Hard Mode Bingo: Gothic Edition - Square #4 Irish Gothic by Ronald Kelly and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (SFF Short Fiction Collections)Hello again! ICYMI, I’m doing a Hard Mode Bingo card where every title also qualifies for the Gothic Fantasy square. Links to what I’ve read so far can be found at the bottom. I hope this project shows just how versatile the genre can truly be, and also provides a handy reference for newcomers and longtime fans looking for a new read in the gothic vein. For my Short Fiction (HM: Entire Collection) post, it’s a 2-for-1 deal. For my actual square, I’m usingIrish Gothic by Ronald Kelly. But I also wanted the chance to gush about my favorite book of gothic short stories,The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. In my opinion, you can take or leave several titles in the so-called gothic “canon” and I won’t be bothered, butThe Bloody Chamber truly should not be missed. The Bloody Chamber would suit the Short Fiction, Gothic Fantasy, and Genre Mashup squares, all on hard mode.Irish Gothic fits all of the above for Hard Mode, and also counts for Published in 2021 (normal). Starting with Irish Gothic, I’ll give a brief summary, establish gothic bonafides, and share my thoughts on both collections. IRISH GOTHIC SUMMARY: This is an eclectic mix of both modern and historical urban fantasy and horror, all infused with traditional Irish folklore. I bought this specifically for the banshee story (plus the stunning cover), but plenty of other Irish creatures and entities make an appearance here. HOW IS IT GOTHIC? When it comes to the history of the gothic, like many other things, it often feels like the English have robbed the Irish of their due. Bram Stoker? Irish. Oscar Wilde? Irish. Charles Maturin? Irish. Sheridan Le Fanu? IRISH. So then, why are the majority of gothics set so close to bloody London, I ask you? I know, I know, it's Horace Walpole's fault. That poncy English earl with his stupid giant helmet he refuses to explain… For real though, Ireland is prime gothic country. The dramatic landscapes and longrunning tensions between Catholic and Protestant theology combine powerfully in the imagination with the superstitions that persist to this day. You can’t go for a walk without running into someone or something eager to carry your soul away to heaven, hell, or fairyland. That culturally-ingrained wariness of some uncanny, heretical, or demonic force accosting you at a vulnerable moment is an ideal fuel for gothic stories populated with creatures that run the gamut from eerie to seductive, charming to repulsive, mischievous to malicious. OKAY, BUT DID YOU LIKE IT THOUGH? Historically, Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland by W. B. Yeats has been my go-to recommendation for...well, exactly what it says on the tin. (Also contains one of the funniest Christmas ghost stories ever.) But as much as I love that book,Irish Gothic is a more accessibly-written choice for people wanting a crash course in Irish folklore. Kelly’s affection for his Irish heritage is clear and adds a lovely touch. His storytelling is folksy and down-to-earth, and in my favorite stories the prose flows with that uniquely Irish cadence. The structure of his sentences and his vocabulary made my inner “reading voice” naturally shift into an Irish brogue. There are also plenty of interesting twists on certain creatures that people more familiar with the legends will appreciate. Finally, there's a nifty glossary at the back that translates Gaelic terms and phrases into English, and also gives a little more historical background for many of the legends he draws from. Not every story knocked it out of the park for me, but the ones that did make the whole thing worth the purchase. Flanagan’s Bride: Naturally I’m inclined to like the banshee story the most, but separately from that, I also loved the horror plot structure. The main character is a cruel, awful person, and you can’t wait until he gets what’s coming to him. It’s a tragic story made satisfying by it’s vengeful ending. That said, this is areally good banshee story. There are many regional variations on banshee lore, and I liked how Kelly’s take was fresh while still maintaining an air of mystery about their origins. Are banshees born or created? If it’s a transformation and not a bleak destiny, where is the point of no return? Was there ever any hope of it turning out differently for Flanagan and his bride, and who was doomed first? Where a novel might be compelled to provide answers, a short story can be hauntingly ambiguous. Diabhal’s Timepiece: This story features an ominous clock that was built to measure the suffering of the souls in hell. There are no numbers on its face, meaning your torment is over at NONE o’clock. While this quietly horrifying idea isn’t meditated upon too deeply, the meat of the story is seeing the main character get caught between the forces of heaven and hell, who both want the clock for their own ends. I particularly enjoyed the priest’s perspective and the role he played in the conflict. O’Sheehan!: The least horror-ish of the bunch by far, and also the most fun. I would love to read more Monster of the Week-style stories about this aging constable/babysitter of selkies, leprechauns, and sluaghs, trying to keep his homeland’s cryptids out of trouble and on the DL. I found something to smile about in every madcap encounter. And now, sorry not sorry, because I am about to get out of control… THE BLOODY CHAMBER SUMMARY: This collection is made up of fairy and folk tales reimagined with darkly sensual gothic flair. It’s a kind of morbid cabaret in book form, inspired by Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, The Snow Child, and Sleeping Beauty, and more broadly, the legends of vampires and werewolves. HOW IS IT GOTHIC? One dares question