RogerBW's Blog

A Pretty Mouth, Molly Tanzer 26 November 2020

2012 collection of mildly Lovecraftian fantasy/horror stories, loosely connected by reference to the Calipash family.

"A Spotted Trouble At Dolor-on-the-Downs" is a Wodehouse parody in Jeeves' voice, something notoriously hard to do; and it just about works, though there are infelicities of style that throw one out of immersion. There's more going on at the seaside hotel than mere aristocratic druggery…

"The Hour of the Tortoise" has a writer visiting Ivybridge and coming to a Bad End. Splendid stuff.

"The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins" is slightly revised from its earlier appearance, and is still great fun.

"A Pretty Mouth" is the longest piece here, about half the book by word count; and, alas, it misses the mark for me. There's plenty of period detail, and Tanzer cites some plausible sources, but… were the colleges of Oxford really known as "universities" in 1660? And while we know Rochester was at Wadham at age 13, and presumably wasn't the only person of that age there, what we have here is basically much more of a school story in framing than a university story; it feels just a bit wrong, in part because it's not a framing I like much. The actual story is decent, but for my taste it's too much of the inadequate people attempting to do social struggling and not enough of the esotericism.

"Damnatio Memoriae" gives us the origin of the Calipashes in England, as shipwrecked Romans meet local barbarians. It's rather enjoyable.

The problem for me is that motifs recur a little too thoroughly, and one sees the expected pattern of events too easily. Similarly, Tanzer's enthusiasm for making blunt references to fucking becomes a little wearying. If I'd read these as separate stories rather than in sequence I suspect I'd have enjoyed them rather more, though it seems that only The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins and The Hour of the Tortoise have been published elsewhere.

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  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 11:25am on 26 November 2020

    The link to Amazon doesn't work.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:49am on 26 November 2020

    Fixed now. Though it appears to have been a low-volume paperback and it's now attracting "collector" prices.

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