THE BLACK DREAMS Strange Stories from Northern Ireland edited by Reggie Chamberlain-King
Blackstaff Press 2021,
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
The present volume is a collection of fourteen “strange” stories penned by Northern Irish authors
(Most of them, I must shamefully confess, were unknown to me so far) and set in Northern Ireland. There is a great variety of subjects and tones but what the featured stories share is the weird and/or the dream-like quality of the narrative. This dreamy character of the city of Belfast and the rest of the country, already pointed out by GK Chesterton, is further underlined in the learned and exhaustive Introduction by editor Chamberlain-King.
Predictably, not all the tales worked for this reviewer, as it often happens with short story anthologies, which, by definition, are “mixed bags”.
Thus, I won’t discuss the merits (or the lack of) of each contribution, but I will focus on the stories which, to me, appear to be the more enticing.
“The Woman Who Let Go” by Moyra Donaldson is a vivid portrait of a divorced woman who takes refuge in a secluded cabin in the woods where she makes contact with nature and meets a ghostly lover.
“A Loss” by Bernie McGill is a very perceptive tale disclosing a secret in the life of a recently deceased maiden aunt, while the offbeat “The Wink and the Gun” by John Patrick Higgins reports a strange incident involving a lonesome photographer and a group of nefarious kids.
My favourite story is the insightful, superb “Original Features” by Jo Baker, depicting the history of a family throughout the years and the recurring appearance of an elusive, mysterious door in each of their various homes.
Other contributors are: Ian Samson, Jan Carson, Ian Mc Donald, Sam Thompson, Ichelle Gallen, Carlo Gébler, Reggie Chamberlain-King, Gerard McKeown, Aislínn Clarke, Emma Devlin.