Friday, 7 September 2012

'Into the Penny Arcade' and 'Marionettes'

PictureBack in March I bought two limited-edition, Nightjar Press chapbooks by Claire Massey and I finally read them this week.

I love Claire's writing, particularly her magical and melancholy Feather Girls. In these new stories she continues to explore transformation, but 'Marionettes' and 'Into the Penny Arcade' are darker and altogether more sinister than 'Feather Girls.'

PictureA bullied school girl seeks refuge in the back of a highly suspect lorry in the tense and disquieting 'Into the Penny Arcade.' I was on tenterhooks from the moment the back doors of the lorry opened and the girl stepped inside.

The lorry is full of old fashioned arcade games. There is something inherently sinister about these old-fashioned, machines and when the man in the back of the lorry refuses to let the girl leave until she has played several games, the reader experiences a horrible and rapidly escalating fear that the stakes may be much higher than the girl realizes.

The genius of this story is the way in which the readers' fears are repeatedly misdirected. There are moments of, 'Phew!' immediately followed by, 'No, no, don't do that!' and the ending manages to be both terrifying and satisfying.

Picture'Marionettes' takes place in Prague. A pale-faced couple with 'dispirited eyes' are revisiting the city seven years after their first holiday there. The couple have since had two children and their relationship appears to be in trouble.

While the husband, Karl, is hungover, the unnamed wife wanders around the city alone. She finds a marionette shop and is surprised to see only two marionettes in the window, exact copies of herself and Karl.

Back at the hotel, she tells Karl about the shop. He says she is being 'ridiculous' and they set out together to find the shop. When they can't find it, the wife says, 'Come on, I give up.' There is a sense that she isn't just giving up on finding the shop and, as the story develops, this act of giving up takes on a disturbing significance.

Anyone who has visited Prague will remember the cobbled streets and puppet shops which Massey utilizes so well in this story. Of the two stories, 'Marionettes' is probably my favourite. While 'Into the Penny Arcade' is tense and absorbing, 'Marionettes' is ultimately the more chilling story because it is so coolly and dispassionately executed.

Both limited-edition, signed chapbooks are still available for £3.50 each and can be purchased online at Nightjar.

Photo of Claire Massey by Jonathan Bean.

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