Victor Joly's The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales was published by Snuggly Books in October 2016.
Information about Victor Joly:
Vincent-Victor Joly (1807-1870), was born in Brussels where, in the 1830s, he built his reputation as a journalist and playwright, cultivating a strong interest in Belgian history and legendry episodes, which he dramatized in several plays and a number of short novels. He also published tourist guides to his homeland. The last of his works of fiction was Histoires ténébreueses [Dark Stories], here translated as The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales. The title story is a fine Faustian fantasy, and “The End of a Story of which the Beginning is Familiar” is a highly original fantasy featuring the seven-league boots of legend.
Information about The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales:
Histoires ténébreuses by Victor Joly, here translated as The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales, was first published in Brussels by Auguste Schnee & Co. in 1857. It collects three novellas and a short story, all affiliated, albeit a trifle belatedly and more than a little ironically, to the Romantic Movements of France and Germany, fusing the two influences in a fashion that only a Belgian writer was likely to attempt, and thus producing a hybrid whose distinctiveness is particularly obvious in the first two stories in the collection, each of which makes a significant contribution to the rich tradition of Romantic satanic fantasies.
A REVIEW OF VICTOR JOLY'S THE UNKNOWN COLLABORATOR AND OTHER LEGENDARY TALES
Victor Joly's The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales is a magnificent collection for readers who appreciate beautifully written stories and classic storytelling. It's a translation of Histoires ténébreueses, which was first published in Brussels by Auguste Schnee & Co. in 1857 (the translation is made from the copy of the Schnee edition reproduced on the Bibliothèque Nationale's gallica website).
This collection has been masterfully translated into English by Brian Stableford. Brian Stableford has done an incredible job at translating the stories, because he has maintained the nuances of the original stories and has paid attention to the quality of the prose. I think that everyone who reads this collection will agree with me when I say that Brian Stableford is one of the best translators ever to grace the field of literary fiction and literary speculative fiction, because his translations are excellent.
The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales can be recommended to readers who enjoy literary fiction, classic fantasy stories and literary speculative fiction. It has everything that quality-oriented readers could ever hope to find in literary fiction: style, substance, a touch of strangeness and plenty of beautiful prose.
This collection contains the following stories:
- The Unknown Collaborator
- The End of a Story of which the Beginning is Familiar
- A Nocturnal Visit
- The Death of Guillaume d'Aremberg de la Marck, known as the Wild Boar of the Ardennes
Each of these stories is worth reading, because they showcase the author's imagination and writing skills. They're extremely well-created stories due to their atmosphere and portrayal of human nature, curiosity, temptation, life and death.
These stories differ from each other in many ways, but the first two stories feature strong supernatural elements that are not present in the other stories. (The author is equally at home at writing supernatural fiction as he is at writing other kind of fiction.)
Here's a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:
The Unknown Collaborator:
- A Faustian story about Ulric who listens to a story about a carpenter called Fritz who sees something strange under the roof of the cathedral. Fritz witnesses a work of unholy destruction done by dark forces, which greatly terrifies him...
- I enjoyed reading about how this story began and what happened to Ulric when he met a herdsman and was driven into an act of violence over a book.
- This story has many supernatural elements and is deeply rooted in classic supernatural fiction.
- An excellent and atmospheric story that will impress many readers.
The End of a Story of which the Beginning is Familiar:
- In this story, the protagonist meets a cod-fisherman called Jérôme. He gives Jérôme old boots, which he bought from a clothes-dealer. Soon afterwards, Jérôme mysteriously disappears and no one seems to know what has happened to him...
- I enjoyed reading about what happened to Jérôme when he put on the boots and found himself in strange places.
- This is a fascinating story featuring the legendary seven-league boots.
A Nocturnal Visit:
- In this story, the protagonist spends a night in the ruins of Château of Beersel and experiences something that frightens him.
- An atmospheric and well written story with Gothic elements.
- I liked the ending of this story, because it explained what happened during the night.
