Here’s a link to the Nicholson Whaling Collection at the Providence Public Library. It has a huge archive of whaling vessel logbooks full of squirrelly handwriting and cryptic doodles.
I’ve only poked at the thing haphazardly, but one of my favorites is the log of the Levanter out of Boston, MA from 1861. It’s reel #397 if you scroll down. The ship’s master is listed as simply “Clifford”. The picture above comes from that log as do the following doodles, including a ship board obituary:
The files are big and take a while to load. I suggest if you want to peruse them that you view the PDFs at 25% their size. It makes scrolling easier.
This is one of those things I have no idea what use I have for it, but take great joy in knowing exists.
I finished the book two months ago. I finish the posts now.
This has been a crazy book. Dracula’s got nothing on the Monk.
Chapter 10 and we’re back with the dudebros, Lorenzo and the Marquis. They’ve assembled a group of archers and are all set to apprehend the mother superior from the convent of Saint Claire at the big parade. And what a parade it is. Since this is an English man writing about the Spanish, the parade’s a long litany of sumptuousness atop a cake of voluptuousness with a garnish of religiosity because this book’s all about pagan Catholicism. Matthew Lewis (and Frank Miller) are why shit like this exists.
We’re also introduced to Virginia De Villa-Franca, the most beautiful girl in all of Madrid, who’s dressed like Saint Claire herself. If Lorenzo’s heart did not already belong to Antonia, it would belong to Virginia, etc.
The Marquis finally steps in mid-parade and apprehends the prioress and mother St. Ursula. The prioress is like, “Shit, I’m dead” and Ursula is like, “You’re so dead” and proceeds to spill the whole horrible truth about what happened to Agnes as the woman witnessed it. Agnes was poisoned and buried in a crypt below the convent.
Unfortunately, this story gets told in the street in front of spectators, all of whom promptly take hold of the prioress, trample her to death in the street, and then proceed to riot. Our valiant Dudebro duo find themselves helping the nuns against the mob and try to protect the convent, but things don’t go so well, and the building gets set on fire. While searching for people to rescue, Lorenzo discovers Virginia de Villa-Franca down in the basement cowering in her shift alongside a bunch of other girls. They’re hiding out there, and Lorenzo realizes he’s near where his sister is entombed. He finds a secret door and sets off exploring. Down below in the dark, he hears moaning. Who could it be? But some poor starved wretch, half-mad and clutching a worm-infested infant’s corpse to her breast. Why it’s Agnes, his sister, she still lives!
I had to put the book down at this point, because I wasn’t quite prepared for it to get all Lucio Fulci on me like that.
The other folks (Virginia, the Marquis, some archers, etc) show up, and Agnes is reunited with the Marquis. She’s saved. Tears of joy and dead babies all around. But what’s that in the darkness.
Running footsteps and a scream!
Who else could be down here in such a gloomy place?
Chapter 11: The monk wins.
So, throughout this whole book, the monk Ambrosio has been self-righteously on a downsclator towards complete moral degradation. And he has no one to blame but himself. Yeah, Matilda, yadda, yadda. No. This is all Ambrosio’s doing. He’s murdered and conspired to have his way. And so here it is at least. Antonia in a shroud. He goes to where she’s interred and waits for her to wake up. When she does, he ignores her pleas and cries and rapes her there amid the corpses.
Afterward, Antonia tries to escape, but only provokes Ambrosio’s anger. Matilda shows up to warn the monk that soldiers are in the catacombs, and Ambrosio blames Matilda for leading him to this. She’s like, “No way. You did all this yourself. In fact, I want nothing more to do with you.” And while they’re arguing Antonia runs away only to have Ambrosio chase her down and stab her to death. He flees back to the crypt as Lorenzo and the Marquis approach where they find the dying Antonia. They’re able to track Ambrosio to the crypt where they find him and Matilda. The two are arrested and dragged to the Inquisition.
But before that, the stories of Lorenzo, Agnes, and the marquis all get wrapped up. Virginia de Villa-Franca cares for Agnes until she’s well again (and of course she falls in love with Lorenzo), and Agnes tells the story of how she wasn’t poisoned but drugged and then interred alive by the prioress. She and the Marquis marry, and after many months and much urging Lorenzo overcomes his sadness at losing Antonia and marries Virginia.
And so the story ends for our lovers, happily for some people ever after.
Chapter 12: But there’s still the Monk and Matilda to be dealt with. The Inquisition treats them as the Inquisition does and they’re tortured and put to the question. The devil shows up and says “I’ll save you if you sell me your soul.” But the Monk’s like no way. Then he gets tortured some more, and Matilda’s like, Hey, Satan, where do I sign? And so she goes off to become the 18th century Protestant’s idea of what a porn star is like. Ambrosio gets tortured some more, until finally, he tells Satan, “Okay, I’ll sign.”
