Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Fatal Move and Other Stories by F.W.O'Connell (1924)

Frederick William O'Connell (1876–1929) was an Irish clergyman and scholar specialising in the popularisation and preservation of Irish, writing such works as A Grammar of Old Irish, Irish Self-taught or translating Jekyll and Hyde into Irish, as well as having been a voice of 2RN, the first Irish radio station.

Not to try and under sell his accomplishments, however writing fiction does not appear to be one of them.

The title story reeks of a gothic atmosphere. A crazed chess player encases his romantic rival in a metal chair and has him play on an electrified chess board, where two random pieces and a series of squares on the board were arranged so that these touching would result in the unlucky player's being roasted in his chair.

A very intriguing idea, but O'Connell barely devotes any time to the actual game, perhaps due to not being a great Chess player himself. It's all sadly over before it propperly begins. W. C. Morrow would have handled this better, though he'd probably have both fried to a crisp due to a freak accident.

The Vengeance of the Dead is a brainless affair where a Hindu man argues with his Muslim neighbour, hypnotises him and causes his death and then is killed shortly after a seance where the dead man raps out his name.

The Fiend that Walks Behind is another short affair that, in more competent hands, could have been handled well. A physician who stole the work of his deceased colleague and claimed it as his own contracts the same paranoia that his friend wrote about, namely the utter dread of someone or something always following behind his back. The whole thing is presented in a bit of a heavy handed way and the main character committs suicide before much really happens.

The Homing Bone has a physician purloin a femur from a pile of bones in a demolished cemetary.....only to dream that a pair of skeletons barge into his room at night with their femur-less comrade inside of a coffin, and then again with a coffin bearing the physician's name. Then when that silliness is past the doctor lies down but he hears rapping and then someone opens the door of his room and leaves. Oh what M. R. James could have done with the basic idea !

In Professor Danvers' Disappearance, Professor Danvers apparently disappears by pretending to be his own guest, leaving behind his clothes as if he disappeared from them supernaturally. Presented in the dry tone of an ex-detective.

The Rejuvenation of Ivan Smithovitch is the weirdest (and not in the way we like round these parts) part of the whole collection. In some unexplained possible future England was taken over by Russians who supressed the English language so that only 6 people, one of them the title character, can speak it. In order to stop it from dying out he has monkey glands grafted onto his frame and becomes mentally regressed to the state of an ape. Written from the perspective of a somewhat bitter Irishman dealing with the preservation of his own native language, but too brief, lacking in any details and culminating in a most undignified and silly finale.

I can see why O'Connell stuck to translating other people's fiction rather than writing his own very much.

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