Having a quiet night at home and realized this would be a good time to catch up on some book blogging! I finally started getting back into reading, after a long pandemic-depression hiatus, at the start of the new year, but am way behind in writing about the books I read.
Let’s start with The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Volume 1, which came out in December of 2020.
Edited by James Jenkins and Ryan Cagle, the founders of Valancourt Books, this volume collects a bunch of horror stories, never translated into English, by authors from around the world. As they put it in the blurb for the book, there’s a whole world of horror fiction out there that most of us in the United States have never explored, and we’re missing out on some wonderful work.
This is a good time to review volume 1, as volume 2 in what will presumably be a series is already available for pre-order. And I’m glad they’ve evidently found success with the concept, because they’ve demonstrated that there are a lot of wonderful stories to be found around the world.
To give my usual disclaimer: I’ve been friends with the Valancourt folks since pretty much the beginning of my blog, and have written a number of introductions for their books (search “Valancourt” on my blog to find them)! I first came across their work when they were releasing gothic novels that had been out of print for a century or more, and they’ve continued to find forgotten or neglected classics to bring them to the public.
World Horror Stories features an impressive variety of countries spanning multiple continents, from Europe to Africa to South America. It is a real treat to get a glimpse not only into local folklore in some cases, but also into what sort of cultural issues inspire horror in these different places.
There are 21 stories included, each given a brief introduction by the editors to give them some context. I share a short synopsis of a few of them below, to give you an idea of what you’re in for:
Uironda, by Luigi Musolino (Italy). A despairing truck driver named Ermes, separated from his wife and child for a year, hears rumors of an exit on the highway — Uironda — that can only be found by those who have spent too many years on the road. Ermes becomes obsessed with Uironda and begins to look for it, though he may not like what is waiting for him at his destination.
The Illogical Investigations of Inspector André Despérine, by Michael Roch (Martinique). A trio of intertwined tales involving a rather clumsy policeman who finds himself involved, against his wishes, in one supernatural case after another. The description sounds light-hearted, but the tales definitely are not.
Señor Ligotti, by Bernardo Esquinca (Mexico). A struggling author with a family comes across an offer too good to refuse: the aging Señor Ligotti offers him a permanent home in an apartment building for virtually nothing, with only the innocent condition that the lonely Ligotti be allowed to visit and make conversation from time to time. Like all deals that are too good to be true, this deal comes with a nasty catch.
Down, in Their World, by Flavius Ardelean (Romania). Some unemployed and hungry men decide to take a late night trip to an abandoned mine to strip it of any left behind scrap. The mine looks to be a great opportunity, because nobody has bothered it for fear of dark spirits that dwell within. But those are surely nonsense fairy tales, right?
Menopause, by Flore Hazoumé (Ivory Coast). A short and brutal tale of a woman reaching that certain age when she can no longer bear children, and questions of what she will do from that point onward.
Backstairs, by Anders Fager (Sweden). Dr. Lohrman is a specialist in psychoanalysis, and is trying to help his patient Elvira with her recurring nightmare before it destroys her. But some problems, it turns out, are beyond his ability to fix.
I have to give special mention to The Time Remaining, the included story by Hungarian author Attila Veres. The story, in which a grown man talks with his therapists about the traumas of his youth centered around a childhood toy, is one of the most impressively horrific and nasty things I’ve ever read — and I mean this in a good way. It is even more impressive that this story manages to be so incredibly awful with basically no blood whatsoever. It is a powerful supernatural and psychological story, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it usually does.
I’m genuinely looking forward to volume 2 of World Horror Stories, thanks to the really impressive job the editors did in compiling and translating the tales in volume 1. And it is worth noting that they did many of the translations themselves, in a variety of languages, and they are excellently done.
So I highly recommend Volume 1 of The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories. It is an impressive and unique collection that any lover of horror fiction will find compelling.