Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties
By Jan Edwards
A collection of shorts that explores supernatural and ghostly themes, there is something about exploring historical events as a setting and bringing them down to the circumstances of individuals who experience the impossible. The use of historical contexts throughout these stories gives them a lingering edge and a robust quality, making you want to dash out and look up the circumstances. Edwards plays these cards cleverly and carefully, introducing you to her characters and contexts first in the majority, before playing out the fantastical and horrifying. There is a liberal dose of myth applied amidst these tales as well, leaving you considering all manner of possibilities.
Stories in this collection vary widely in length, but they are all stories, not vignettes or scenes pictured in words. The afterword gives a clear explanation as to their sources and roots and demonstrates Edwards’ meticulous attention to detail in finding local legends to draw her ideas from. Whilst she professes that she has fallen into writing supernatural fiction by accident, it clearly suits her gifts, although I certainly wouldn’t confuse these stories with other genres given the label supernatural.
Another strength of the tales is their humanity. Everything collected here balances the strangeness of the circumstances as they play out with the human context, allowing you to view the unfamiliar alongside characters you relate to. In this we have an echo of Edgar Allan Poe’s work in a sense, albeit at little less diverse in its application perhaps, but still the view of ‘subtleties’ from the position of a character we connect with.
Edwards’ stories are of the chilling variety and as such can’t be said to dwell on the gory. The sense of claustrophobia you get from many horror tales that look to make you squirm is not quite the focus of this work, although some contexts could have been taken that way – a lift from a stranger, watching a ghost in a graveyard, etc. Instead the message is more about speculation and fascination with old legends. The final story, The Black Hound of Newgate is the longest and closest to being a classically intimate horror story, but retains an innovative quality by flipping perspectives and mode of address in some scenes. This technique doesn’t feel out of place during the read, which is a testimony to the writer’s skill.
If you’re looking for a collection that shows how to work with real mythology in short stories in a variety of different lengths, this would be one to read.
Written on 3rd May 2015 by Allen Stroud .