Ray Bradbury defies categorisation. Best known for his science fiction and fantasy works like Farenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, my first encounter with his writing was Dandelion Wine, a beautiful and evocative novel of childhood and memory.
Yet again he has confounded my expectations with The October Country, his 1955 collection of nineteen macarbe and compelling stories.
From the outset of this collection,in a short introduction, Bradbury asserts that the October Country of the title is not a place, but rather a feeling, or a state of mind.
…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That countyr whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…
All of the stories here regardless of narrative, deal with with fear that we have inside ourselves, the fear of the unknown, but Bradbury depicts this in a variety of ways, using humour, innuendo and outright horror to create a disquieting atmosphere throughout.
Some of the stories in The October Country are more subtle than others,but when Bradbury goes for pure unadulterated horror writing, the results are impressive.
In Next in Line, a young couple on holiday in Mexico visit the catacombs beneath the town. When their car breaks down and they have to stay longer than anticipated, the woman begins to suspect that she may have already visited her final resting place. A car is central to the plot of The Crowd, where a man – after surviving a car crash – begins to realise that the crowd who surround car crashes, fires and other natural disasters, are always made up of the same people. By the time he works out why, he will wish that he had never found out.
In stand out story The Scythe, a down-on-their-luck family inherit a house and farm, only to find out that the field of wheat that must be cut down every day, holds a terrifying secret.
Bradbury’s stories work best when left a little ambiguous and the most sucessful here play on natural human fears to create tales that could be read two ways. In The Small Assasin, a mother’s longed-for baby turns out to be her worst nightmare, while in Skeleton, a man who is experiencing aches and pains in his bones, comes to despise his own skeleton.
He raged for hours. And the skeleton, ever the frail and solemn philosopher, hung quietly inside, saying not a word, suspended like a delicate insect within a chrysalis, waiting and waiting.from The Skeleton
The ambiguity of these stories makes them all the more effective, centring as they do on the terror of the everyday – parenthood, pain and responsibility.
I didn’t expect to be reminded of Dandelion Wine when I read this collection, but several of the stories that have children at their heart, are surprisingly moving and emotive. Jack-In-The-Box could be a novel in its own right with its exploration of parental anxiety taken to the extreme and debates the consequences of sheltering children too much. The Lake and The Emmisary focus on the power of childhood friendship and the lengths children will go to avoid loss. The Homecoming starts as an amusing tale of a normal boy born into a family of vampires. He doesn’t like drinking blodd, can’t fly and is afraid of the dark, but the jokes give way to a real depth of emotion as the story wrongfoots the reader and becomes about the power of parental acceptance.
What gives this collection some breathing space is the use of dark humour, which sits easily alongside the macarbre and chilling events. In The Watchful Poker Chip of H.Matisse, a boring and bored man who finally finds some friends, begins to deform himself in order to keep their interest. There Was An Old Woman mines laughs from a woman who doesn’t belive in death, so when death comes for her, she decides simply to refuse to die.
What I also wasn’t expecting was the beauty of some of the writing here. Bradbury excels at describing landscapes and places and mixes the grotequeness of his subject matter and the sensitivity of his descriptive prose with ease.
But there was no word and the veins did not rest easy in the wrists and the heart was a bellows forever blowing upon a little coal of fear, forever illumining and making it into a cherry light which her inner eyes stared upon with unwanting fascination.from Next in Line
The October Story is a real showcase for Ray Bradbury’s imaginative virtuoisty and in this collection he pushed the boundaries of what supernatural and horror fiction can be. This is a world where beauty and fear, darkness and tenderness co-exist. Just like life really, and that’s what makes these stories so powerful.
READ ON: KINDLE
NUMBER READ: 283
NUMBER REMAINING: 463
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!