The Death of Guillaume d'Aremberg de la Marck, known as the Wild Boar of the Ardennes:
- A fascinating and vividly written historical story about the last moments of Guillaume d'Aremberg de la Marck.
- This story has an intriguing feel of legend to it.
- I have a feeling that this story will intrigue readers who enjoy reading historical fiction.
'The Unknown Collaborator' is definitely one of the most impressive supernatural stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading, because it has fascinating descriptions about unholy satanic forces and destruction done by them. I loved the author's approach to Faustian fiction, because he had his own vision of temptation and its consequences.
Although 'The Unknown Collaborator' is a kind of a fusion of elements found in the Romantic movements of France and Germany, it can be seen as a precursor to modern dark fantasy stories in which authors emphasise religious and unholy elements. It has many elements that will strongly appeal to readers who have read dark fantasy stories.
'The End of a Story of which the Beginning is Familiar' is a fascinating fairy tale for adults. It has a classic and lush feel to it that is - unfortunately - lacking from many modern stories. It was fascinating to read about the seven-league boots and what happened to Jérôme when he put the boots on and took a step, because he found himself elsewhere. I won't reveal what happened to him, but I can say that readers will enjoy reading about his adventures.
'A Nocturnal Visit' is an especially interesting piece of fiction, because it gradually builds up into an atmospheric Gothic horror story, but then it deceives its reader by the ending. I found myself enjoying this story very much, because I haven't read similar kind of Gothic stories in a while.
'The Death of Guillaume d'Aremberg de la Marck, known as the Wild Boar of the Ardennes' is a vividly told story about the last moments of Guillaume d'Aremberg de la Marck (aka William de la Marck) and his death. I liked the author's way of writing about the events leading to the execution of de la Marck.
The author's prose is beautiful and wonderfully descriptive. I love his way of writing about the characters and the events, because his descriptions are evocative and lush (there's plenty of old-fashioned charm in his descriptions). His approach to religion, satanism and dark forces feels darkly glorious and compelling, because he excels at creating a bit mysterious and foreboding atmosphere.
I don't normally use quotes in reviews, but now I feel compelled to use two quotes, because they demostrate the author's writing skills and the high quality of the translation in an excellent way:
"The mysterious individual was clad in a rich velvet costume of antique form, and held in his hand a whip with several thongs, the extremities of which seemed to be armed with spikes. Having arrived at the entrance to the porch, he stopped momentarily, darted a glance radiant with savage irony over the great nave and the lateral naves, closed at their summit by worm-eaten poorly-jointed planks, and then, turning toward the tower on the right, which, in eight centuries, had not been able to rise more than a hundred feet from the ground, he uttered an explosive burst of laughter that seemed to make the colossal monument quiver on its granite foundations." (from 'The Unknown Collaborator')
"To fall from the gracious trefoils that form a crown of gold and azure on the forehead of the majestic belfry to the philosophical contemplation of the shop was a steep decline, but I know not what stupid and idle disposition brought me to examine in detail all the tattered antiquities that were displaying their misery beneath a stray sunbeam shining through a gap in the clouds." (from 'The End of a Story of which the Beginning is Familiar')
As you can see by these quotes, the prose is beautiful, descriptive and intricate. The author easily captures the essence of what's going on and conveys it to his readers with his words.
Before I finish this review, I want to mention that I liked the cover image ("Aartsengel Michaël beschermt christen tegen Satan" by Pieter de Bailliu (I), after Jan Thomas, in the Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam). It fits this collection perfectly.
The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales was a pleasant reading experience for me. Because I've come to love this kind of fiction and enjoy beautiful prose, I found this collection excellent and deeply rewarding. In my opinion, there's nothing quite like reading these classic stories, because they have plenty of immersive moments.
If you enjoy reading beautifully written literary fiction and old-fashioned fantasy stories, Victor Joly's The Unknown Collaborator and Other Legendary Tales should be on your reading list. It won't disappoint readers, because it has all the elements needed to captivate those who love literary fiction.