Friday 30 June 2017

Recommendation: Dr Upex and the Great God Ing by Antony Oldknow

Dr Upex and the Great God Ing is a collection of fiction from Antony Oldknow, a writer I first came across via his excellent story 'Ruelle des Martyrs' in Supernatural Tales. That story is included here and it was nice to read it again; indeed much of what makes it such a good story applies to the collection as a whole. 'Ruelle des Martyrs' is a hauntingly ambiguous tale of a man caught in a rainstorm who gives a woman a lift and ends up at her house. For more conventional authors, this setup might lead to an ending involving one of the genre's more overused monsters, but Oldknow is too subtle for that. Like most stories here, it seems slightly detached from the modern world, both in terms of its setting and the prose: Oldknow tells his stories in language at once old-fashioned and nostalgic for that past, taking his cues from M.R. James and Robert Aickman.

Another good example of Oldknow's style is the title story. Set during WW2, a doctor is recovering from his wounds in a field hospital and becomes convinced he is being visited by the titular god from Norse mythology. It's an original tale, wrong-footing the reader (this reader, at least) several times, not least in that after some fine moments of unease, it ends on a sombre, almost reflective note.

Nearly all pieces here leave threads untied, at least in the literal sense, and it's safe to say this is not a collection for those readers who like their short stories wrapped up with a neat little bow at the end. Several pieces, such as 'A Soldier' and 'Cathedral Woman' are almost fragements, pieces of a wider pattern the reader can construct.

In that sense, this is a 'difficult' collection to read, although I've never understood that term as a criticism of a piece of art. Yes, Oldknow's stories might make you work a bit to get at their deeper meaning, but the only relevent question is if that work, that difficulty, is worth it. For the majority of stories in Dr Upex and the Great God, the answer is an empthatic yes.

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