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Exorcising Angels

by Simon Clark and Tim Lebbon

(Earthling Publications, $35/$175, 89 pages, numbered hardcover/lettered traycased hardcover.)

Exorcising Angels is a collaborative collection, or a two-author anthology (just wait for those executive decisions to be made by awards administrators), in which two British horror writers pay tribute to their mutual influence, Arthur Machen. The bulk of this chapbook is taken up by the 20,000-word collaborative novella of the title, plus one solo short story each. Lebbon contributes a foreword and Clark an afterword.

On 29 September 1914, the London Evening News published a short story, "The Bowmen" by Arthur Machen. In the story, ghostly archers from the Battle of Agincourt appeared on the battlefield during the First World War and routed the enemy. The story was fiction without a doubt, though many people took it as fact, and the legend of the Angel of Mons springs from this source. Clark and Lebbon's novella "Exorcising Angels" imagines a meeting between a Great War veteran and an elderly Machen during the London Blitz of World War II. The soldier claims to have seen in reality what Machen wrote as fiction... This story does hold the interest over its length, but somehow there's an arm's-length feel to it: I suspect Machen buffs might get more out of it than Machen novices. It did suffer for me in being read fairly soon after Graham Joyce's "The Coventry Boy" (which forms part of his novel The Facts of Life) which is a far more vivid depiction of a wartime air raid.

The two solo stories, "Skins" by Lebbon and "A Bridge to Everywhere" by Clark, are capable, but neither of them is their author's best work. Both take on the Machen theme of a man being granted a glimpse of something else, something underlying the quotidian world, but both stories give that hard-to-define sense of lacking that vital spark.

This short book, with a colour dustjacket by Edward Miller, is undoubtedly a collectable for Clark and Lebbon's many fans, and will certainly be of interest to Machen aficionados. It's less likely to attract the unconverted, though.


Review by Gary Couzens.

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