Satan helps him escape and together they fly off to a bleak and remote desert. And the devil’s like, “Oh yeah, by the way, Elvira was your mom and Antonia your sister.” He then drops Ambrosio from a great height and takes off. And Ambrosio is six days dying while insects drank his blood and eagles tore his flesh and pecked out his eyes.
And so the book ends with the villain screaming blasphemies at the sky before his corpse is washed away by a rain storm.
What a trip.
If you thought things were nutty before now, all I can say is buckle up, because from here on out things only get nuttier.
Chapter 8 returns us to Lorenzo and the Marquis moping around over Agnes’s presumed death. The only one not given over to the mopes is young poet Theodore who decides to don cape and eye patch and go begging at the convent with his guitar. As a dapper young lad he’s quick to work his way into the place and charm the nuns, which he does with a song from Denmark where the people are green and have orange hair.
Much impressed with his singing one of the nuns gives him a basket of food to take away. And of course in the basket is a secret message for the Marquis, telling him to get a warrant for herself and the head nun, and to execute it on Friday during the big parade coming up in Chapter 10.
The Marquis sets about doing this, while Lorenzo goes and serenades Antonia. She’s pleased by this and goes to bed happy.
… and then the bad shit starts.
First off, Ambrosio shows up with his burning myrtle that opens doors and puts people to sleep. He’s using it to creep through the house on up to Antonia’s bedroom, where there’s a long unsettling bit with him hovering over her unconscious body and removing her clothes. Dracula has nothing on Ambrosio. He’s all ready to do the raping, when the door opens and Elvira walks in. She’d already caught him trying to rape her daughter once and forbidden him to return to the house, but now, she’s ready to scream for the authorities. And she almost does, except Ambrosio kills her, by smothering her with her unconscious daughter’s pillow.
An aside… watching old movies in no way prepares you for reading old books. Old movies couldn’t show certain things. Old books could and did, so they’ll hit you with vivid description of some brutality straight out of Goodfellas.
Like here, not only do have Ambrosio killing Elvira next to where her daughter lies unconscious, you also have the description from Ambrosio’s POV of himself kneeling on Elvira’s chest until she can no longer draw breath.
And in true Ambrosio fashion, he reacts with disgust not with himself, but with Antonia, because like what she made him do. So, he flees and we go on to Chapter 9.
Chapter 9 is a cool down chapter Ambrosio once more rationalizes his actions and reinforces his veneer of respectability, putting the blame on Elvira for causing her own death. Matilda once more offers to have Satan help him in exchange for his soul, but Ambrosio reasons like a Catholic and thinks despite everything, as long as he doesn’t sell his soul he’ll at least get sent to Purgatory.
Meanwhile, Antonia finds the body and her life starts falling apart from there. She’s taken ill. Her landlady pays for a simple funeral. The days pass in grief and torment. One night, Antonia wakes up and goes to her mother’s room where she reads a ghost story, and finds herself visited by Elvira’s ghost. The ghost tells her in three days, she too will be dead, and that’s enough to send Antonia into hysterics. The landlady finds out what happened, and she flees the house to find the holiest man she can… Ambrosio.
He goes to the house, checks things out, and calms the “simple” women down. Remember now, Antonia has no idea that Ambrosio tried to rape her twice and killed her mother. She just knows her mother didn’t like him. Ambrosio’s looking after her health, and when he goes back to the abbey, he and Matilda hatch a plan to drug Antonia, so she appears dead, and then in the crypt when she wakes up, he’ll be waiting there. There’s some difficulties from Flora, Elvira’s servant and confidant who knows why Ambrosio can’t be trusted, but in the end he’s able to administer the poison to Antonia. He then commands that her burial should be performed without delay.
And so it is.
Chapters 6 & 7 can pretty much be subtitled “The Making of an Anti-Hero”.
Ambrosio’s not so much the villain as the protagonist of the novel. Unfortunately for everyone, much of his protagging is of the downward spiral type. This fact gets hightlighted in these two chapters as Ambrosio completes his turn away from his ideals and embraces the dark side as introduced to him by Matilda, his demon lover.
When Chapter 6 opens the pair are still abed together, and Ambrosio has some guilt over what he’s done, but those get shunted as he “riots in delights till then unknown to him”. Through all this Matilda’s still poisoned, but she can fix that – all they have to do is meet at midnight and go into the caves under the convent and Matilda can heal herself. They just have to get through the day, which they do. Ambrosio’s pretty good at rationalizing away what he’s done. Night arrives, and they’re off to the caves. Ambrosio’s set on guard, while Matilda goes below to do what needs doing.
