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Green and Unpleasant Land

The InkerMen

"The story these pages want to tell is a charming, happy tale ... There aren’t any graveyards, or poltergeists or grand old portraits with follow-you eyes ... If we sense anything even vaguely unnatural, we must snap the book shut, and walk away."

Reviewed by David Woodruff

The green and unpleasant land (and the title of the book this refers to) is England. All these tales have a strong sense of British setting and history, but can be enjoyed by American readers. Many of the stories mix fantasy with a kind of Monty Python style of humor. The book contains thirteen unique pieces, with many of them showing how myth and history continues to influence the present. One such story is Double Meanings by SJ Davies, with its theme of abundant childbirth across generations and its nuances of fertility and numerology.

One story that stood out for me was A Perfect World, by Matt Morrison. It's short but powerful with the narrator trying to convince us that nothing really troubling is brewing. For example: "Today there just isn’t anything wrong in the world. Real life can be perfectly simple, whatever stories would have you believe. Laughter and colour and quite enough happiness to keep our malicious demon at bay. Leave him to meddle in grown-up tales. He has no place here." The narrator’s constant reminders that nothing is going to go wrong add to the somewhat shocking ending.

In Document 16a. Within the Rubric of an Electric Postman, Antony Pickthall writes in a postmodern style that is both surreal and rich with imagery. With its use of footnotes, Document 16a. reminded me of Jose Luis Borges, while the title echoes Philip K. Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The story challenges the reader to make his or her own inferences, as this is a cryptic piece inviting various interpretations. The narrator claims to be a postman from the future and that this is a ghost story. There is an invisible highway here between future and past, and we don't know whose idea of time it is.

"You don’t need me. I need you. You are my witness. Somehow you will make a recording of my time here and you will create a ripple of those who would not dare to follow me - behind your fossilized memory. It won’t matter to you and your life. Somehow the connection we are making will enter the very air you suck in to your gulping lungs."

To show the variety of literary styles here, Confessing Ruins by Julian Wolfreys, is a poem that gives an unsettling tour of the city within the city, reminiscent of Jacques Raubaud’s language poems about Paris. The poem is not only full of typographical conventions befitting free verse, but it also displays Wolfreys’ own photographs which add to the sense of other-worldliness of the city. 

My favorite in the collection is The Chalk Man by Stephen Loveless, a tale within a tale, narrated by a man named Sam Vatican. The story is my favorite because it's the scariest of the bunch. The story contains a mad child as guard dog, sorcerers, a hag named Matilda who can mutter spells of protection in Wynd. And of course, a Warlfwulf. As in some other stories here, the past reaches deep into the present. As Vatican says to the townspeople at the end of his narration:

"Have the genes of the Warlfwulf survived? Remember wherever the creature spat fur grew - those of you that spat on your hands at the start of the evening check your palms now."

The story might be hard to get into because of the long sentence structure. But it gives an authentic feel as if being told a story in the days of the early Anglo-Saxons.

Perhaps the most entertaining story in terms of wit and humor is The Flat of the Land by Robert John Brocklehurst. The story gives in stage play dialogue format a cross-commentary spanning hundreds of years on a single plot of land. The author's humor, word puns and control of the vernacular is well-evidenced here:

Business man in Pinstripe: And what kind of music was it again?
David: Well I said thrash but actually it doesn’t really matter. It needs to be whatever the most kids with the most parents with the most money at the present time.

Tense and grammar fail at some point during a City day.

Businessman in Square Glasses: So if it’s not this ‘thrash’ then what is it?
David: Market research says that this year’s style is ‘gothic’. You see it’s both a music and a youth movement, a form of anti-rebellion against the status quo.
Businessman in Square Glasses:: That’s a double-negative. Is that not a return to the status quo?

Things are looking up. 

If I had a caveat  it would be that if one is looking for horror or bone-chilling suspense in the sense of Stephen King, this is not the book for you. This collection emphasizes subtlety and hidden meanings, the interweaving of the past, both real and imaginary, with the common day present. Also I felt that some stories, like Home Leave, could have been either longer or developed more at certain junctions, as when a man is thought to be seen at the family's country house during the WWII blitz over London. On the whole, if fantasy mixed with excellent writing is one's cup of tea, the reader will not be disappointed.

David Woodruff is a fiction writer and poet, who writes under the pen name of Kyle Hemmings. His work has appeared in Noo Journal, Juked, Mud Luscious, Arsenic Lobster, Mad Hatter’s Review, Vestal Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and others.
David's other Short Reviews: Ursula Le Guin  and Brian Attebery (eds) "The Norton Book of Science Fiction"

Gardner Dozois (ed) "Galileo's Children"

Allison Amend "Things that Pass for Love"

PublisherInkermen Press

Publication Date: 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?No

Authors: Liz Allsop, Robert John Brocklehurst, S.J. Davies, Peter De Ville, The Governess, Luke Kaile, Stephen Loveless, Matt Morrison, H. K. Nicklin, Antony Pickthall, James Scott, D. P. Watt, Julian Wolfreys

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