Monday, May 4, 2015

The Stately Boobs of Ireland

Playmates by J.N. Williamson (1982): J.N. Williamson is a nice story -- a writer whose published career began in his late 40's with what soon seemed to be about ten horror novels a year. I assume some of them may have been written years or even decades earlier, but he may just have been incredibly prolific. Until now, I'd never actually read one of his novels. 

Playmates alternates between crazy, purple-prose badness and long stretches of tedium which, if you're like me, you'll skim like crazy. Set in Catholic Ireland, it's a horror story about Fairies and an old family secret. Intentionally or not, it also veers into anti-feminism in its choice of who dies and who lives, among other things.

Only a minor character who seems to have been intended for more, based on his lengthy introduction, is remotely sympathetic to anyone who's not a dink. We instead get a couple of selfish men, a fantasy woman for all those who dream of a wife who's delighted to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and a callous and horrible child. One roots for everyone to die. Spoiler alert: one does not get what one wishes.

This is the sort of horror novel in which many terrible murders happen in a small town and no one outside that town takes any interest. Why should they? The people inside the town barely seem to notice. People do stupid things again and again. A child's fatness is short-hand for why he should die (and he does). Two young lovers die because of course they do.

Stylistically, Williamson throws some terrific howlers at us. The hills of Ireland are like many breasts being caressed by many hands. A naked woman's giant breasts remind our aroused protagonist of two scoops of ice cream with a cherry on top of each. Of course he marries her. Maybe he has an ice-cream fetish.

The greatest pleasure of the novel comes late in the game, with the revelation of the family secret that's been hinted at throughout the novel. It's a revelation so astonishingly unconnected to anything that's come before, and so ridiculous in its visual description and in its workings, that it helps end the novel on a high note of complete goofiness. 

The old SCTV show once did a skit called O. Henry Playhouse in which every story, regardless of its setting or content, ended with someone being killed by a tiger. Williamson's revelation of what's in the locked room of family secrets is at that level of unconnected shock value. Except that a tiger is straightforward. What's in the room makes about as much sense as The Devil's Coat-rack.

The fairies are pretty stereotypical when they show up. They're amoral and occasionally murderous. Hidey-ho. They also can't be fought in any meaningful way in the book's fantasy universe, so there's really not much point to any confrontation with them. In a move which gilds this awful novel with an extra layer of unearned pretension, every chapter ends with a lengthy quotation about fairy-riddled Ireland from writers that include Yeats and Colin Wilson. Got to use that research. Not recommended

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading my first Williamson as well, QUEEN OF EVIL. Not too far into it yet but it's pretty pulpy--not badly written, really, and actually has a couple moments of positive feminism (the peeping Tom creep is the one at fault, not the woman lounging nude on her own patio; lead female character wants to teach a course on godesses [maybe she'll be punished in the end?]). I only bought the book bc of its luridly erotic cover art, so we'll see how it shakes out.