Saturday, 17 January 2015

God's Failures by J. S. Fletcher (1897)

Joseph Smith Fletcher was a very busy man. According to some sources he wrote more then 230 books on a variety of topics during his life. Sadly I have not been able to find a full bibliography, at most a recording of slightly more then half that number, so I can't verify that.

His "God's Failures" is a work that does not seem to fit among his many thrillers and the occasional dash of speculative fiction. It is basically a collection of conte crueles  This nearly forgotten genre, characterised with a level of restrain contemporary "horror" stories dead-set on having the most gruesome death scenes utterly lack, was popularised by Maurice Level in his stories performed on the stage of the Grand Guignol, however the true master of the field was W. C. Morrow, who'se collection of "The Ape, the Idiot and Other People" contains some of the most gruesome stories of their sort.

J.S. Fletcher's book doesn't quite approach the genius of Morrow or Level, however every one of the stories contained in this volume is a tale of loss, despair and hopelessness. The stories are all rather short so summarising them would be a bit pointless. And one does find certain themes and motiffs repeating, for instance one being the decrepit last member of a proud old family, having squandered the family fortunes in one way or another. Many of these stories could be expanded into lengthy, melodramatic, boring novels of their own, however leaving nothing but the bare essentials, each story can get to the meat of the emotional conflict and leave you with that peculiar feeling of expectancy one only experiences when reading a book where every single story is fated to end badly.

Oddly, I can't tell how exactly I came across this book. I cannot find it being refferenced in Bleiler or any other volume dedicated to cataloguing the supernatural and superscientific, nor does it seem to have ever been listed on the L.W.Currey website. Still, I am glad I ran across this as it's a bit of a relic of a by-gone age, and one can easily sink one's teeth into these little vignetes and satisfy one's schadenfreude.

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