Jean Lorrain's The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies (translated by Brian Stableford) will be published by Snuggly Books in July 2016.
Information about Jean Lorrain and Brian Stableford:
Jean Lorrain (1855-1906) was the pseudonym of Paul Alexandre Martin Duval. He was one of the leading figures of the Decadent Movement and the author of numerous novels, volumes of poetry and short stories. At one point he was probably the highest paid journalist in France. Though mostly remembered today for his famous duel with Marcel Proust, he might be seen as the true chronicler of the fin-de-siècle. His short story collection Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker was previously published by Snuggly Books.
Brian Stableford has been publishing fiction and non-fiction for fifty years. His fiction includes a series of “tales of the biotech revolution” and a series of metaphysical fantasies featuring Edgar Poe’s Auguste Dupin. He is presently researching a history of French roman scientifique from 1700-1939 for Black Coat Press, translating much of the relevant material into English for the first time, and also translates material from the Decadent and Symbolist Movements.
Information about The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies:
No other writer of the fin-de-siècle period undertook a more elaborate exploration of perversities and abnormalities than Jean Lorrain, and no one else went as far afield in the search for discoveries of that curious kind than he did. Perhaps, given the variety of human behavior, it was not possible for him actually to invent perversities that no one actually practiced, or were even tempted to practice, but what is certain is that no one ever examined the anatomy of eroticism, including its wilder extremes, with a greater analytical fervor.
In this, the second collection of short stories by Jean Lorrain to be made available in English, exquisitely translated by Brian Stableford, psychological studies of amorous perversity are presented together with mock-folktales, giving further evidence of the amazing inventiveness and imagination of one of the key figures of the Decadent Movement.
A REVIEW OF JEAN LORRAIN'S THE SOUL-DRINKER AND OTHER DECADENT FANTASIES
Jean Lorrain's The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies is the second collection of short stories to be made available in English. It is an excellent companion collection to Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker and provides readers an opportunity to enjoy more of the author's decadent, depraved and imaginative stories.
It's great that Snuggly Books has published The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies, because this kind of short story collections are difficult to find. I consider this collection to be one of the publishing highlights of the year, because it's something out of the ordinary. It will captivate many readers who want to read something different.
When I began to read The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies, it immediately impressed me, because it was filled with various elements ranging from decadence and eroticism to desire and strangeness. It was such an extraordinary reading experience that I found myself being wholly captivated by it.
Before I write more about this collection, I'll briefly mention that during the recent years I've developed a deep fondness and craving for this kind of literary fiction. I've become increasingly intrigued by what decadent fiction has to offer for speculative fiction readers, because many stories are brilliantly original, unconventional and strangely erotic with echoes of something forbidden. Some of the stories have supernatural elements that are strongly related to gothic horror and literary strange fiction.
The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies contains the following stories:
- The Unknown Woman
- The Lover of Consumptives
- The Soul-Drinker
- Day's End
- The Legend of the Three Princesses
- A Bohemian Tale
- Princess Ottilia
- The Marquise de Spolête
- The Princess Under Glass
- The Mandrake
These diverse stories range from literary fiction to supernatural tales and horror fiction, and contain elements of fantasy fiction, horror fiction and literary fiction. Some of the stories are beautifully written fairy tales that have a folktale-like quality to them (these mock-folktales are stunningly inventive and shocking).
All of these stories have plenty of literary values that will impress readers. They're fascinatingly beautiful, disturbing and atmospheric, and some of them feature grotesque scenes that are not easily forgotten. They're seeped in lush decadence, symbolism and naturalism, and they reflect the author's fascination with strange amour and emphasise his exploration of various abnormalities and perversities in a brilliant way.
Unlike the previous collection (Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker), this collection contains three novella-length stories ('Sonyeuse', 'The Unknown Woman' and 'The Soul-Drinker'). These longer stories offer a fascinating contrast to the shorter stories, because they demonstrate the author's ability to weave fascinating stories and build up atmosphere.
I found it fascinating that some of the stories contained the same kind of elements that were portrayed in the author's novel, Monsieur de Phocas. Because I loved Monsieur de Phocas, I was wholly mesmerised by these stories and their atmosphere.
Here's a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:
- A tragic and beautifully told story about the Mordaunts (an English couple) who have moved to the Sonyeuse house. Their young daughter seems to be ill.
- The author writes longingly and touchingly about childhood memories and the secrets of the English couple.
- The atmosphere in this story reminded me vaguely of the atmosphere in Stefan Grabinski's short story 'On the Hill of Roses'.
The Unknown Woman:
- An excellent and captivating story featuring a mysterious woman.
- This gradually unfolding story has an intriguing atmosphere and a good ending.
The Lover of Consumptives:
- A story about a man who is fascinated by women who suffer from comsumption.
- A memorable and wonderfully twisted decadent story.
- In this story, a man reads journal entries that were written by his friend. The journal entries reveal what has happened to the man and how he feels about a certain woman.
- The excerpts from Baudelaire's 'Les Fleurs du mal' and 'Litanies de Satan' add a nice touch of class to the story.
- A story about a man whose friend seems to be dying of Ophelius.
- The revealing conversation between the protagonist and Lady Viane is excellent.
- This story has an intriguing homosexual undercurrent.
