Friday, July 31, 2020

The Double Star and Other Occult Fantasies

The Double Star and Other Occult FantasiesThe Double Star and Other Occult Fantasies by Jane de La Vaudère

Jane de La Vaudère's The Double Star and Other Occult Fantasies came highly recommended to me from some readers whose opinions I highly regard. Those kind of expectations set me on edge, sometimes, as I'm prepared to be disappointed because, well, taste is taste, and no one has exactly the same taste. I went in, then, with a little trepidation, but some excitement, as well. I steeled myself for the worst . . .

. . . then I melted into the pages. I found myself oozing into a pool of decadence and supernatural fantasy. And though there were moments that tested my patience (more on this later), it was an enjoyable read. A good read, bordering on great.

Kafkaesque suffering and injustice meet Borgesian ecstasies in the mist of a Coleridge opium-dream in "Emmanuel's Centenary". The poetics here are extraordinary and the plot at once excruciating and sublime. The voice is beautiful and terrifying. Heaven and hell, all at once.

"A Vengeance" may or may not have a supernatural element to it. The reader's tilt, in this regard, will determine if the story is a piece of horror or simply a thriller. At issue is a statue and whether or not said statue had . . .intent. It all rides on this. It is an effective story in pushing the reader to make a decision and thus become more vested in it. I, for one, lean hard to intention!

The titular story, "The Double Star" is a hallucinatory phantasmagoria of celestial imagery and occult symbolism. At moments a bit pedantic about non-vegetarians, it still shines with a certain gnostic luster, albeit of dubious philosophical merits. I'm making it sound like I didn't enjoy the story, but I rather did, in fact. Just a titch condescending is all. Really, a marvelous read!

Mesmerism and a strange form of vampirism combine in the decadent tale "Reincarnation". And by "decadent," I mean clearly in the vein (pun intended) of the Decadent writers of the end of the 19th-century. A Dorian Gray-esque mechanism of transference is used to restore life and love. The story became a little long in the tooth with elaborate explanations of occult philosophy in the middle. It wasn't unbearable, but it was tedious. Very tedious. I noted this tendency in a few of the stories herein. I could have done with much less explication and more showing of doctrinal and theoretical concerns through the characters' dialogue, through action, or through the story structure itself. It's not a deal-breaker, but definitely slowed things down and dampened my enthusiasm. This story ended differently than I had expected, but in a guilty-pleasant surprise. I shouldn't have liked the ending, but I did.

"Astral Amour" suffers from the same structural weakness-of-frame as "Reincarnation", and is more predictable in its ending. It is not quite as effective as the preceding tale, but it still stands with a high degree of quality and writerly aplomb. For example, this story contains the most eloquent description of anti-natalism I've ever read. And making anti-natalism into a thing of eloquence is quite a feat (just ask Thomas Ligotti).

One day, I learned that Viviane was a mother. I conceived a profound chagrin in consequence, for it seemed to me that the little being who was scarcely breathing would take all the solicitude of the woman. Nature has determined that there should be an infinite tenderness in maternity, in order that the torture of childbirth should be braved and desired even by those faint hearts who do not understand the futility of their mission and the cruelty of their obedience. An admirable folly that consists of making with one's flesh and blood sad and paltry beings whose life will be spoiled by the thought of death, and who will toil daily without a single moment of real happiness! A proud folly that consists of building temples and palaces that the wind will sweep away, and which will have scarcely more duration than the pygmies who constructed them!

"Yvaine" is a convoluted, engrossing tale of love, betrayal, incest, murder, black magic, and spectral vengeance. The framing mechanisms' dated feel do not lessen the impact of the story. Like all great horrific tales, this one extends far beyond the pages, with an ending full of frisson. How this story was not anthologized several times over, I don't know. To me, it is a Classic. This story is worth the full price of the book and then some.

"Sapho" is a clever little story. Very clever. Very short. Who is the real hunter and prey in this tale? It all depends on your perspective.

Another circus story, this one entitled "Red Lust," isn't quite as effective as "Sapho," as it misses the cleverness of the former tale. La Vaudere has a fascination with black panthers and circuses, I've noticed. Still, a good story, well-told. It could have benefited with a little more background on the antagonist, Antonia.

"The Dream of Myses" is, indeed, a nightmare, albeit a poetic one. The story is of the much and rightfully-maligned "it was all a dream" type, but in an inverse fashion. I'm also not a big fan of stories set in ancient Egypt - I don't know why, I just don't like the setting. It's a good story with strengths, but it didn't astound me like some of the others in this collection.

Though stilted, in places, this is a strong collection. "Yvaine" is one of the stronger stories I've read in a while and, as I said, compensates for the price of admission all on its own. The other stories range from rather good to outstanding, and de La Vaudère's signature voice can be heard throughout (undergirding a variety of voices from here varied characters, some of whom are quirky enough that you might identify people you know "in" them). If I saw an anthology with one of her stories in it, I would be sure to pick it up, as I am certain that her voice would add strength that otherwise might remain unseen, if we are only to rely on the male decadent writers, as good as some of them are. I would hope that future decadent anthologies would include her work, particularly as translated by the inimitable Brian Stableford. Her voice must be heard!

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