You know, black magic stuff.
While Ambrosio’s on guard he can hear the cries of a prisoner in the basement of the convent. Agnes, of course. He’s moved to pity, which is ironic since her suffering is the direct result of his actions. But he stays where he is. Matilda returns and they go back to the monastery for more sex.
There’s then a mini-essay on how Ambrosio had all the qualities of a hero, only they’d been twisted and warped by his time with the priests, and he’s never known the outside world since he was raised entirely within the monastery because he was left on the doorstep while still an infant.
Life resumes. Ambrosio maintains his reputation and keeps drawing the crowds. Only now he’s more superior and cognizant of his power. Then one day at confession he encounters Antonia who wants him to recommend a priest to visit her sick mother. Ambrosio’s instantly infatuated with Antonia and after some pacing and calling Matilda, “Whore”, he decides he’ll go visit Elvira. He does so, and afterwards he finds Antonia and visits with her too. At first Elvira’s glad the monk’s visiting them, but she starts to suspect his reasons aren’t 100% pure.
And in Chapter 7 she’s proven correct. Chapter 7’s where Ambrosio seals the deal, and slides over from being a priest with a demon lover to being a straight up criminal.
It starts with Ambrosio deciding to seduce Antonia, an idea he doesn’t need a demon lover around to come up with for him. And he doesn’t care that it’s criminal. He just “can’t help himself”. So as his desire for Matilda cools, he fixates on Antonia, and the next time he visits, he gets her alone and tries to rape her. Fortunately, Elvira interrupts it, but what can she do? Ambrosio is one of the most respected men in town, while Antonia and she are poor women without connections. Ambrosio is quick to point out that no one will believe her. Still, Elvira kicks him out of the house and tells him to never come back.
Now Ambrosio feels bad, less because he tried to commit rape, than the fact that he failed to commit rape. He goes back to the abbey and starts to mope about how unfair it all is, when Matilda shows up.
She’s okay with him ditching her, and as his friend he’ll help Ambrosio in anyway she can. You know, with demon black magic stuff. Ambrosio despite everything still believes himself blessed by god, because he hasn’t signed anything over to the devil yet. Matilda’s a bit skeptical on that measure, She shows Ambrosio her magic mirror through which she can spy on anyone. So of course, Ambrosio uses it to watch Antonia take a bath. And that’s enough to get him to think there might be something in this black magic stuff.
So, it’s back to the cave under the convent to do some more witchcraft stuff. Matilda summons up Lucifer and gets a talisman from him that will open doors and put Antonia asleep (because Ambrosio doesn’t care if she’s awake or not when he has his way with her).
“Antonia will perceive her dishonor, but be unaware of her ravisher.”
Damn, Gothic novel… that’s f’d up.
But if Ambrosio needs more help after that he better be ready to pay with his soul. Of course, Ambrosio knows it won’t come to that. It’s not like dealing with the Devil ever ends badly for anyone. So as Chapter 7 ends, Ambrosio’s looking forward to midnight when Antonia will be all his.
Do you have a favorite old, weird book?
Recommend it and I’ll probably read it!
But, I’m also looking for books to give the YesterWeird treatment to, like I’m doing with Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.
Old = written before 1930.
Weird = I leave up to you.
My definition of weird includes Fantomas novels, Cavendish’s The Blazing World, Scientific Romances, Dumas and his contemporaries, Gothic and Sensation novels, Apuleius, and P’u Songling… so it’s pretty broad, but limited. I’m not likely to do another Gothic right away. While I do have some Ann Radcliffe on the shelf, I’m not really ready to jump into another foray of English Protestants fetishisiizing southern European Roman Catholics.
Current contenders for getting the YesterWeird treatment are:
Fantomas, the Corpse Who Kills! by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. Murder, mayhem, and derangement.
The Flower Beneath The Foot – Being a Record of the Early Life of St. Laura De Nazianzi and the Times in which She Lived by Ronald Firbank. This looks like it might be Game of Thrones as if written by Oscar Wilde in his Importance of Being Earnest style. That sounds like it might be cool, or it might be annoying.
Aphrodite: Ancient Morals by Pierre Louys. A scandalous, historical novel written by a French guy mostly famous for his pornographic poetry. It’s available on Gutenberg.
If you have a favorite, I’d love to hear it.
… and now we return to The Monk, chapter 5 to be exact.
Chapter 5: Raymond finishes telling Lorenzo the sad story of “How I Knocked Up Your Sister”. Lorenzo agrees not to kill him, and both agree that Agnes needs to get out of that convent. Lorenzo then brings up Antonia and her situation.
