If there exists a more deft and elegant stylist currently writing tales of the strange and supernatural, I don’t know of them. Over the last fortnight I’ve read two of the recent short story collections by Reggie Oliver, MRS MIDNIGHT AND OTHER STORIES, and FLOWERS OF THE SEA (Thirteen Stories and Two Novellas). The latter becoming my favourite of the five Oliver collections I have read to date, and I’d say it is also one of my favourite collections, thus far read, …in the horror/weird tale field – I think the balance of dark humour and the supernormal was pitch perfect.
The beautifully considered prose is reason enough to read this writer, but the insights, enigma and turn of phrase elevates the work into something special. The observations so often have the precision, brevity, and resonance of Saki, while the tone can effortlessly slip from the wry – when concerning the petty, cruel and absurd – to the dreadful. I am also often startled by what I find in Reggie Oliver’s stories, and I like being startled.
Fans of the atmospheric revenant tale should be rubbing their hands in anticipation of reading these books, as the author is often a practitioner of the supernatural story of which M R James is the recognised master. For Aickman readers, the same curious spirit of that later master often makes welcome appearances. In fact, the author has the ability to encompass much in the varied wheelhouse of horror, the weird and the fantastic – Lord of the Fleas, for example, is a welcome innovation in the undead sub-genre.
For me the author’s command of such a distinctive near Edwardian voice is essential to the success of the tales and half of their appeal (they cry out for audio versions read by the author), and to my taste, it’s actually difficult to pick favourites from these two works, as favourites became numerous by the time I finished Flowers of the Sea. A Child’s Story and The Dancer of the Dark are superb. The title story of the second collection, Flowers of the Sea, is as powerful as it is frightening and tragic. And then I reached Come into the Parlour, which, for me, reached horror perfection (a memorable echo of Seaton’s Aunt therein). So, highly recommended, and essential, for lovers of quality in the strange and supernatural tale. Curious riches await the uninitiated.