Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Margaret Irwin, “The Book,” 1930

"Tonight, however, Dickens struck him in a different light. Beneath the author's sentimental pity for the weak and helpless, he could discern a revolting pleasure in cruelty and suffering, while the grotesque figures of the people in Cruikshank's illustrations revealed too clearly the hideous distortions of their souls."
                        -- Margaret Irwin, "The Book"

If you've ever read a book that unnerved you so much that you put another book (or books) on top of it where it waited on your bedside table before going to sleep, then "The Book" is the kind of weird story that will terrify you.

It's true. Books are super creepy and super-duper dangerous. We may blissfully read a Dickens or a Baum or a Borges or King, and then at some later point re-read them, only to be disturbed by content we had not picked up on before. Books are not static. Like the ones in Irwin's story, they rest on bookshelves, but only until we take them off and read them. Then we open ourselves to them completely, and they to us. It is this interaction that drives "The Book" into some truly unsettling territory.

Like the strange gap in Mr Corbett's bookshelf that keeps appearing and re-appearing, Irwin's story comments on the relationship between reader, writer and what is written vs. what is read. Do we delude ourselves into finding particular meaning in a collection of words, or are they really, truly meaningful?

I had not read "The Book" before, nor have I read any of Margaret Irwin's other work. I certainly want to now. I'm unconvinced that The Book" is a straightforward ghost story... In fact, there is nothing straightforward about it. The same gaps that appear on the protagonist's bookshelf litter the narrative, leaving odd, weird hiccups in between the events that take place. This is good stuff.

Reviewed from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Eds. Anne and Jeff Vandermeer

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