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The Great Nocturnal: Tales of Dread

The Great Nocturnal: Tales of Dread

By Jean Ray
Translated, with an afterword, by Scott Nicolay

After the commercial failure of his 1931 collection Cruise of Shadows, Jean Ray spent the next decade writing and publishing under other names in the stifling atmosphere of Ghent. Only in the midst of the darkest years of the Nazi Occupation of Belgium would he suddenly publish a spate of books under his earlier nom de plume, all appearing in rapid sequence and which would become his best-known and admired works. The first of these volumes, in essence picking up from where he had left off a decade ago and signaling the beginning of his reputation as the Belgian master of the weird tale, was the 1942 publication of The Great Nocturnal.
The collection, as its subtitle indicates, consists of tales of fear and dread—a dread evoked not by the standard tropes of horror (though rats, centipedes, and darkness lie waiting in these pages), but in what had now evolved into Ray’s personal brand of fear, drawn from a specifically Belgian notion of the fantastic that lies alongside the banality of everyday life. An aging haberdasher’s monotonous existence opens up to a spiritual fourth dimension (and serial murder); an inebriated young man in a tavern draws cryptic symbols and mutters statements that elicit an inexplicable terror among some sailors and, as he sobers up, himself; three students drink Finnish Kümmel and keep watch over a deceased woman’s apartment, awaiting a horrific transformation. Yet these tales are laced with a mordant humor that bears as much allegiance to Ambrose Bierce as Edgar Allan Poe, and toys as much with the reader’s expectations as they do with their characters.

Paperback
144 pages
5.5 x 8 inches
Wakefield Press, 2020
ISBN 9781939663498
Fiction, Fantasy, Horror

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