Part of that story is that Raymond is Antonia’s mom Elvira’s brother-in-law, but he never knew about it because his parents never mentioned it (they thought their son was too good for Elvira) and they lived mostly overseas. Being that his parents are dead, Raymond’s actually happy to learn he has a sister-in-law. So that’s one problem they don’t have to worry about, while they talk to the cardinal and pope about getting Agnes out of her convent. Everyone’s happy. Lorenzo leaves, Raymond gets ready to relax, but when he walks into his relaxing room, he finds Theordore in there sweating and straining.
…and can you guess what the strapping young German lad is doing all alone there in the room?
That’s right, he’s writing poetry.
Four pages of classic verse, or running with the rock opera concept album metaphor, he’s writing a power ballad. I’m pretty sure it’s on Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the song after “Moonchild”.
Being the full of himself sister-knocker-upper that he is, Raymond swipes the pages, reads, and critiques them. Surprisingly, he’s not a dick about it (well, besides being a total dick about it) and encourages Theodore to keep at it, and, who knows, maybe one day he can be the next Lope De Vega.
We then follow Lorenzo home where he finds a letter from Leonella, Antonia’s servant. She gives him Antonia and Elvira’s address, and Lorenzo heads over there right away.
Elvira is Antonia’s mom and one of the coolest characters in this book. She’s a tragic figure, abandoned by her relations and of delicate health, but strong willed and wise. When Lorenzo meets her, she sees right through his gallant foppish pretenses, and to his credit Lorenzo drops them. He updates her on the situation with Raymond her brother-in-law, and she sees that Lorenzo is in love with her daughter. He leaves telling them that first they need to get Agnes out of the convent, but after that they’ll fix everything for her. Afterward Elvira and Antonia have a mom/daughter talk about getting hopes up and falling in love, and all Elvira’s advice is sad and tragic, because she’s a sad, tragic mom in a Gothic novel.
The next day, Lorenzo goes to the convent to see Agnes.
“No, you can’t see her. She’s sick.”
The next day, Lorenzo goes to the convent to see Agnes.
“No, you can’t see her. She’s sicker than she was yesterday.”
Lorenzo believes none of this, and neither do we because we know Agnes got caught back in chapter 1 and the Mother Superior is a cruel heartless woman. We don’t know what happened to her, but we know it’s not good. Nice tension that.
He heads back to Elvira’s hoping to see Antonia, but instead Elvira sits him down for a talk. She tells him that it’s great that he loves Antonia, but his family won’t approve. He’s of noble birth, and her family are commoners. It’ll be a repeat of her own sad, tragic life for her daughter. So for their own good, she’s going to stop the relationship now, before they get too into each other. Lorenzo denies that his family is like that, and Elvira’s skeptical.
“Look at this,” she says.
“My late husband, Raymond’s brother, wrote it. It’s a poem.”
Yes… to save Lorenzo, and the world, from bad poetry, Lorenzo must stop courting Antonia. It’s the only way. Lorenzo’s shaken. He tells her he’s going to get permission from his uncle. He’ll do better than Raymond’s brother, and maybe he’ll just stick with prose vignettes under 1000 words. Those aren’t poems are they? Elvira says that’s a mystery, but until he gets the okay from his uncle he must stay away and visit no more.
Lorenzo goes home and sees a letter from the pope. It’s good news. The pope’s okay with Agnes leaving the convent. Lorenzo takes the letter and goes straight to Mother Superior. She tells him that Agnes died, and no, he can’t see the body. Lorenzo believes none of this, but he’s up against an evil nun, and so there’s no winning. He goes back to tell Raymond, and Raymond believes none of it. He practically goes mad at the idea and believes Agnes is still alive, locked somewhere in the convent. Lorenzo for his part believes Agnes is dead, but the nuns killed her and They need to find out what happened.
Chapter 6 has us back with Ambrosio, the fallen priest with the demon lover and the titular monk of the novel, who appears to be developing into a full on sex addict.
You know how it goes, he tried it once, and found it all right for kicks, but now he’s found out it’s a habit that sticks…
We return now to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.
The deeper I get into this book, 1) the more I like it, 2) the weirder its fetishisization of Catholicism gets.
In the chapters 3 &4 we leave Ambrosio and Matilda behind and return to Lorenzo and Don Raymond the Marquis de las Cisternas. Lorenzo’s upset because Don Raymond impregnated his sister, Agnes, despite her being a nun, and if Don Raymond doesn’t talk fast, he’s likely to wind-up stabbed in all the worst ways. So Don Raymond tells his story, and it’s not a bad story.
