Friday, 4 January 2013

The Tainted Earth by George Berguno, Egaeus Press

This is, perhaps, the most intriguing collection I've read this past year.
A new writer to me, this, Berguno's third, now makes me pine for the
two I've only recently missed. (The Sons of Ishmael and The Exorcist's
; albeit reobtainable as e-books, which, to a reader
of aesthetically designed independent hardbacks, isn't quite the
the same experience).
  Indeed, it feels more like a long anticipated reissue than a new
release - Berguno having only completed the last tale, according to his
afterword, less than four months ago.  I so often find myself most
rating those authors who draw, and build upon, their foreknowledge
of odd pet subjects. For Berguno's research and its utilisation - here, of
Scandinavian folk legends and wartime Europe - resonating to
subsequent eras right up to the present, challenges reader perception
without ever wilfully confusing.  A trick rare for any writer to pull-off.
  Comprising eight tales-within-tales, and ending with a novella, the
title story concerns a father who fails to realise the blood ties he has
with his son are not enough to retrieve him from the existential path
he's taken. 'The Sick Mannes Salve' concerns a will and its elusive
second condition, delivered to a struggling horror writer, by his late
uncle's strange executor and the grotesque, mirrored fate that awaits
  'The Ballad of El Pichon' is another re-told fable on a seafront seller
of fake canaries and the path followed to the dark company he keeps.
'Fugue for Black Thursday' features the first of two World War 2
settings and three seemingly premonitionary sketches by the real-life
Polish author, Bruno Schulz.
  'Mouse and the Falconer' is a satisfying little tale of the consequences
of personal caution challenged by personal courage. 'The Rune Stone at
Odenslunda' - the second Scandinavian fable after 'The Tainted Earth'-
involves the mixed destinies of a fought over love match.
  'The Good Samaritan of Prague' is a Golem tale updated and, truly,
the second 'tainted earth' story here, from the fateful consequence of
the indelible mark left upon the protaganist. 'Three Drops of Death'
is a comic satire concerning the 'hero's desperate bid to save the life of
the girl he loves by two characters who engage in playing him for the
sucker he really is.
  'A Spell of Subtle Hunting' (in three cantos) reveals the second World
War 2 setting, and best outlined by Berguno himself: "...It is a very
intimate tribute to Surrealism.  (It) celebrates the dream, and...

attempts to tell a story where dream and reality coincide.  
Significantly, it celebrates the incomplete, the fragmentary, and 
the useless things in life."  By so doing, it also challenges assumptions
on the things we define as important.
  There are no weak tales here.  The most that can be directed in
terms of any doubt is an occasional over-ripeness of language in
early descriptive passages of this otherwise sublime novella. But all
nine are sublime indeed, indulging and exercising the imagination in
ways reminiscent of Meyrink, Grabinski or Gozzano at their best.
I've no hesitation in naming this collection as a future classic.