Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: Splinters

Book Review: 'Splinters'
edited by Alex Hamilton

2 / 5 Stars

‘Splinters’ first was published in the UK in 1968; this Berkley paperback was released in the US in September, 1971. The artist responsible for the striking cover artwork is uncredited.

In his Introduction, editor Alex Hamilton indicates that he intended this anthology to be a collection of unconventional and offbeat ‘modern’ horror stories, written by authors who usually do not work in the genre.

All the stories in the anthology were written in 1968, predominantly by UK authors. As such, many share an understated, reserved approach to their material, and many focus on the impact of psychological distress and discord in the context of everyday British life.

My brief summaries of the contents:

Jane, by Jane Gaskell: A child has a very unusual Imaginary Friend.

The Ice Palace, by Michael Baldwin: incoherent tale of labor-management conflict.

The Language of Flowers, by Hugh Atkinson: a marriage is strained when the husband acquires an unusual devotion to plants. This story has the quality of a Roald Dahl tale.

Grace Note, by Derwent May: slight, absurdist tale of a talented parrot.

Miss Smith, by William Trevor: a schoolteacher’s rudeness to a student brings retaliation.

An American Organ, by Anthony Burgess: a husband’s musical interest generates marital discord.

The Biggest Game, by John Brunner: the anthology’s sole sf tale. A playboy finds himself under surveillance.

The Way the Ladies Walk, by Richard Nettell: a young boy develops an unhealthy fascination with the dead. A genuinely creepy tale, and one of the best in the anthology.

Home Again, Home Again, Jigetty-Jig: a family copes with Pa’s love for the bottle.

Indoor Life, by Montague Haltrecht: agoraphobia taken to extremes.

Don’t You Dare, by John Burke: A husband’s previous marital conflict comes to haunt his second marriage. More of an alternate take on a John Cheever - eque short story than a horror tale.

Isabo, by J. A. Cuddon: a suburban British housewife becomes possessed. The author relates the tale using a detached, almost clinical narrative that gives a sense of verisimilitude to its increasingly bizarre events. Another of the better entries in the anthology, and a story that had me wondering if William Peter Blatty had read it prior to conceiving of The Exorcist .........!?

Mewed Up, by Peter Brent: Brent (who also wrote under the pseudonym ‘Ludovic Peters’) produces an incoherent tale of a prisoner and his jailer.

Under the Eildon Tree, by Alex Hamilton: the editor exerts his prerogative and selects one of his own stories for inclusion in the anthology. In this case, it’s a dud; ‘Eildon Tree’ is a satirical account of witchcraft in Elizabethan England; its relevance to ‘modern horror’ is entirely absent. To make things worse, it’s related in the first person..... in Olde English......which makes it a chore to read.

Summing up ? ‘Splinters’ is yet another horror anthology whose two good entries really can’t salvage the content as a whole. This one is for completists only.

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