Ex Occidente hardcover $30
review by Mario Guslandi
Dark fantasy fans have a wide range of choices in terms of length of fiction, from the very short stories of Richard Christian Matheson to
extra-long novels such as the unabridged version of Stephen King's The Stand. In between is the novella, nowadays a literary form not
particularly common, which can satisfy those readers who may like a long story but are unwilling to face hundreds of pages of fiction. That's
me, for instance, glad to have found a book to savour from beginning to end during a warm summer evening. The novella is Bloody Baudelaire,
the latest work by Ray Russell, a respected editor and publisher (Tartarus Press), by now also an emerging new writer.
Structured according to the rules of the ancient Greek tragedies: unity of time (a weekend), and of place (a luxury mansion), the story features,
as the moody catalyst, Miranda, a beautiful woman whose nude portraits fill the house and whose self-inflicted wounds defy a clear explanation.
The painter is her long time lover, Gerald, an artist whose fragile fame is, as the reader will discover in due course, not actually deserved.
Among their guests for the weekend, young Lucian, soon abandoned by his current girlfriend, becomes attracted by Miranda both physically and
Russell depicts with a deep insight, a gentle touch but a steady hand, the complex relationship among those three characters, tragic masks thrown
into a decadent spiral of drinking, card games inane chatting and spiritual emptiness. Every little event is shown under a magnifying glass (despite
Russell's characteristically quiet narrative style) which enhances the feeling that we are witnessing an onstage performance. Darkness engulfs the
house, soon a presence - possibly the ghost of the departed (in every sense?) Gerald - haunts the rooms, while a painting undergoes a continuous
mutation and a deep sense of anguish imbues the reader's soul.
Not everything in the story is clear, sometimes one wonders what's actually going on and what's the point, but we keep reading, browsing pages
where unfulfilled sex, glimpses of truth, slips of consciousness mingle in a fascinating game of life and death. Russell is a master of subtlety,
enfolding the reader in a smart net of elegant prose and ambiguous facts. A mainstream piece or a gothic novella..? It's up to you to decide.