B.G. Hilton – Writer

Review – Stories to Read by Candlelight by Jean Lorrain, translated by Patricia Worth

Jean Lorrain writes what might be called fairy tales, with the conceit that the he can only half remember these stories, which themselves contain half-memories of earlier times. These are stories full of pathos and regret. They’re very nineteenth century, full of a romantic longing for an earlier, pre-industrial world. But that world is gone forever, and that means that the stories are mostly sad stories — stories of loss and death.

Possibly the closest thing I have read to them is Wilde’s Happy Prince stories, except Lorrain is less sentimental and less determined to find an uplifting ending in loss. The descriptive writing is extremely evocative, bringing to life a world of ghosts, decaying (talking) tapestries and eccentric old women.

Jean Lorrain writes what might be called fairy tales, with the conceit that the he can only half remember these stories — which themselves contain half-memories of earlier times. These are stories full of pathos and regret. They’re very nineteenth century, full of a romantic longing for an earlier, pre-industrial world. But that world is gone forever, and that means that the stories are mostly sad stories. Possibly the closest thing I have read to them is Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince stories, except Lorrain is less sentimental and less determined to find an uplifting message in loss.

The stories are quite varied, including straight fantasy stories about knights and quests, realist stories and a few stories somewhere in the middle, where it isn’t certain where reality ends. This dreamlike quality is suggested by the title. I found the best time to read them was as I was drifting off to sleep — they don’t read quite so well on a crowded bus!

Patricia Worth’s translation is excellent. It is all in very readable contemporary English and yet it still feels very French, which is an impressive feat.

Thanks to Patricia for my review copy — I enjoyed it immensely.

Buy it here.

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