The Tale of Don Raymond’s Gap Year AKA How I Ended Up Schtupping Your Sister AKA Don’t Stab Me, Bro
Don Raymond was on his gap year and traveling around Europe in cognito, because in a book with a lot of names I can’t remember, why not have another? While in Germany, his servants and he get lost in a forest during a snowstorm and think they’re going to die, when their guide tells them he knows a wood-cutter nearby that will put them up. The wood-cutter and his sons are happy to have the guests, but the wood-cutter’s wife is having none of it. She doesn’t want these guys in her house, and Don Raymond’s like, “What a bitch”, but the wife just says, “I made your bed, check out the sheets.” When Don Raymond does he discovers them covered in blood and realizes the wood-cutter and his sons are bandits. Their plan’s to kill Don Raymond and all his servants in the middle of the night. But things get complicated when another traveler arrives at the house, and this one turns out to be the local duchess. She wants to get out of the storm, and the wood-cutter realizes they need to get more bandits, which gives Don Raymond time to escape and get help. There are some chases and fights and daring-do. The duchess is saved, Don Raymond’s servants aren’t, and Don Raymond gets an invitation back to the castle. The wood-cutter’s wife tells her story of how she fell in with the bandits and what brutes they were, and she gets exonerated for her crimes, and Don Raymond hires one of her sons (from an earlier marriage) to replace his dead valet. This kid, Theodore, becomes an important supporting character. Showing up at the castle, Don Raymond meets Agnes, because the Duke and Duchess are her guardians, since her parents are dead and her brother away. Of course Agnes and Don Raymond fall in love, but there’s a complication: the Duchess has also fallen in love with Don Raymond and she’s the insanely jealous type.
Time for a cunning plan!
A cunning plan that involves Theodore kidnapping Agnes’s chaperone and keeping her drunk in a closet, while Agnes impersonates the ghost rumored to haunt the castle (The Bleeding Nun) and Don Raymond waits in a carriage by the castle’s back door.
And the plan works perfectly, except the real Bleeding Nun shows up and Don Raymond runs off with her by accident.
Meanwhile, Agnes gets caught and the Duchess realizes what’s what and they ship her off to the convent ahead of schedule. Back to Don Raymond, he realizes he’s in a carriage with a ghost, there’s a panic, and horse death. He survives the accident but now the Bleeding Nun haunts him, and he pretty much assumes he’s a goner. Theodore learns where he is and tells him about a strange doctor in town that seemed to know all about the case. Don Raymond wants to meet that guy, and when the doctor shows up, he turns out to be a be-turbaned fellow of keen wisdom.
The doctor agrees to treat Don Raymond’s ghost problem, and there’s some midnight magic stuff, where the doctor says, “I’m going to take my turban off,don’t look at me.”
And Don Raymond says, “Okay”, but he totally looks and the sight of the unturbaned doctor fills him with horror and dread.
Turns out the doctor is the Wandering Jew (although I like to imagine that he’s Cain), and he does all he can to help people despite the curse upon him. Don Raymond gets better, returns to the castle, where he retrieves the Bleeding Nun’s bones and takes them back to his family for decent burial the sadder and wiser man. Yeah, she turned out to be a relation. In Madrid, he pines away for Agnes, not realizing how close she is until he sees her at church. They start having illicit meetings in the convent gardens. Don Raymond’s all about getting her out of the convent, but has to write the Pope for the okay. Meanwhile, both being young and having lived through such adventures allow their hormones to get the better of them, and lo and behold there you go Lorenzo: that’s how I impregnated your sister!
To which all agree it’s best to get Agnes the hell out of that convent.
The Monk is a Gothic novel from 1796 written by a 20-year old Matthew Lewis rife with murder, magic, sex, and decadent Catholicism, because if you’re an 18th century English Protestant nothing says sexy decadence sexier than a Spanish Catholic. Set in Madrid the novel depicts the corruption of the monk Ambrosio and his ultimate pact with the devil, as well as tells a gory picaresque as two sets of lovers try to escape the various forces arrayed against them.
If there’s anything The Monk reminds me of it’s a 1970s era heavy metal concept album. But more on that in a bit. For now here’s Michael Gothard from Ken Russell’s The Devil:
In Chapter 1, all Madrid’s come out to see Ambrosio speak because he’s a great holy man and handsome too. The church is packed and people have climbed up onto the statues to get a better view. A young woman and her chaperone arrive late and have a hard time finding seats, but the chaperone’s able to play upon a couple of cavaliers’ sense of gallantry and convince them to give up theirs. At first they’re disappointed, because old lady, but then they espy the young woman’s delicate foot peeking out from beneath her skirt, and nearly slip into raptures. Finally, the young woman unveils and one of the cavaliers instantly falls in love. He gets her name (Antonia) and gives her his (Lorenzo), and there’s talk of another character (the Marquis de las Cisternas) and I’m pretty sure already I’m not going to keep everyone straight in this book.
