Monday, 16 November 2015

Music in the Bone

I received a free Kindle copy of this book for review purposes.

A musician seeks the perfect sound through the perfect collaboration, no matter the cost to his partner. Seals sing on remote coasts and fiery elementals walk among the people of a shrouded, sunless land. Men dance with ghosts and gods live in cupboards, and aging cowboys sing their sad, sad songs.

Folk rites, ancient religions, horror, fantasy and science fiction blend in this collection of short stories by Marion Pitman. It's a very mixed bag, veering from the bleak and joyless 'Indecent Behaviour' to the mock-Gothic folly of 'Amenities', and from the phantasmagoria of 'Washing of the Waters' or 'Overnight Bus' to the dystopian SF Of 'Sunlight in Spelling'.

The most successful are the stories - including the titular 'Music in the Bone' - inspired by music, and in particular folk music, which rock an effective horror of identity and perception which feels linked to the modern culture of folk clubs and the intense yet transient connections with people encountered briefly and periodically in an emotionally charged atmosphere. I was also very fond of the more humorous vignette 'Amenities', in which a housekeeper shows the new owner the Gothic horror trappings of a house, and 'The Cupboard of the Winds', in which a woman negotiates with the goddess in her junk cupboard. I'm always a sucker for down-at-heels urban deity.

Other stories are less effective. 'Dead Men's Company' feels like an critical response to The Pirates of the Caribbean, but perhaps answering too much for its length, while 'The Seal Songs' has an evocative set-up, but doesn't do anything substantially new with its premise. I describe 'Indecent Behaviour' as bleak and joyless, and it is only the author's acknowledgement that it is a nasty piece of work that restrains me to that. If you miss one story in the collection, I recommend it be that one.

Overall, Music in the Bone and other stories is a little hard to quantify, given the mix of styles, subjects and tones. It's definitely worth a look for lovers of British folklore and folk music, although hardcore horror aficionados should look elsewhere.

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