Book review: Darkscapes, by Anne-Sylvie Salzman, Tartarus Press
October 9, 2013 | 5:35 pm
Darkscapes collects 15 dark tales by the highly regarded French horror and fantasy author Anne-Sylvie Salzman, translated into mannered and highly effective English prose by William Charlton. Salzman’s subjects are sinister rather than brutal, and often push dark psychology into the territory of fantasy or surrealism: A doctor obsessed with a cyclops girl in a traveling freakshow; a prosthetic craftsman equally fixated on the beautiful recipient of the artificial eyes he makes; a feral young vagrant feeding off rats and dead bodies in a Paris park. And they are highly effective, albeit occasionally vague, and a really attractive addition to contemporary dark and fantastic literature from this pioneering independent press.
Salzman started her literary career as a translator of genre fiction after studies in philosophy, and for ten years was a contributor to France’s prestigious Magazine littéraire, particularly on English-language and Scandinavian literature. She is also one of the founding editors of the French horror and dark fiction magazine Le visage vert. She continues to work both as a translator and as an author.
The stories are grouped into four separate related categories: Lost Girls, Crucifixions, The Story of Margaret, and Wildlife. As those suggest, she returns to some general themes throughout the collection, but there’s no sense of restricted range or recycling. Salzman’s openness to other literatures and genres may help explain her breadth and originality. English enthusiasts of Robert Aickman will be quite at home here. Readers can also enjoy a far wider selection of locales and societies than you’d ordinarily expect from a French author of “serious” fiction: Salzman sets more of her fiction in Scotland than many Scottish writers do, even treating the landscape and people with respect and understanding, and there are also stories set in Japan and the U.S. as well as Paris.
The translation fits the style of work very well: echoes of Aickman or even Thomas Ligotti abound. For this reason I’d hesitate to say that Salzman brings an entirely new voice or perspective into English-language horror: Rather, it’s a distorted, rich and resonant echo. Recommended, especially given Tartarus’s high production standards, DRM-free ebook policies, and bargain prices.