- A fairy tale-like story about Hylas. (As many readers may be aware of, in classical mythology, Hylas was a youth who served as Heracles' companion and lover.)
- In my opinion, there was something in this story that slightly reminded me of Lord Dunsany's stories and H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Quest of Iranon', which was published in 1935.
- In this lush historical story, it is possible to see spellbinding obsession with carnage and death.
- This story reminded me a bit of stories written by Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith.
The Legend of the Three Princesses:
- A beautifully written fairy tale about three princesses - Tharsile, Argine and Blismode - who resemble one another, but have different mothers.
- The author writes well about the princesses and how they differ from each other.
- Although this story doesn't feature as much homosexuality as 'Ophelius', careful readers will notice echoes of the author's homosexuality in the text.
A Bohemian Tale:
- In this story, a strange singer, who has established himself in the forest of Ardennes, seems to have bewitched the land and many things have suddenly changed.
- A beautifully written and impressive story.
- A fairy tale about a mute and deaf princess.
- This story has an intriguingly macabre ending.
The Marquise de Spolête:
- In this story, Simonetta Foscari's deeds are revelead to readers.
- This is one of the best stories in this collection, because it's a well written and tragic tale with a memorable ending.
The Princess Under Glass:
- A story about a delicate and beautiful princess, Bertrade, who has transparent skin.
- I love the way the author writes about the princess and what happens to her.
- This story has faint echoes of the fairy tale 'Snow White'.
- In this fantastic story, a queen has given birth to a frog.
- A fitting final story to this amazing collection.
'Sonyeuse' is an excellent novella-length story. It's a haunting story about childhood memories, because the protagonist reminisces about an English couple and their secretive life in a compellingly gothic way. The beautifully unsettling descriptions about the lady and the little girl enhance the strange atmosphere.
'The Lover of Consumptives' is a decadent and twisted story about a man who loves consumptive women. It's an exploration of the amour of consumptives. The author's descriptions of a frail and ill woman are intriguingly morbid and will intrigue readers who have read Edgar Allan Poe's stories.
'Ophelius' is a story in which readers will be able to see echoes of the author's homosexuality. The author writes fluently about what seems to have happened between Claudius and Ophelius.
'Day's End' and 'The Marquise de Spolête' will surely stick to everyone's mind because of their atmosphere and the author's stunning ability to write lush prose. Once you've read them, you won't be able to forget them (they differ from each other, but they're both amazing and memorable stories).
The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies is a veritable feast of decadence, depravity and imagination. The stories fascinatingly reflect the author's decadent way of life. They also demonstrate the overlapping of symbolism and naturalism in a fascinating and fluent way.
I think that Jean Lorrain is one of the best authors when it comes to exploring human nature and our hidden and perverse desires. He dares to explore things in a much bolder way than many of his contemporaries. He even surpasses many modern authors in this matter, because only a few authors dare to write about various things in a similarly bold manner.
Brian Stableford has done an amazing job at translating the stories from French to English, because the prose is exquisitely beautiful, descriptive and nuanced. The quality of the prose will please everyone who has ever read literary and lyrical prose, because the translator has done his best to maintain the atmosphere and nature of the original stories during the translation process. The translation has been done with great care for atmosphere, details and nuances.
The introduction offers plenty of information about Jean Lorrain and his stories to readers. This is good, because in order to fully understand and appreciate these stories readers must know something about the author's life. The footnotes are informative and provide additional information about certain things.
Jean Lorrain's fascination with strange love and its various manifestations impressed me. I adore the way he writes about what happens to the characters and how he builds up a strange and unsettling atmosphere. He evokes such powerful and disturbing images in the reader's mind that it is difficult to forget his stories. He uninhibitedly explores abnormalities and perversions and makes his readers marvel at his imagination and literary output.
Just like in the previous collection, Jean Lorrain examines sexuality, sensuality and moral corruption (and other similar themes and issues) in a shameless way. His exploration of amour, eroticism and moral issues feels refreshingly invigorating because of his bold and lush writing style. It is amazing how easily he lets his readers sense what the protagonists are going through and what happens to them. When you read these stories, you'll get a distinct feel of an age gone by when life was different and people had different values.
This collection will especially appeal to readers who love the darker and stranger side of literary fiction and speculative fiction. Readers of dark fiction and literary strange fiction will be delighted to delve into the decadent and fascinating world of the stories, because Jean Lorrain's stories explore French decadence in a memorable way.
I think it's good to emphasise that The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies is not to be read in haste. It's a collection that should be enjoyed one story at a time, because each of the stories is thought-provoking and offers different kind of sensations to readers.
If you're familiar with the works of Brendan Connell, you're in for a special treat when you begin to read these stories, because they're just as amazing and intriguing as Connell's stories. I think that readers of Joris-Karl Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Angela Carter, Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Dunsany will also appreciate and enjoy these stories.
Jean Lorrain's The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies is one of the best and most memorable short story collections of the year. It should not be missed by fans of decadent prose, twisted imagination and weird stories. I highly recommend it to everyone who loves beautifully written literary fiction and speculative fiction. Please, don't be afraid to delve into the mesmerising and ravishing world of this stunning masterpiece, because it contains unique achievements in decadent storytelling.