After Ambrosio’s speech the throng dethrongs and the cavaliers and the ladies split up. Lorenzo stays behind and has a bad acid trip vision of angels and demons fighting for Antonia’s soul. They pretty much tell him “SHE’S GONNA DIE!!!!!”, but he’s not really picking up the cues. Another guy arrives Don Christoval arrives and he’s appy to see Lorenzo since he now has someone to peek at the nuns with. They go hide and watch a stranger eave a letter beneath the foot of a statue. The nuns show up. One of them is Lorenzo’s sister (Agnes), and she’s the one that takes the secret letter, which makes Lorenzo all incensed because virtue and his sister and all that. He hunts down the shadowy letter leaver and there’s going to be a swor fight, but who is it revealed to be, none other than Raymond de las Cisternas, and he has a story to tell…
Which he will tell in a later chapter.
The rest of the chapter has Antonia and her aunt walking home where they meet a gypsy and decide to get their fortunes told. The aunt’s fortune is “You’re old. So old. And ugly.” While Antonia’s fortune is “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!!!!” and “WATCH OUT FOR DUDES!!!!! ESPECIALLY THE NICE GUYS!!!!” Then the gypsy hightails it out of there, and the ladies go inside.
Chapter 2, Ambrosio sits in his cell doing the 18th century Spanish Catholic monk version of looking at porn, by which I mean staring at his private picture of the Virgin Mary and thinking sentences like, “I am constrained to enter some lovely female, lovely… as you… Madonna…!”
Shit. He ellipsised before his exclamation point.
Well, there’s a knock at the door ending all that and who should be there but the young, handsome, beautiful, but mysterious monk Rosario. He’s stopped by to decorate Ambrosio’s cell with some new flowers, because that’s the type of guy Rosario is. Rosario is completely smitten with Ambrosio, but fears his feelings aren’t returned – but Ambrosio replies that he has feelings for Rosario and before things get much further the bell rings and they have to go to class, which in this case is Vespers. Vespers over, Ambrosio listens to the nuns give their confessions.
Unfortunately, Agnes drops her letter that she received back in Chapter 1, and Ambrosio picks it up and reads it. Turns out she’s pregnant. Ambrosio being the stuck-up prig he is ignores all her pleas for mercy and decides to tell her Mother Superior, who’s straight out of the Confessions of Maria Monk. Agnes get dragged away to be tortured.
Ambrosio, shaken by the ordeal of being a judgmental prick, goes for a walk in the garden, where he finds Rosario sitting alone in a grotto. They read some verses together, and Rosario goes on about his BIG secret. Ambrosio can’t stand it and commands that Rosario spill it, at which point Rosario tells Ambrosio that he’s really a she named Matilda. He does not take this well.
Rosario-Matilda threatens suicide if Ambrosio refuses to let her stay in the monastery, because all she wants to do is be near him, and it’ll be like they’re just friends and stuff. She’s all set to kill herself with a dagger to Ambrosio’s horror, but a pang of mercy and a glimpse of her boob, her left one, and “oh! that was such a breast!” The boob’s magnificence is then described for a half dozen more sentences.
Well, what’s a guy to do after seeing a boob, but give in and do whatever it commands. Ambrosio convinces himself it’d be okay if Ambrosio stays. He’ll even pluck her a rose to prove himself. Only when he does so he’s bitten by a snake, and poisoned, because subtlety is for suckers. For days he lies near death with Rosario-Matilda tending to him, by playing her harp and reading to him from chivalrous romances.
Miraculously, Ambrosio recovers and decides, “Matilda’s trouble and has to go.”
To which Matilda says, “Well, I’ll be dead in three days, because I sucked the poison out of your hand and it’s in me now. Also, I modeled for that picture of the Virgin Mary you keep under your bed, also, also, its better that I die because I totally want to have sex with you.”
To all of which Ambrosio has no idea what to say except, “Huh? Wha?” and then he touches her boob, the left one, and it’s all over for him.
“He remembered nothing but the pleasure and opportunity.”
Last month I was hospitalized. This month I became a university professor. What a crazy few weeks it has been. Here are my favorites out of everything I read.
All Systems Red (The Murder Bot Diaries) by Martha Wells: There’s something to be said for having a light touch – or at least knowing how heavy a touch a book requires. Martha Wells knows just how much and what kind of weight to put on this story of an introspective and rogue security robot doing its best to protect its humans from danger. A bit of the fun is how much the robot comes off as an angsty, emotionally over-wrought teenager (with colossal firepower) who doesn’t care and just wants to be left alone to watch TV.
