Stefan Grabinski's On the Hill of Roses (translated by Miroslaw Lipinski) was published by Hieroglyphic Press in May 2012. Hieroglyphic Press is a small imprint primarily dedicated to publishing works of an eclectic and rarefied nature.

Here's a description of On the Hill of Roses:

Stefan Grabinski was one of the most original Polish language writers of the early 20th century but an unwillingness to fall in with literary trends and the political turmoil that struck Europe soon after his death meant he was all but forgotten outside his native land until fairly recently. Thankfully, with the publication of The Dark Domain in 1994, new blooms of acolytes have sprung up to champion his cause both in Poland and elsewhere.

We at Hieroglyphic believe that his work forms an important thematic bridge between European Symbolists such De L'Isle-Adam and English language writers of metaphysical fiction such as Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen. As such we are very proud to announce what we hope to be the first in a series of translations.

To begin this parade of letters we present On the Hill of Roses. Originally published in 1919 it was Grabinski's first collection under his own name and served as the official start of his arduous search for artistic recognition. Nearly a hundred years later these pieces stand as testament to their author's talent and on-going literary quest for the bizarre: in The Frenzied Farmhouse we witness the effect of a malignant anima mundi, Strabismus explores the conflict of beings over corporal identity while in the title story, On the Hill of Roses, the Decadents fascination with synthesia is used to unveil a tragic history.

A REVIEW OF STEFAN GRABINSKI'S ON THE HILL OF ROSES

This was the first time that I read a short story collection by Stefan Grabinski, but it won't be the last time, because I enjoyed his stories. I was introduced to Grabinski when I read one of his stories (The White Wyrak) in The Weird (an anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer). I was immediately impressed by his writing, because his story reminded me a bit of the tales written by old masters of horror.

I have to mention that Hieroglyphic Press has done a big favour for fans of dark fiction by publishing On the Hill of Roses, because it contains fascinating horror stories.

There are probably several readers who aren't familiar with Stefan Grabinski, so here's a bit of information about him. Stefan Grabinski (1887-1936) was a Polish writer of horror fiction. He has sometimes been called "the Polish Poe". He died of tuberculosis.

Within the pages of this book the readers will find stunning depictions of human life, morbid tragedies and seducing weirdness. As a big fan of quality horror and dark fiction, I must say that On the Hill of Roses is one of the best horror short story collections available at this moment, because it contains beautiful prose and frightening happenings which will appeal to fans of dark fantasy and horror.

On the Hill of Roses contains the following stories:

  • On the Hill of Roses
  • The Frenzied Farmhouse
  • On a Tangent
  • Strabismus
  • Shadow
  • At the Villa by the Sea
  • Projections

The collection also contains a foreword by Mark Samuels and an introduction by Miroslaw Lipinski.

Here's a bit more information and my thoughts about the stories:

On the Hill of Roses

  • A story about a man who is fascinated by a walled area where the scent of roses comes. He becomes more and more intrigued by the area and finally goes there.
  • This is an excellent story with a great and horrifying ending.

The Frenzied Farmhouse

  • The protagonist of this story buys a farmhouse and moves into it. The farmhouse has a disturbing effect on his psyche.
  • I loved this story, because the happenings were intriguing.

On a Tangent

  • An interesting story about Wrzecki. This story can be analyzed in different ways depending on the reader.
  • This is one of my favourite stories, because it's a deeply disturbing story when you begin to analyze it in a philosophical way.

Strabismus

  • A story about a man who struggles with his personality.
  • This is a very interesting and disturbing story.

Shadow

  • A disturbing and strangely captivating story about a man who sees a mysterious shadow, which reveals a horrible act. He becomes fascinated by what he sees and wants to know more about it.
  • A tragic and well written story.

At the Villa by the Sea

  • The protagonist of this story spends time at his friend's villa.
  • This is an atmospherical and amazingly well written story, which slowly gathers momentum and ends in an interesting way.

Projections

  • A fantastic story about a man who writes a diary. The man writes about his visits to the ruins of an old monastery.
  • I loved the atmosphere of this story and I enjoyed the ending.

Analyzing Stefan Grabinski's prose is interesting. His stories are supernatural, gothic and classic horror stories, which are full of mysterious and bizarre happenings. These clever and unsettling reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and M. R. James.

Stefan Grabinski's stories have a distinct and wonderful feel of the early 20th century in them and that's part of their charm. What makes his stories interesting is that he writes about human life and the lives of his characters in an observing way. His characters are almost like Lovecraftian characters, because they are fascinated by macabre things (for example, the protagonist in Shadow wants to find out more about what he sees and what causes it).

The characters in these stories make interesting and sharp observations about their environment and other people. It was interesting to read about the different places, surroundings and people, because the descriptions were lush and poetic.

The prose is astonishingly atmospherical and lyrical. The author paints vivid pictures of beautiful landscapes, wild gardens, houses and tragic happenings with his words.

Categorizing Stefan Grabinski's stories is easy. His stories are gothic and classic horror stories, which contain weird elements. His stories aren't Lovecraftian weird fiction, but they're weird horror stories. I think that his stories can also be called disturbing and macabre dark fantasy stories, because there are fantastical elements in them.

I'm not sure if other readers agree with me on this, but in my opinion Stefan Grabinski can be seen as a "missing link" between Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood. He's just as good a writer as these old masters and his stories have the same kind of effect on the readers as their stories, but the contents of his stories differ nicely from Poe and Blackwood's stories. If there's any justice in the world, hopefully Stefan Grabinski will someday be recognized as one of the greatest horror writers ever, because he deserves wider recognition.

Although Stefan Grabinski has been called "the Polish Poe", it isn't exactly an appropriate way to describe him and his prose. In my opinion Grabinski's stories are more investigative than Poe's stories and he explores surreal happenings in a cerebral way (everybody who has read Poe and then reads Grabinski will most likely notice similarities between them, but I'm sure that he/she will also notice the differences in the storytelling). I think it's best to say that Grabinski explores life and the mysteries of life in an investigative way.

Stefan Grabinski writes fluently about different physiological and psychological phenomena and how they affect us. For example, the protagonist of the title story has an interesting sense of smell, which separates him from other people.

I'm not sure how many stories Stefan Grabinski has written, but if there are more stories out there, it would be nice to see them translated to English, because his stories are fantastic. I think that everybody who likes quality horror will want to read more stories by him. It's possible that fans of modern masters (Laird Barron, W. H. Pugmire, Thomas Ligotti etc) will fall in love with these stories, because the roots of their stories can be found in the early 20th century horror.

I'm sure that On the Hill of Roses will be of interest to everybody who loves beautifully written, disturbing and gothic horror fiction (this collection belongs to the bookshelf of every horror fan). On the Hill of Roses is a superb collection, which can be read over and over again, so don't miss it!

Before I finish writing this review I'll mention that the translation by Miroslaw Lipinski is excellent. I'll also mention that the cover art by Eleni Tsami looks beautiful (Eleni Tsami has managed to capture the feeling of the title story in her painting).

I highly recommend this collection to all horror readers and fans of weird fiction.

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