All Souls’ Night (Hugh Walpole)

9670120I’m a bit of a Valancourt Books fanboy (reviewed a number of their titles over on my Tumblr before I started this blog), they’re almost the only publisher I specially follow. That said, I felt myself at something of a loss with this one… Hugh Walpole (no relation to Horace that I can see) was one of the most prolific and best-known authors of the early 20th century (he died in 1941), dozens of books to his credit, correspondent of Henry James, occasional Hollywood script man, knighthood later in life; an essentially decent man whose reputation fell into eclipse well before his death, largely thanks to changing fashion and what was perceived as an attack on him in Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. So, somewhat forgotten gay author = perfect Valancourt material (they also have his very last book, The Killer and The Slain).

This is one of his story collections, his fourth such, and Valancourt’s page for it claims it will reintroduce readers to “an unjustly forgotten master of the eerie and macabre”. Which he may well have been, I’m just not really convinced by the evidence on show. The introduction does note not all of the stories have a supernatural theme, but I was still expecting more eerie and macabre than I actually got… I also found it infernally difficult to read, too, possibly because of that disappointment, possibly not; either way I found it almost impossible to read more than two stories at a time without putting the Kindle down, and consequently it took me an absurd amount of time to read a book I should’ve otherwise knocked over in two days or so. I don’t get it. I should say I actually did enjoy some of the stories, some are very good indeed, and they’re good enough to make me hold onto the book, but I did note the bit in the intro citing Walpole’s biographer, who reckoned he approached his short fiction in a relatively cavalier manner compared to his novels, in which he was much more interested, and it was kind of hard to escape the feeling that Walpole wasn’t exactly engaged with most of these tales. Still, I will read The Killer and The Slain sometime, maybe I’ll like him better in novel form…


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