The Fiery Angel by Valery Bryusov: This is an awful cover to a fun novel. Early 20th century Russian Symbolist poet transforms his f’d up love life into a Gothic novel about witchcraft set in 16th century Germany. If you don’t think I’d be all over something like that, umm… welcome to my blog, and that’s the kind of thing I’d be all over like maple syrup on pancakes. I don’t really care that this might not work well as a novel and the protagonist more or less floats from incident to incident; I was on board from the start. If you like the yesterweird, you should definitely check this out. Bryusov wrote some SF that I’ll now be on the look-out for.
Mars Girls by Mary Turzillo: This is a YA adventure novel set on Mars, and I’ll be reviewing it next week as part of the Mars Girls blog tour. I’ll tell you up front though, it’s good. If you want some fun non-dystopian science fiction, check this out.
Polaris by Ben Lehman: OK. Technically this is a role-playing game, but its premise (tragic Arthurian/Dunsanyian apocalypse) is just so rich that I think of it as a novel. The whole ritualization of the game experience and the poetic sensibility the players are expected to bring to the table make this feel to my mind like what I imagine role-playing would be. Not that anyone in my current gaming group would want to run or play it, but yeah… Actually this reminds me of two things: 1) a highly stylized tabletop version of HG Wells’s Floor Games that a psychiatrist might use to get a sullen teen (or murderbot) to work out their issues, 2) the actual tabletop scenes in Mazes & Monsters.
The Wreckage of Agathon by John Gardner: There’s a whole subgenre of lit books about suburban college profs swapping wives and having affairs while they drink themselves to death. Well, The Wreckage of Agathon is that kind of book except set in BCE Sparta during a Helot rebellion. It’s a fun, if at times aggravating trip as it meanders all over the place. Between this and The Fiery Angel I’m starting to think I might have a thing for autobiography dressed up as a historical novel.
Rosewater by Tade Thomson: I thought this book was a mess, but such an enjoyable and fascinating one that I’m going to blather on about it. In a lot of ways Rosewater is exactly the kind of genre book I want from a small press publisher: a strange mess full of ideas.
The setting is 23rd century Nigeria after the Earth has been visited by extraterrestrial spores that have begun reshaping our habitat to better suit themselves. Kaaro is a former thief turned government agent. He’s also one of the few people made “sensitive” by the alien spores and gifted with a sort of telepathy. While most people see the alien spores as a blessing , Kaaro is less enthusiastic, but when something or someone starts killing off other sensitives Kaaro finds himself getting involved.
On one hand there’s a very cool cyberpunk novel in here as we follow Kaaro’s journey from thief to agent and onward, one made more interesting by the theme of colonization that pushes its way forward in moments. But it’s never didactic and beating you over the head with polemic. It still pitches floating cannibal mutants, weird sex, and weirder fungi at you. Where the problem comes in, in my opinion, is that it’s not simply that there’s too much here, but the order feels off and whenever I felt like I understood the setting and what things were about, Thompson piled on another idea that made everything wobble and tumble down. Not only that, but there were times things felt redundant – like we’d read for pages Kaaro’s journey into the fungi xenosphere, which is kind of like a trippy internet, only to have him come out and log into his 23rd century internet – and I’ll say it, we’re so post-Gibson and Stephenson at this point that describing how people use your super-cool super-futuristic internet is basically eating regurgitated pizza slices from 1997.
So on the other hand, I wish some better editing had happened and reins were tightened just to hone the story down to the essential bits, because those bits are good, very, very good. Anyway, if you’re in the market for some bewildering, but enjoyable near-future weirdness give this a look.
Here are twelve weird books to get you through the year until next Halloween. They’re not all horror, but they’re all certainly weird. And if they’re not enough for you, you can always dip into the weird world of old whaling ship logs to hold you over.
This surreal fantasy novel tells the story of an unnamed heroine trapped by her uncle, a magician who rules over a magical island. It features all the opaque density of Peake’s Gormenghast at a 10th of the length. Definitely not for all tastes, as what exists as plot or character owes more to medieval alchemical texts than to formal story-telling structure, but the vignettes are rich and beautiful in their strangeness.
Eiseley writes like Thoreau filtered through Weird Tales. One essay in here “How Natural is “Natural”?” could have been written by Lovecraft in how it explores evolution and eternity.
“I too am aware of the trunk that stretches loathsomely back of me along the floor. I too am a many-visaged thing that has climbed upward out of the dark of endless leaf falls, and has slunk, furred, through the glitter of blue glacial nights. I, the professor, trembling absurdly on the platform with my book and spectacles, am the single philosophical animal. I am the unfolding worm, and mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of darkness toward the light.
