Monday, October 5, 2009

Isis by Douglas Clegg

At the beginning of a new set of one hundred posts, my desire for shorter fiction continues. Following a number of novels, it was time for a short fiction spree. After a collection and a novella by L. Ron Hubbard, and a collection by Richard Matheson, a couple of new novellas rose to the top of my stack. A wonderful length for a day’s worth of reading, they seemed like a wonderful choice. The first, Isis by Douglas Clegg, just out in a new illustrated edition from Vanguard Press, was where I started.

Young Iris Catherine Villiers lives with her family in a coastal mansion in Britain. Growing up in this environment, she sees few people besides her family, and becomes incredibly close to her brother, Harvey. However, the rest of her family is slowly pushing her away, and with one horrible incident, Harvey has left her alone. A distraught Iris remembers the tales of her youth, and seeks to bring her beloved brother back.

Clegg’s tale of a sister’s love and loss is stylistically gorgeous. Told in an almost dreamy, fable-like way, Iris’ story as she seeks to become a modern Isis to her brother’s Osiris is a bittersweet, heart-wrenching story. Categorizing the book is difficult, as it contains elements of horror without being horrific (if tales of the dead rising can be seen as not being horrific), yet it is not a fantasy story in its own way either. Clegg’s borderline-but-not-quite-magical realism is best summed up by its subtitle: “A Tale of the Supernatural.”

The story retains a sense of subtle, underlying supernaturalism without bashing you over the head with it. The surprises that fill the ending are perfectly described, and the story just flows along like a steady stream. A wonderful piece, and an excellent way to spend a quiet afternoon.


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