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The Translation Of Father Torturo
Brendan Connell
Prime paperback $17.95

Dr Black And The Guerrillia
Brendan Connell
Grafitisk hardcover $20

reviews by David Hebblethwaite

My first real encounter with Brendan Connell's work was a short story (The Maker Of Fine Instruments) in the Tartarus Press anthology Strange Tales. It was a rather gory affair, the sort of story I'd normally dislike; but there was something about Connell's writing that had me compelled. So, when he e-mailed me to ask if I'd like to read two of his books for review, I was intrigued enough to say yes. I'm glad I did.

The Translation Of Father Torturo is the tale of Xaverio Torturo, seemingly a model of spirituality - pious, learned, and athletic to boot. But he has a dark side: born into a family which has produced (to paraphrase his uncle) its fair share of criminals but no cardinals, Torturo has ambitions towards the latter (and beyond) - and has no qualms about dealing with those who stand in his way. Nor is he above dabbling in the 'supramundane', by stealing saints' relics and having them sewn into his own body - to what end, only he knows.

That last comment alludes to what is perhaps the book's most striking feature - Connell's detached writing style. One has a constant sense of watching the action rather than inhabiting it; even the account of Torturo's transplant operation reads like something from a medical textbook. Normally, this would work to a book's detriment, but Connell keeps us reading, for that most primal of reasons: to find out what happens next.

And we have to rely on Connell for that, because Torturo himself is not much help in that regard. The Father remains a relatively closed book: we know he's ambitious, we know broadly what his ambitions are, we may guess some of the why and the how; but Torturo keeps the full, fine details to himself. The thoughts we're made privy to are generally those he speaks out loud (and who's to judge how reliable they are?). Again, Connell makes a literary strength out of a technique that may otherwise be considered a weakness: it's essential to the success of Translation that we don't know fully what Torturo is thinking. Several times, my expectations of what would happen were confounded, which can only be a good thing.

There's still a price to be paid for Connell's approach, though. Sometimes the mannered style goes that bit too far, and one starts to feel like skimming (the episode of an elaborate banquet with an absurd number of dishes springs to mind). The depiction of Torturo's character is also not as satisfying as it could be: we can see he's a pretty nasty piece of work, but he's also evidently charismatic; however, I felt as though I was learning about that charisma second-hand, rather than experiencing it personally. On a different note, some annoying typos have crept in, most notably the dog whose name has an empty space where the initial capital should be.

However, despite all that, The Translation Of Father Torturo is a fine excursion into the darker reaches of fantasy. Having said that, the ending loses some of its power as fantasy because it relies on a rather familiar device; and there isn't quite enough ambiguity for it to be fully effective. Then again, it does have emotive power: it's nice to learn that Father Torturo has a heart after all - and a heart that, as far as I can tell, is his own.

From one preternaturally prodigious polymath to another... In the novella Dr Black And The Guerrillia, the good doctor has travelled to San Corrados to study the religious customs of the Yaroa people. Naturally, things don't quite go according to plan, what with Dr Black having all his supplies stolen, becoming caught up in the coils of a snake, and being hauled in front of a firing squad by the local People's Revolutionary Army. All good fun, eh?

Well, actually, it is pretty good fun (for the reader, if not for the protagonist!): the voice is recognisably Connell's, but the tone is more light-hearted. Dr Black And The Guerrillia is a bit of a romp. And it's an engrossing one at that: the writing is evocative in some places and wryly amusing in others. The author also switches styles frequently, at times even approaching the dizzying info-bullets reminiscent of cyberpunk. It makes for an exhilarating read.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending, which I felt petered out rather than come to a proper conclusion. But perhaps that's the point: that Dr Black is the kind of character who travels through stories, observing (though nevertheless having an effect on what he observes). And it seems churlish to quibble like that about a well-written book that has been put together with care and attention by Slovenian publisher Grafitisk (Dr Black is a wonderful artefact as well as a great piece of fiction). It may not be the easiest book to track down, but doing so is worth the effort.

It is always a pleasure to be able to recommend an author whose work might otherwise be ignored, and this is no exception. In The Translation Of Father Torturo and Dr Black And The Guerrillia, Brendan Connell shows himself to be adept at writing contrasting works that are yet unified by his own distinctive style - and that are, of course, equally good. He also marks himself out as a writer worthy of attention in the future. That said, as these two books amply demonstrate, he is also worthy of attention in the present.
The Translation of Father Torturo





Dr Black and the Guerrillia







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