Rameau's Nephew

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Friday, January 20, 2012

 

The Rediscovery of Death - Mike O'Driscoll

The two best stories of the collection for me are The Rediscovery of Death by Mike O'Driscoll which uses the classic trope of a haunted/cursed book but does so in a stylish way in a beautifully paced story that leads to a climax that - if not entirely unexpected - is extremely satisfying....

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Nicholas Cleaver, the owner of an ailing independent publishing business in Roath, Cardiff, has enjoyed some critical and financial success in the past. Anxious to repeat some of his early successes, he agrees to meet up with a sickly looking man called Simon Strickle who claims ‘to have the rights to over thirty unpublished tales of supernatural fiction by some of the field’s most acclaimed writers’. The manuscript which shares the story’s title, contains a true treasure trove of hitherto undiscovered works by Aickman, Leiber, Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Shirley Jackson, Lovecraft, Angela Carter- the list is extensive, and Cleaver is understandably more than a little skeptical about its authenticity- until he sees the manuscript with his own eyes. There is a catch of course, and you have to read the tale to find out how this anthologist’s dream turns into nightmare. Authors and editors presently in the field (and in this anthology) may find themselves interwoven into the fabric of this chilling story.

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And although I very much enjoyed “The Rediscovery of Death” by Michael O’Driscoll – a slick piece of paranoia and obsession concerning a small press stalwart who discovers the publishing opportunity of a lifetime – I predicted the pay-off well before it arrived.

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In "The Rediscovery of Death," Mike O'Driscoll adapts the responsibilities and uncertainties of a small press editor and the seductive quality of great fiction to comment on gradual psychological collapse

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The Rediscovery Of Death by Mike O’Driscoll finds a small press publisher given the opportunity of a lifetime, the use of real people and facts help give this story weight.

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The Rediscovery of Death by Mike O’Driscoll. This is another one of those tales that reminds me of The Tales of The Unexpected, and that is a good thing. They were a staple of my childhood andI still remember them fondly. Nicholas Cleaver is given the chance to save hissmall publishing company, when he meets Simon, who claims to have the rights to unpublished stories from masters of the genre. Of course there is a catch, you get nothing for nothing, but you need to read this tsale to find out what that catch is.

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 In the enticing “The Rediscovery of Death” O’Driscoll describes how the owner of a small imprint happens to assemble a collection of unpublished stories by famous writers ( but things are not quite what they seem…).

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It's a common conceit among writers that words have power, that books are magical, that something can be written strongly enough to exist independently after it's sent out into the world. The idea of a book that feeds and grows fat on its readers is not completely new, but Mr. O'Driscoll delas with it confidently here, juggling abstract concepts with an exciting, pacy story. A great read.

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 “The Rediscovery of Death” by Mike O’Driscoll, features a struggling small press publisher in search of a winning title to keep the publishing wheels turning and a shadowy character offering some kind of Faustian bargain. A down-to-earth girlfriend provides the rational viewpoint. The horror anthology becomes, for the publisher, a horrific anthology. This is a story about literary obsession and also, crucially, about the disintegration of meaning.

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"Such is O'Driscoll's skill that, like Nicholas Cleaver, we lust after the proposed anthology,..." (Black Static #25 - TTA Press).

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Which mainly worked out, since the first story I chose, Mike O'Driscoll's "The Rediscovery of Death", is sort of a hoot, and catnip for a guy like me. The main character is Nick Cleaver, and Cleaver is the owner of the small horror publisher Thingumbob Press. He specializes in publishing the first story collections by promising young horror writers. His business life has been a bit of a see-saw, and Nick is nervous about the future when he's contacted by a man named Simon Strickle who claims to have in his possession a large number of excellent, never-before published stories by the genre's leading writers. Intrigued, Cleaver agrees to meet with Strickle and have a look. However, he'd assumed that by "leading writers" Strickle had meant contemporary names, like King, Campbell, Barker, and so on. But no. The first name Strickle mentions is Robert Aickman, dead for thirty years. And Shirley Jackson, dead for almost fifty. Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Angela Carter, all dead. H.P. Lovecraft... How, Cleaver wants to know, did nobody know about these stories? How could the estates, the various biographers and anthologists, not know? And right around here is where "The Rediscovery of Death" gets amusing, because O'Driscoll starts name-dropping like crazy. Not name-dropping in the "I know this person!" sense, but in the "I'm going to pack my story as full of real names as is physically possible." So, when Cleaver is researching Strickle on the internet, we get: "By the late eighties Strickle was editing a series of little known but highly influential anthologies, all now out of print. Among those who commented on Strickle's work was Jonathan Carroll, who called him one of the most astute editors in the field, while Peter Crowther said he owed him a huge debt of gratitude... There were people [Cleaver] could speak to about Strickle -- Peter Crowther for one. And surely Ellen Datlow and Stephen Jones could confirm his reputation?" And elsewhere he wonders aloud to Strickle how editors like David G. Hartwell and S. T. Joshi could have missed these stories, so thorough are they. Outside of the double up on Peter Crowther, no horror editor or anthologist is mentioned twice -- every time, it's someone knew, which gets a little ridiculous (although, on the other hand, where the hell was Kim Newman in all this?). But fun. I found it to be sort of like watching a film and suddenly a major scene is taking place on a streetcorner you know very well, maybe near where you grew up. It's uselessly exciting. Useless or not, though, I enjoyed how fully within the world of contemporary horror publishing O'Driscoll wanted to submerge his story, and this method ended up achieving the verisimilitude he was no doubt going for. He does the same thing with the writers whose stories Strickle gives to Cleaver, and that was neat, too, although I did blanch when suddenly Richard Laymon's name was dropped in there with Aickman and Lovecraft and Jackson and Leiber and so on. I mean, please. As for the story itself, it's a good one. It's not entirely not what you might expect from a story with that premise -- Strickle is clearly a sinister figure, and Cleaver has no clue what he's getting into, even as the stories themselves, each one a fresh masterpiece, begin to obsess him. I won't ruin it, though. One odd thing is that among the writers being celebrated/used to crush Nick Cleaver's soul is one named Willard Grant. He appears to be fictional, but my assumption that Grant would come to function in a way similar to Lilith Blake from Mark Samuels' fiction turned out to be off. There's something going on there -- O'Driscoll's "The Rediscovery of Death" takes it's title from Grant's "The Rediscovery of Death", which in turn will become the title anthology, The Rediscovery of Death, being put together by Cleaver. But O'Driscoll doesn't go much further with that. Maybe for the best. Anyway, I'm in favor of this sort of post-modern horror fiction, of which there is very little -- you're far more likely to find this kind of thing on film, and there it's generally being produced by a pack of gibbering idiots. So this is better!

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Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will appear in the comments below.

My own views: http://horroranthology.wordpress.com/editors-story-by-story-commentary/

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