Tag Archives: The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

Paperbacks to Look Out for in October 2018

Cover imageBack from the blustery North Norfolk coast – more of which in a few days – with a look ahead at a few October paperbacks that have caught my eye, two of which I’ve yet to read beginning with Ali Smith’s Winter. I still haven’t got around to Autumn although it’s on my horizon, sitting patiently on a shelf waiting to be read. The second in Smith’s quartet casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter. It’s the season that teaches us survival’ according to the publishers. I’m sure we could all do with something ‘merry’ to help us along in the so-called ‘post-truth’ era.

The second unread title in this batch is a new edition of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s final collection of short stories, Kingdoms of Elfin, which has its feet firmly planted in the fantastical. ‘Warner explores the morals, domestic practices, politics and passions of the Kingdoms of Elfin by following their affairs with mortals, and their daring flights across the North Sea’ say the publishers. I’ve enjoyed Warner’s novels in the distant past but I’m not entirely sure this is for me.

That said, those were my initial thoughts about Michael Andreasen’s collection, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, comprising twelve surreal stories beginning with a loving son remembering the many happy times they have shared before his father is crated up in his wheelchair and dropped into the sea. In the eponymous story a crew look on helplessly, quarrelling amongst themselves, fretting about their cannibalistic admiral and being propositioned by mermaids as a many tentacled sea monster tightens her grip on what she hopes is her new lover. What makes these somewhat bonkers stories work is Andreasen’s often darkly bizarre humour and his arresting writing. You’ll either hate it or love it – I loved it.

No such doubts about Joseph Cassara’s debut. Set in the ‘80s and ‘90s, The House of Impossible Beauties focusses on four characters: Angel, Venus, Juanito and Daniel. Angel and Venus are transsexual while Juanito and Daniel are not. All of them are runaways, looking for a home. Together these four make up the House of Xtravaganza, the first Latino house on the drag ball circuit and a place of sanctuary from a harsh world with Angel at its centre. AIDs is the grim backdrop to this novel, loss and sadness always in the background together with the straight world’s prejudice and ignorance, but there’s a bright thread of humour running through it, lightening its tone.Cover image

Loss and grief also run through Benedict Wells’ The End of Loneliness which opens with forty-one-year-old Jules in hospital, recovering from a motorbike accident. When their parents were killed in a car crash in 1984, he and his siblings dealt with their grief in very different ways. Wells tells their story in Jules’ voice through his memories and dreams, from the years before his parents died to his recovery from his own accident. Written with empathy and compassion, the novel is expertly translated by Charlotte Collins whose name I’ve learned to look out for.

That’s it for October’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for the first two and to my review for the last three. If you’d like to catch up with October’s new titles, they’re here.

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen: A strange and wonderful collection

Cover imageEach and every one of the short stories in Michael Andreasen’s The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is a work of surreal, off-the-wall fantasy, about as far from my usual literary purview as you can get yet they had me transfixed, wondering what kind of wacky journey Andreasen was going to take me on next. Comprising twelve stories, it’s is the kind of book you’ll either love or hate but don’t assume which of those two categories you’ll fall into. You may find yourself surprised.

From the get-go you know you’re in discombobulating territory as a loving son remembers the many happy times they have shared before his father is crated up in his wheelchair and dropped into the sea. Next, a man longs for his wife after he and his unconsummated one-night-stand are abducted by aliens (yes, I know) and takes radical action to find her. In the eponymous story a crew look on helplessly, quarrelling amongst themselves, fretting about their cannibalistic admiral and being propositioned by mermaids as a many tentacled sea monster tightens her grip on what she hopes is her new lover. One of my favourites has a group of saints manifested in a parlour, hampered by their idiosyncrasies, from Saint Tongue of Flame who consumes half a bottle of whisky with disastrous results to Saint Upside-down Skull who has no one to heal. I could go on but that will give you a flavour of this strange, often very funny collection.

There are recognisable themes running through Andreasen’s stories – a few digs at religion, a compassion for the human state – but what makes these stories work is his often darkly bizarre humour and his arresting writing. In ‘Jenny’ a brother’s devotion to his headless sister constricts his own life but any sentimentalism is punctured by the story’s blackly comic ending. The word pictures of ‘The Sea Beast Takes a Lover’ graphically summon up a B-movie monster, desperate with love. The entire collection is studded with wonderfully striking images and phrases:

There had also been reports of small children being strategically lured away from their playmates by metal hunting parties and pounced upon en masse, pulled down by a frenzy of silver claws and tiny, stainless steel teeth

The mermaids are blue-skinned and black-eyed, but apparently literate enough to tackle the Brontës and Isaac Asimov

The time travellers who had left earlier reenter the conference room, which is now a cereal bowl of priceless historical debris

But most important, the bear taught him orienteering, not by reading maps or stars but by following the compass of his own loneliness

Hard to do justice to fiction so very different from what I usually read but I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and gave this one a try.