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Weirdmonger

by DF Lewis

(Prime Books, $19.95, 383 pages, trade paperback, published 2003.)

Review by John Toon

Weirdmonger, a sizeable collection of DF Lewis' fiction, resembles not so much a cover scanseries of short stories as a flow of disjointed vignettes, all with an ethereal air of wrongness about them. The overall effect is a bit like that generated by Chris Morris' TV show Jam -- a sort of transcribed dream sequence. Much of Weirdmonger's weirdness stems from the dream-logic that permeates each piece, and such traditional oddities as may occasionally appear -- demons, vampires, Lovecraftian horrors and the like -- are little more than incidental detail.

I could only recall having encountered Lewis' work once before, in a themed anthology, and at the time I was less than impressed; it turns out I'd also read his work in a volume of Lovecraft-inspired shorts, and promptly forgotten the piece in question. Having not enjoyed his work before, I picked up Weirdmonger determined to find something, even just one story out of sixty-eight, that would knock my socks off and show me once and for all just what it is that has established Lewis' reputation as a genre author. I tried, and I'm not certain that I succeeded. I think I've twigged how Lewis writes, and how his work ought to be read, and it's a very idiomatic style. The typical reader probably either firmly likes or firmly dislikes it, although it's left me undecided. One thing I will say in Lewis' favour is that his ability to create that dreamlike quality in his fiction is flawless; he makes it seem so effortless, which only adds to the effect. No, I don't think it's the framework of his stories that bothers me -- but his prose ... The prose is another matter.

DF Lewis has a tendency to write in extremely florid English. It's not that he emulates the purple prose of HP Lovecraft; rather he seems to be exerting his literacy in a particularly wilful way. What I mean by this is, he seems to take great pains to cram his stories full of those stylistic devices you were taught to look out for in GCSE (or perhaps O-Level) English classes, and with arty flourishes, and often overburdens the prose as a result. There are undeniably moments when Lewis captures just the right phrase -- for example:

"Sometimes, there were the faintest touches upon his body, as if the angels were preparing him for God's inspection."

Or:

"The undergrunts were words chipped off a block of noise."

But there are also moments of god-awful clumsiness:

"With the arrival of Mary and Derek, the conversation had dried up, which was surprising -- there being more people available to speak. Four instead of two. But, perhaps, not so surprising, with more interactions of embarrassment to take into account."

I found the writing more often stilted than not, and I suspect that Weirdmonger would benefit from being picked from now and then rather than read in one vast slew, since I found it hard to distinguish between stories after a while. Like a night's worth of dreams, it all very quickly faded leaving only the worst excesses in my memory.

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