Reviewed by Ian O’Reilly
‘Let’s face it: I don’t really know Anna Tambour’ states the introduction to Tambour’s latest collection of the sublime, the disturbing, and the fabulous; which is a curious admission for an introduction to make by anyone’s standards, but we are, however, talking about a very curious writer. The fact that the glowing introduction (“…a moveable feast, a 26 course dinner to be enjoyed at one’s leisure…”) is written by none other than Jeffrey Ford; who has won or been nominated for more World Fantasy Awards than is humanly decent, it seems – then we really know that we must be in for a treat.
Like Mr Ford this reviewer also has an admission to make – earnest followers of the BFS pages will know that I am a fan of her work, ever since I received an ARC of her novel of time-travelling, supra-reality ‘cookbook’ Crandolin. The ingenuity of Crandolin was, if I may say so without having to yell SPOILERS! – the way that multiple different instances, short stories, and scenarios were layered onto each other, creating a sense of wonder and mystery about the actual subject of the book’s title. Needless to say, it wasn’t just me that enjoyed the taste of Crandolin; it received cosy reviews from Black Static, Locus, and was also shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award.
This collection of twenty-six tales covers stories both long and short, some deliciously experimental, others more direct in their narrative. Their tone weaves between high fabulation (How Galligaskins Sloughted the Scourge recounts a tale that feels like it could belong in a Medieval farce; Chaucer by way of R.A. Lafferty perhaps), and the creep of dark things (Gladiolus Exposed could sit comfortably well in a Lynchian sort of thriller anthology).
Running around, over, and through all of these tales however, is of course Tambour’s trademark wit, humour, and skill with dialogue. Some of the stories, I am sure, are meant to be read aloud, and feel more like you are being told a very fine piece of blarney from a very experienced storyteller (Strange Incidents in Foreign Parts springs to mind, as does Pococurante!).
Be assured, that if you are looking for an anthology which will keep you entertained, and surprise you – then you couldn’t go wrong with The Finest Ass in the Universe. If you are looking for an anthology which will do things to stories that you really weren’t expecting; and makes it work then The Finest Ass in the Universe is for you. In these pages you will find tall tales of transmigrating eggplants, the finer arts of blackthorn coppicing, dead parrots, Australia, feral children, the trials and tribulations of a canine actor named Ibsen.
If that hasn’t won you over, then consider the delight of hearing your local preferred bookseller of choice say ‘have we got the Finest Ass in the Universe in the shop?’