The Tallow-Wife and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, February 24, 2021) and All the Murmuring Bones
(Titan Books, March 9, 2021). Covers by Kathleen Jennings, and unknown
Any new book by Angela Slatter is a reason to rejoice for any lover of good dark fantasy.
Slatter is a very talented Australian writer, a born storyteller or, to be precise, a great fabulist, an author of modern, complex fairy tales for grownups. The Tallow-Wife is a collection of stories and novellas the core of which is the long title story, a dark comedy portraying the downfall of a family hiding some unspeakable secrets. But, in turn, that narrative and the rest of the volume are strictly connected to the characters and events described in two previous books, also published by Tartarus Press, Sourdough and Other Stories and The Bitterwood Bibles and Other Recountings.
Thus, although each tale can be read as a stand alone story, the task may be a bit difficult — although always quite enjoyable thanks to Slatter’s exceptional storytelling ability — if you’re not already familiar with the characters and their previous predicaments and adventures. In fact all the stories are interconnected to form a complex mosaic.
Indeed in her Afterword the author admits,
My brain was trying to write The Tallow-Wife as a novel — to connect everything. But the fractured structure, the untidy threads are the whole point. In hindsight perhaps I should have just written a novel… I wanted to finish off some arcs that I’d left in the previous books.
If the book can cause some difficulties to the reader not acquainted with Slatter’s previous work, the effort is worthwhile, due to the wonderful prose and the enticing narrative style, where words are musical notes and the stories are symphonies. A typical example is “ The Nightingale and the Rose,” so spellbinding that you hardly ask yourself what’s actually going on while following the singer Victoria hiding in a peculiar house after her aunt sent her away.
After after finishing this volume (graced by very nice illustrations by Kathleen Jennnings) I’m sure that new readers will try to secure a copy of the old collections, and become a confirmed fan.
And in that case, here’s another treat, a full Slatter novel: All the Murmuring Bones, a gothic fairy tale revolving around Miren O’Malley, the youngest and last member of a once powerful and wealthy family, which became prosperous by sacrificing a child of each generation to the sea powers in exchange for the safety of their ships. Unable to keep honoring the bargain due to a progressive extinction of their bloodline, the family is experiencing a continuous downfall.
Miren’s grandmother is planning to restore the family’s glorious past by unsuccessfully trying to force the girl into marrying a distant cousin. Miren takes off not only to avoid an unwanted match, but also to solve the mystery of the disappearance of her parents, supposedly dead.
Although rather slow in development, the novel is another feast for the lovers of Slatter’s gorgeous prose and powerful imagination who will enjoy the intoxicating medley of dark folklore, magic and supernatural.
Mario Guslandi was born in Milan, Italy, where he currently lives. He became addicted to horror and supernatural fiction (too) many years ago, after accidentally reading a reprint anthology of stories by MR James, JS Le Fanu, Arthur Machen etc. Most likely the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English, he has contributed over the years to various genre websites such as Horrorworld, Hellnotes, The British Fantasy Society, The Agony Column and many more. His last review for us was Ghosts Of The Chit-chat edited by Robert Lloyd Parry.