a queen, one of mine own literary godmothers? All right, fine, no one is exempt. Many of the most brilliant gothic and dark fantasy writers alive today cite Angela Carter as an influence, and for me, reading her for the first time felt like tracing my literary roots. If you’re eager to understand how contemporary gothics are shaped, there’s no good reason to avoid this brief but impactful collection. You can read it in an afternoon and you’re guaranteed to learn something, even if it’s just a couple (dozen) vocab words. But of course, style is so much more than artful use of a thesaurus (and I’m pretty sure Carter just had all of those beautiful words floating around her head and didn’t need to look them up anyway). Gothics have been described as “aesthetically excessive”, which sounds like throwing shade. Alas, our home is in the shadows, so we’re powerless to forfend. I mentioned cabarets earlier. Imagine Liberace went through a goth phase and you’ve got a pretty strong sense of Carter’s prose. But her vivid, lurid wordsmithing is also laden with substance and symbolism. Hypothetical Goth Liberace could NEVER. Historically, gothics have been an outlet for anxieties surrounding women’s issues, both from the perspective of the women resisting and/or molding themselves to society’s demands, and men who either support them in the struggle or are terrified/enraged by the prospect of their loss of control. Then you have fairy tales, which were often cautionary tales where the bizarre gruesomeness is part of the point. Carter draws on both traditions to explore feminist themes by breathing new life into the reductive archetypes of virgin and whore. (Especially virgins. So many naked virgins running around these stories.) Her characters have agency and flaws and desires that were - and still are - socially unacceptable for women to express. There’s not a bad story in the bunch, so I’ll just touch on my favorites. The Bloody Chamber: Right away you know the virginal main character of this Bluebeard retelling is more than she’s seen to be. Despite her (alive!) mother’s misgivings about the match, she marries the Marquis because even though she senses the dark truths of his nature, she’s in love with the idea of being sexually desired by a wealthy, worldly man. But even before she discovers the forbidden chamber filled with dead wives, she realizes that her identity only exists in her husband’s mind as a thing to be possessed and then annihilated in pursuit of his own twisted artistic ambitions. I love that the protagonist does what many girls would do under uncertain and terrifying circumstances: she calls Mom. I love even more that Mom answers the call in beautifully heroic fashion. Puss-in-Boots: There are some heavy, heavy themes in this book, and this outrageously bawdy story is a fun palate cleanser. The prose is at its most unapologetically opulent here, and to dial it back at all would have been a betrayal of the voice. The cat and his master are living their best debauched life, but Master threatens to ruin everything by falling in love with a beautiful woman married to a much older man. Thinking a quick tumble will get things back to normal, Puss puts his feline talents to use to arrange a tryst. The plan technically works, but the strategy backfires. Not only is his master more in love than ever, but now Puss fancies the woman’s sly lady cat. A ridiculous murder plot ensues -- engineered by the two cats -- and then everyone lives happily ever after. The Tiger’s Bride: Now, I also adored the other Beauty and the Beast story, The Courtship of Mr. Lyon, but this one ever so slightly edges it out for me. I loved that the heroine had a spine of iron and undisguised resentment for her deadbeat dad, who loses her to the Beast in a game of cards. I loved that she refused to give up her dignity despite her humiliation. I loved her meditation during a hunting party - the realization that she, as a woman, had something in common with the Beast: none of the men present think the two of them have a soul. They are not assigned the same essential humanity as everyone else, and will never be accepted or respected as a result. And what seems like something that should describe a strange, gory end for her is actually a beautiful metamorphosis. Like has found like, and the couple can finally be true to both each other and themselves. The Lady of the House of Love: My absolute favorite. It’s a vampire story that also inverts elements of Sleeping Beauty in ways that would be just as subversive today. As always in a Carter story, the excess of the aesthetic draws out and then amplifies the power of the mythology it draws from. Home boy is literally so hot that home girl needs to put on shades just to withstand the brilliant purity of his presence. Every ounce of blood I’ve ever lost was replaced with the words of this story. I can’t believe how haunted I continue to be by these two characters despite knowing so little about them. The ending is an expertly done romantic tragedy. One death is revealed starkly and suddenly, the other ominously implied by the arrival of the Great War. My next post will be for my Non-Fiction SFF square. It won’t technically fit the Gothic Fantasy square, but the contents fit the spirit of what I’m going for, and is a great springboard into titles thatwill fit. Also, I can bend the rules of a self-assigned project whenever it suits me! But before that goes up, I’ll be participating in the Mod Book Club discussion forUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng on the 18th. I hope to chat with many of you there. :) Until then! THE PROJECT SO FAR: The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells (Revenge HM) The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (Cat Squasher HM) The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Set in Asia HM)