Review by Matt Johns As always with anything from Tartarus, the exceptional quality of the bookbinding strikes you first. Opening the volume, you are greeted with a brief biography of A.E. Coppard. As the author was born in 1878, some of the tales contained within this weighty tome seem quite dated, and a lot of the language used is quite archaic and occasionally difficult to understand. However, the stories are very readable and decidedly quirky.
The title story Father Raven tells of the occupants of a village and their parish priest (the titular Father) who, while on a parish outing to a seaside town suddenly find that the Day of Judgment has come and they (along with millions of others) have been transported to heaven, and must find their way through heaven and face judgement so that they may attain eternal joy. When they reach the point of judgement, Father Raven is asked if he will guarantee with his soul that his flock are without sin. Faced with a sudden flush of indecision, the priest decides that his flock (including a single mother who has two children out of wedlock) are worth the risk and gives the guarantee. His flock troop through the gates of heaven, but the priest is stopped and prevented from entering as he had lied to the gatekeeper about the purity of his flock.
Other stories vary in style and content from the spooky to the unusual to the downright weird. The Almanac Man tells of Dr Sweetapple an author of almanacs, who discovers that a goblin called Old Moore has prophesied the end of the world. Dr Sweetapple finds himself in a Norfolk pub called The World’s End where he bumps into some clowns who stab him with a red-hot poker (maybe an allegory for something lost to this particular reviewer!) before disappearing and leaving him whole. Three shepherds then tell him that Father Christmas is the only person who can avert the end of the world, so off heads the good doctor in search of Father Christmas. When he finds Father Christmas, he is informed that the end of the world isn’t nigh, but that Santa has got married.
On the whole, I enjoyed this rather weighty tome – 31 stories and 301 pages – and would recommend it to most people. However, if you’re not a fan of quirky fiction, a member of the MTV generation or just prefer your literature in plain, modern English you might be best off sampling one of Tartarus’s other fine wares.
Published by Tartarus Press, £30.00. Review from Prism.