weird. It made me chuckle anyway with lines like

'to possess 17 heads came to be considered bad taste, but it was distinguished to have 11'

'Mister Taylor' came across to me as a satirical piece then where Montetroso lets us know just what he thinks of the waves of consumerism coming from America. If this is the case then the final lines take on a whole new note of warning... I'm not saying what they are by the way, I think you really need to read this one yourself to get the full effect.

'Mister Taylor', as it appears in 'The Weird', is a work of translation and one that flowed very smoothly; if the tale hadn't been highlighted as a translation then I might not even have guessed. I'm afraid I only speak English so couldn't even begin to compare this work to the original. What I would say though is that I came away with the impression that the translation didn't get in the way of what Montetroso wanted to say and you can't ask for a lot more than that really.

So that's three tales, from 'The Weird', down now and they've all been good ones so far. I hope this continues next time I pick the book up... :o)

1 comment:

Larry said...

I guess that's about as big of a compliment that a translator can hear about his rendition. Was curious to know what others thought of how it read in translation, so thanks for sharing that :D