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Mark Valentine
Selected Stories
The Swan River Press
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-956-65876-02
Publication Date: 11-15-2012
186 Pages; €30
Date Reviewed: 01-03-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index General Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror  

Every moment that passes dies, and in those infinite deaths, there is a tiny scrum of sadness that secretly afflicts us all. It takes only the right words to evoke that sorrow, to let us glimpse not just what did come to pass, but what did not as well. Mark Valentine uses the power of prose to access his seemingly infinite re-imagination of what is, and what was, to create stories that capture a past and predict the present in a manner that is consistently poignant and engaging. Couple this with the lovely production values offered by The Swan River Press and you get 'Selected Stories' that act as keys to locks readers might otherwise never know existed in their own manifold minds.

The eleven stories found here combine hints of the fantastic and history that may or may not be that with which we are familiar with characters who have real resonance and come to life within each tale. "A Certain Power" unfolds in St. Petersburg, where a trade in looted ikons leads a group of merchants to discover a darker conspiracy. Valentine's setting is rendered with such care and delicacy that it has real staying power. He trades in darkness here, but never succumbs to it.

In "The Dawn at Tzern," Valentine makes perfect use of the economical aspects of the short story to suggest a gorgeous symmetry, while satisfying his interest in stamps at the same time. There's more than a bit of Borges to be found in this story, with its dead emperor and stolid burghers. "The Walled Garden of the Bosporus" has a very different, very sunny Mediterranean setting, but makes similar use of parallel story structures to create a delightful reading experience.

Valentine is a master at capturing the ineffable in prose, of writing stories that combine a gentle plot, an unusual setting and a character filled with longing to create an effect that describes aspects of the world, aspects of our lives, that simply cannot be addressed in any straightforward fashion. This is not to say his stories are convoluted, but rather that he uses his imagination to write sensible stories which manage to address matters that are not themselves in the realm of the senses.

Some stories are particularly satisfying; 'The Bookshop in Novy Svet' is clever, funny and ultimately, just a little chilling. "The Original Light" is a prose psychedelic in that it changes the way we see the world, even though it's in no way about drugs or hallucinations. Valentine's words and sentences, however, can have a similar effect with a much lighter touch. "The Unrest at Achen" is a surreal spy story, while "The Last Mascarons of the Late Empire" links language and municipal art with the power of remembered glory.

It's tempting to describe Valentine's work by comparing him to a host of other writers, but those sorts of summaries miss the point. Valentine is creating his own world here, and in the process, we as readers are offered the pleasure of doing the same. Swan River Press makes beautiful books that you'll want to keep close to your heart. Mark Valentine writes stories that take up residence in those four chambers where our lives pulse away, unseen, but felt in every moment. With "Selected Stories" Valentine proves that there is something very new in the Old World.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


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