Above: Interior of Dr. Ezekiel Renton's Mausoleum
(an artist's impression) from "A Cautionary Tale Concerning Beards"
by Reggie Oliver
Cover art: Reggie Oliver
Interior illustrations: Reggie Oliver
Publication Date: February 2009
Sewn hardcover, limited to 450 copies, 256pp with endpapers
This is Reggie Oliver’s fourth work in the field of “strange stories”. In his first three The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini (Haunted River 2003), The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler (Haunted River 2005) and Masques of Satan (Ash Tree Press 2007) he explored the uncanny interactions between the physical and metaphysical worlds with a blend of deep seriousness, sharp wit and sardonic humour unique to this writer’s work. As a result they have been among the most acclaimed collections of supernatural stories of the 21st century, garnering numerous awards and nominations.
In Madder Mysteries, Oliver travels even deeper into his own bizarre territory, hence the title. A troupe of performing midgets plague and haunt a theatrical landlady; a head mysteriously appears on the seat beside the driver of a car and starts to plague him with weird inconsequential remarks; a hideous scandal is foreseen by a young Victorian clergyman who goes insane trying to prevent it. This Trollopian tale of Cathedral life, told in journals and letters, is based on events in the life of the author’s own Great Grandfather. A mad actor tells of supernatural revenge involving a mysterious wig; a young student on a Greek Island encounters the bizarre and horrific survival of an Ancient “Mystery Religion”; while “Tawny” is a tour de force, told entirely in dialogue. It takes place at a Christening party where a horrific act takes place, unnoticed by those present until it is too late.
Recently Reggie Oliver was granted permission by Nicholas Rhodes James, great nephew of the great M. R. James, to publish a completion of M. R. James’s tantalising fragment of a ghost story “The Game of Bear” and this will be among the many tales that appear for the first time in print here.
In a section entitled “Diversions and Curiosities”, Oliver’s surreal humour finds new and highly original expression. In a parody of academic journalism, Oliver explores the life of an imaginary French Decadent writer obsessed by hats and prostitutes. Then, in his series “The Cabinet of Curiosities”, he takes as his starting point the graphic and literary style of a nineteenth century magazine, and with hilarious solemnity explores tales of a portrait that sleeps, a woman who grows a beard after her husband’s death, a disappearing school, a clergyman who communicates with demons and, perhaps most unsettling of all, the sinister saga of “Mrs Midnight’s Animal Comedians.” Are there “Madder Mysteries” than these?
The book also features four essays by Reggie Oliver which are versions of articles which first appeared in the magazine All Hallows. In "Stella Gibbons, A Writer and Supernatural", Oliver, Stella Gibbons’s nephew and biographer (Out of the Woodshed, Bloomsbury 1998), deals with a significant but little known aspect of this writer who gave the world the classic comic novel Cold Comfort Farm. "The Ghost STories of Another Antiquary, Montague Summers and the Supernatural Tale", deals with the life and work of one of the world’s strangest and most enigmatic literary scholars. It examines his theories about the supernatural in literature and his rare attempts at writing supernatural stories himself. "M. R. James, The Scholar and the Storyteller" is a study of the writer of classic ghost stories. Reggie Oliver, whose background and education was remarkably similar to James’s (they were both Newcastle Scholars at Eton), has some unique insights into the man and the writer. It is in this essay that he identifies for the first time the real life model for Karswell in “Casting the Runes”. It is a theory which, since the first publication of the essay has won wide acceptance. "Religions, Evil and Obsession in the Ghost Stories of Henry James", is perhaps the first major study concentrating exclusively on the “other” James’s supernatural writing since Virginia Woolf’s famous essay in the 1920s.
The book is illustrated throughout with Oliver’s fine, but very bizarre illustrations, making it a connoisseur's collector’s item as well as a splendidly provoking read. Truly a thing of strangeness and a joy forever.
The Wig: A Monologue for an Actor
The Devil’s Funeral
A Donkey at the Mysteries
The Game of Bear
The Devil's Number
Diversions & Curiosities
Stella Gibbons, A Writer and the Supernatural
Ghost Stories of Another Antiquary, Montague Summers and the Supernatural Tale
The Scholar and the Story Teller: Aspects of M. R. James
Religion, Evil and Obsession in the Ghostly Stories of Henry James
Putting on the Surrealist Hat, The Decadent Aesthetic of Jules Charnier
The Cabinet Of Curiosities
The Sleeping Portraits of Monkshood Hall
Temporary Disappearance of a School
Mrs. Midnight’s Animal Comedians
A Cautionary Tale Concerning Beards
The Rev. Arthur Gasport and His Daemonograph
The Destruction of the Great Empires by Trees
The Romantic Ruin at St. Botolph's
Soren Ünting and His Philosophy
A Boiled Egg Called Lowestoft
I Uomini di Burro by Ugo Sossigi
Madder Mysteries is a sewn hardcover book of 256 pages with endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to 450 copies.
Other Ex Occidente Titles by Reggie Oliver
The Wounds of Exile
Virtue in Danger
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