The Defeat of GriefJohn Howard
fantasy, history, mainstream
A novella. The Defeat of Grief is a sewn hardcover book of 94 pages with dust-jacket, silk ribbon, endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 hand numbered copies.
Romania, 1940: a country in social and political turmoil, about to suffer catastrophic territorial losses as war engulfs Europe and its neighbours take the opportunity to settle old scores. People seem to be listless, apprehensive, or defiantly bellicose as they face an unknowable future; for many, there does not appear to be any path forward not involving further upheaval and change, culminating in an epoch of unprecedented terror and destruction.
As tension mounts, the controversial academic Dr Adrian Lereanu makes the journey to the Black Sea resort of Balcic at the behest of an influential friend. Lereanu’s visit to Balcic is not intended as a holiday, although it is clear to him that going there is for his own good. Lereanu would not only prudently distance himself from certain people who might consider him partially responsible for the sense of malaise and disillusion sweeping over the nation; and he would also be able to help by undertaking an unusual task for his protector and potential patron. Balcic soon begins to cast its spell over Lereanu; but he finds little in its sunlit streets but mystery and obstruction. He makes slow progress with his mission until a chance encounter helps him to begin to assemble the diverse pieces of the puzzle he has unwittingly walked into. Lereanu’s discoveries and experiences in Balcic change him, possibly for all time; at the end there are all kinds of new borders to be crossed.
Sixty years later Nathan Brook, an English photographer marooned in bereavement after the sudden death of his wife, travels to Romania to lose himself in new surroundings and in work. When Brook is offered the chance to spend time working and researching in the Bulgarian seaside resort of Balchik, he goes there without hesitation. In the seemingly tranquil old town Brook discovers that boundaries he had previously thought to be well-defined and secure are becoming vague and imprecise. Past and present; art and reality; possession and loss: all seem to become fluid and changeable as Brook finds himself trying to cast light on mysterious works of art, an unfinished hotel, and at least one long-forgotten disappearance. Balchik slowly and inevitably becomes the setting in which Brook can participate in the healing of some old wounds and the resolution of his own unsettled grief and loss.
John Howard was born in London. His books include The Defeat of Grief, The Lustre of Time, The Silver Voices, Written by Daylight, Cities and Thrones and Powers, and Buried Shadows. Secret Europe and Inner Europe are joint collections written with Mark Valentine. Howard’s essays on fantastic fiction and its classic authors have appeared in Wormwood and other places, and many are gathered in Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic.