This is the final part of my review on the collection of short stories in Tremble and I have to say that on the whole the collection has ended on a rather high note. There was only one story that I didn’t really like. Read on to find out which one it was.
For me this was another highlight to the collection. It had a very similar theme to The Picture of Dorian Gray, where the enthusiastic youth is desperate to have all his dreams come true. Not by putting in the hard work, but by making a deal with a very seductive devil.
From the first introduction to our anti-hero, I knew that something wasn’t right. The reason being he is introduced as old and haggard. A man well past his prime, yet he tells the waiter that he is but in his late twenties. On seeing a young woman across the way he leaves and we are then transported back a few years.
This whole tale is clearly about how what we wish for may come back to bite us on the bum. Alistair is desperate to be seen as an equal to his boss, Mr McPhee. When he is offered the chance of doing some work for a rich woman, named Lady Whistle, he jumps at the chance to prove his worth. At this point he is bored cataloguing the boring artifacts in the museum and the temptation to use his skills on Lady Whistle’s more erotic pieces is too much of a temptation.
Alistair is the embodiment of the curious youth, desperate to grow up, yet blinded to the consequences of such risks he takes. I sat there urging him to run while he can. The promise of Lady Whistle letting him experience an authentic Roman orgy would only end in tragedy. At this point I didn’t really know what the orgy/ ritual was for.
In its tragic conclusion, we find out that Alastair and his youthful virginity was all a sacrifice in order for Lady Whistle to regain her youth. That she had stolen his life to prolong hers.
What made this even more tragic was the fact that Dr McPhee’s niece, Margaret, and Alastair had made some sort of connection. So much so, that Alastair had vowed that once he had concluded his work for Lady Whistle, he would court Margaret. This is all quashed when he is turned into an old man. True, he had the riches he desired in order to keep a very comfortable life. Yet, it is all too late for he cannot let Margaret know of his fate.
This was a brilliant tale and I loved the dark gothic feel of it all. Though the supporting characters are not overly explored, the character of Alastair was more than enough to carry it. You really did feel his despair as he realised he had sacrificed a chance of true happiness in order to satisfy his greed and his curiosity. Out of all the stories, this one could have benefited more at being turned into a full novel. (4.5/5)
I’ll be really honest with you on this story, I just didn’t get it at all. The beginning really confused me, for it seemed to jump around in time quite a bit. Even when the story settled down to during the Falklands war, I was unsure what time period it was supposed to be.
Most of the story is set in the trenches at each side of the battlefield. I managed to extract that both men were gay and that they had to hide it from their comrades. (This being the early 80’s and one of the soldiers being a Catholic).
There didn’t seem to be much happening at all in the story. The point of view switched between Clive, the British soldier, and Juan, the Argentinian Soldier.
I kept dipping in an out of this story and though it was one of the shorter stories in the collection, it took the longest for me to finish. There was no hook to really keep me interested at all. I find it really hard to review this story for I just ended up skimming to the end.
All I will say is that during the dream sequence that both Clive and Juan share due to the albino bat bite, really showcased Learners ability to build a scene beautifully. I’m not a fan of M/M, not due to being prudish, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Yet this whole scene was so highly charged. Learner loves to break the stereotypes in her stories and this is another excellent example of how much an expert she really is. This saves the story and the tragic ending is poetic in its execution (2/5)
There have been numerous stories in the past where the unsuspecting sailor is tempted by the Siren to his death by her beauty and her enchanting song. In Diver, Learner updates the tale to make it more relevant to the modern reader.
An off shore oil-rig replaces the ships that sailed the seven seas and recently divorced Engineer Seamus is our sailor in the tale. What is really clever is how Learner captures the isolation of a person working on an oil rig, months at a time. The delirium and madness that comes with being away from civilization is captured expertly in this tale.
While the rest of the crew liked to go onshore to visit the local brothel for the physical connection with its employees, Seamus admits that it doesn’t appeal to him in the slightest. The crew knew this, but if it weren’t for their trickery Seamus would never have met one of the prostitutes Mary. Mary is his confidant and lends him an ear. Through this unlikely friendship Seamus finds out that he is not the only one to have been driven mad by the cruel mistress of the sea. Another crew member named tattle had been found floating in a boat his eyes gouged out, apparently driven mad by the sea.
When the others find out that he hadn’t slept with Mary, they begin a relentless bullying campaign against him. It is enough to drive the strongest willed men to contemplate ending it all. Seamus just keeps his head down, continuing to do his job to the best of his abilities
It is only when he is left to his own devices that when the rest of the crew leave him alone while they return to shore does the story take a truly supernatural twist with Seamus thinking he heard and saw a figure in the water.
You feel for Seamus as he fears his hold on reality is slipping away. When he wakes up coated in a salty substance and there appears to be fish scales on his pillow, you really do sympathise with him. Here is a man, far from home having just gone through a divorce with the woman he loves. Seamus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the crew.
The story culminates when Seamus is tasked with fixing a cable near the bottom of the North Sea. This is just after he finds out that his ex-wife is now preganant with his ex-best friends child. It does put into question on what frame of mind he is in when he does his dive. While below the surface, he encounters the mermaid/siren. Just like in the other tales, she intices him to the point that he has little air left to make it back to the surface.
After a particularly erotic encounter in a small air pocket in the underground caves, Seamus finds out that rather than the lovely red haired vixen in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, this mermaid has much more darker nature when she tries to suck out his eyeballs. There is no reason why, but Seamus manages to fight her off, only to be left alone in the cavern with very little chance of survival.
This was a great story to end the collection. It seemed to capture nearly every aspect of the human condition. I did feel very sorry for Seamus, but at the same time I realized that he was a victim of his own self destruction. He admits to as much during the story. A great update to a timeless tale. (4/5)
VERDICT FOR FULL COLLECTION:
Overall, this was a very mixed bag of stories, but there is no denying that Learner is an excellent storyteller. She does not shy away at being controversial with her content. I may not have liked every story and Virgin (see Part 2) really did leave me feeling uncomfortable, but the point is that I felt something.
When a writer can get some sort of reaction out of you, then that to me means that they are good at their craft. I will definetly be reading the other two collections I have on my TBR pile; Yearn and Quiver
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