Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Bastards of the Absolute by Adam S. Cantwell

I think it's appropriate to open this review with a look at the physicality of the book itself. Egaeus Press is consistently publishing some of the best looking hardcover books being put out today. The appearance and feel of the book is enough to get any jaded bibliophile to drool.

Now, even though the book as a physical object is gorgeous, the most importantaspect is the quality of the writing between the covers. Thankfully, this book delivers.

Adam S. Cantwell is a British author, and part of what I'll for now call a "European strange literature" movement. Certain things that come to mind when talking about this subset of weird literature: Old World Europe, dense prose, intellectual narrators, decadence, surrealism. Many of these authors have their work published as beautiful, limited hardcovers from publishers such as Passport Levant, Ex Occidente, Side Real Press and now Egaeus Press.

Several of the stories in this collection have appeared in limited tribute anthologies to Bruno Schulz, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Hanns Heinz Ewers, or as very limited Passport Levant editions, so it's great to see them all collected in a beautiful, yet affordable edition.

Some of my favorites:

The Face in The Wall is a story about a man who is imprisoned inside a city wall. His entire body is in in the wall, with only his face exposed. He spends ages in the wall, watching the changes of the city, and coping with ill treatment from citizens of the city. A clever blend of fantasy and horror, it's great story to open the collection with.

Next up is The Filature, a story in tribute to Hanns Heinz Ewers. As punishment, a German man's employers send him to a Chinese silk factory. The story reads as his journal, and we see the man repeat many of the same mistakes that brought about his corporate exile in the first place. Some truly creepy moments in this one.

Music is an important aspect of several stories in the collection. Three of which (Moonpaths of the Departed, The Kuutar Concerto, and Symphony of Sirens) first appeared collected together as A Pallid Wave on Shores of Night by Ex Occidente. Another, Beyond the Two Rivers: A Symphonic Poem, first appeared in The First Book of Classical Horror Stories edited by D.F. Lewis. I loved the shared themes of these stories, and how they managed to all use music differently. Several (all?) feature real life composers. My favorite of the four may be The Kuutar Concerto,  which features Sibelius having a drunken night out in seedy bars after an incident at one of his concerts. He runs into someone who knows him from the past, and the drunken revelry spirals into the realms of the otherwordly.

Only For The Crossed-Out is Cantwell's Bulgakov tribute, and is a wonderfully absurd story. A clerk of sorts works in an archive of books where they cross-out and censor books.Things take a turn for the interesting when our protagonist falls down a chute and becomes trapped in a basement mass-grave of books.

The collection ends with Orphans on Granite Tides, originally released as a stand alone by Ex Occidente. Billed as a "Metaphysical Grotesque," this tale follows a German man who finds rare books and manuscripts as his occupation, although this job of his has become his life. This serves as a frame story for a peculiar document he finds. The document claims to be a sort of memoir by a well traveled Native American, who has metaphysical experiences and sees the world within our own world. A difficult piece, but one that shines for it.

This book was my first experience with Adam S. Cantwell's fiction, and shan't be the last. His fiction is tantalizingly mystifying, and brings readers to a magical, Old World Europe that is equal parts horrifying and beautiful.

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