The first complete collection by English surrealist Carrington (1917-2011) includes three previously unpublished stories.
Most of these 25 stories are brief gothic tales lush with surprising detail, set in worlds where the supernatural and aristocracy overlap. In “The Royal Summons,” a queen bathes in goat’s milk with live sponges and a talking tree chases a girl. Girls strive to escape nightmarish families in several of the early stories; in others, woodsy half-humans live more freely: a forest nymph in “As They Rode Along the Edge,” who sold her soul “for a kilo of truffles,” has sex with a handsome boar “under a mountain of cats.” The more macabre fables risk being campy but achieve an oneiric, Jungian effect, such as “Pigeon, Fly!” in which a woman paints a corpse’s portrait and discovers “the face on the canvas was my own.” Animals transform into people and vice versa, unsure which is the true self. In “Jemima and the Wolf,” a wild girl with claws and thorns in her hair falls in love with a shape-shifter and is misled by a corpse. Some of the later stories show women fleeing marriages or critique technology and politics, including a short satire in which a tiny effigy of Stalin is exploited to create magic medicine. Carrington’s prose is precise and droll, even when translated from French or Spanish. Her best stories glory in fantastic rebellion against gender constructs and class even as they tend toward shock and tragedy. Quite a few are silly but end abruptly, and there’s a lot of sharp, wise humor, too, with bons mots such as, “How can anybody be a person of quality if they wash away their ghosts with common sense?”
Feels a bit dated but nevertheless a key work in the history of literary weirdness.