I have said this is not an illusion. It is when one sees in this manner, or a sense of strangeness halts one on a busy street to verify the appearance of one’s fellows, that one knows a terrible new sense has opened a faint crack in the absolute. It is in this way alone that one comes to grip with a great mystery, that life and time bear some curious relationship to each other that is not shared by inanimate things.”
This short novel is a bit like one of those VH1 behind the music specials penned as a ghost story by Arthur Machen. In the early 1970s members of a British acid rock band hole up in mysterious Wylding Hall to record what will turn out to be their greatest album. However while recording their lead singer will disappear into the hall and never be seen or heard from again. Years later the musicians, their friends, and associates meet with a documentary filmmaker to try and solve the mystery.
Hand clearly evokes the late 60s early 70s music scene, and I’ll admit that half way through the book I went on youtube to see if I could listen to any of the fictitious band’s music.
A Gothic fantasy novel from 1908 by noted expressionist illustrator Alfred Kubin that dissolves into decadent surrealism at its end. It’s a book you’re either going to love or hate. I loved it, but I enjoy long slow train rides to oblivion. It’s easy to see that this book influenced both Kafka and Peake, as well as provided a satire of all reactionary, idealistic utopias where one wealthy genius (or man of ego), heaves off to some isolated spot with his followers and impresses his will completely upon them until disaster results.
This collection knocked my socks off largely because it was an impulse buy, I liked the cover, and being the ignoramus I am I’d never heard of the author. What I expected was some quaint “English” ghost stories. What I got was startlingly different.
Lee was the pseudonym for Violet Paget a Victorian writer in the circle of Henry James and Walter Pater. She wrote poetry and travel essays, but she’s now mostly known for her supernatural stories like those collected here. Favorites include the titular “Virgin of the Seven Daggers”, “Amour Dure”, and “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”. If you happen to see this on the remainder table definitely grab a copy.
McDowell’s probably best known as the screenwriter for Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. He was also one of the highlights of the 70s/80s paperback horror boom and an advocate for taking delight in all aspects of trash culture.
The Elementals reads like a weird cocktail mixing Capote, Salinger, and Stephen King at his goriest as two Alabama families decide to spend the summer at their isolated beach houses, doing their best to forget the empty third house nearby that’s slowly being swallowed by a mountain of sand. Unfortunately, things in the third house won’t forget about them.
Both trashy and creepy, and hats off to Valancourt Books for bringing McDowell back into print again.
Eleven horror stories by seven authors written in the early decades of Soviet Russia, a time of civil war, strife, and untold hardship. None of these stories have been printed before and with the exception of Bulgakov (and maybe Krzhizhanovsky) I suspect most people don’t even know the authors, but damn… these stories are great, Chayanov’s and Krzhizhanovsky’s being my favorites with doubles, duels, and medical specimens run amok. Definitely a collection worth tracking down.
The year is 1689. The place is Cold Marsh, a village on the border of civilization fourteen years after King Philip’s War ended when the village men slaughtered the inhabitants of a nearby native village. Now a series of disappearances have occurred and the men set out once more into the wilderness to confront whatever evil they can find. This novel captures that awe that exists close beside our fear of the unknown.
What makes these stories stand out is how firmly they’re grounded in the world of the marketplace and the ties between masters, servants, craftspeople, and… ghosts. Taken as a whole you get this sense of the supernatural sharing mundane qualities with the everyday world. If you’ve ever had a temp job where you stepped into a place and instantly your skin crawled and you thought “some bad shit’s going on that I can’t see here”, then you’ll enjoy this book.
So imagine Dead Poets Society at an all women’s college circa 1975, except swap out Robin William and replace him with Charles Manson. That’s this book.
A student falls under the spell of her charismatic English professor and his wife. Moral degradation, debauchery, and revulsion ensue. It’s a Gothic horror novella without any supernatural elements in it. I recommend it, but it’s a f’d up book. Not for everyone.
Near the end of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House there’s a chapter or two where the haunted house takes over the protagonist and warps all her perceptions. This entire book is like those chapters as a young woman with an eating disorder slowly gets taken over by the ghosts of her mother and grandmother lurking in the house. Meanwhile her brother may be making the whole story up and a refugee crisis is brewing. So if you ever wanted to read a stylish, but weird, haunted house story from multiple POVs this is your book.
This is a twofer as it collects both of Sloane’s mystery-horror novels from the 1930s, To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water. I’d wanted to read them since seeing the old Boris Karloff movie The Devil Commands, which was based on Edge of Running Water and gives you sights like this one.
By far Edge is my favorite of the two novels collected here, but both are curious in that they suggest an alternate horror genre that never quite emerged. If mad scientists, unsolvable murders, and explorations beyond space and time float your boat, then track this down and give it a shot.