This is a little later than I promised, and I’m sorry about that, but I wanted desperately to read this book on Halloween, and for that I’m not sorry, because last night as the final bit of cinder toffee found a grubby little paw and the rain started lashing down there was nothing that gave me more pleasure than to double lock my front door, pour out a massive pot of tea and read, by lamplight, The Deluge at Norderney, the fourth and my favourite of the Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen, alias of Out of Africa writer Karen Blixen.
I’d never heard of these Tales until I was sent this gloriously beautiful yet macabre book. Written in the 1930s, these Tales took America by storm. Part philosophical wanderings through troubled minds, part ghost or fairy stories, set in the 19th century when everything seems a little more magical, or bleak depending on your view. Topped off superbly by Kate Baylay’s illustrations (if I was going to have a tattoo the silver trees that illustrate the book’s lining would have to play a part) this is a book that should automatically grace the top of any Gothic fan’s Christmas List.
The stories, which to be honest I’ve only read four of (I’m reading Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter on my commute as this is a hardback, and the two compliment each other perfectly as reading partners), feature for the most part aristocrats with stories to tell. In fact, storytelling seems to be the main theme throughout, and I was often lost in the twists and turns of the tales within the tales, but very pleasantly so. The writing is so deliciously simple and yet happens upon philosophical points that left me pondering. Some are more strange than others-I didn’t like The Monkey and though the plot could be a little triggering, and yet at the end of The Old Chevalier I had a real shiver go down my spine. There is also something wonderfully Scandinavian about the way the stories are written-even though it is not a translation but was written in English I still felt a bit like I was watching the meal in Babette’s Feast. The stories are also wonderfully dramatic-I would love to see Deluge at Norderney as a play for example.
My favourite thing about this book though has to be the illustrations. I loved the sweeping disjointed bodies, the elongated necks and the creeping sepia. Instagram on acid, Neil Gaimon meets Jan Pienkowski (A Necklace of Raindrops, not Meg and Mog). Reading this book made me want to re-watch the Shakespeare Animates Tales from my childhood. I am now obsessed with Kate Baylay and looking at her blog have a long list of beautiful books I must now own.
Kindles, what kindles? This book is about feeling the weight of a hardback, the texture of the paper, and enjoying quietly reflecting on the intricacies of the art work throughout. Fans of Edgar Allen Poe, Angela Carter, Roald Dahl and any other writer who makes you think whilst also making you want to bundle yourself a little tighter in the covers must buy this book.