Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Mansfield With Monsters Mansfield With Monsters
by Matt and Debbie Cowens
with Katherine Mansfield
Steam Aress

Supplied for review by Steam Press

Reviewed By: Simon Litten
Jacqui Smith

Mansfield with Monsters is a new collection of stories by Katherine Mansfield, that doyenne of New Zealand’s literary landscape; but a collection with a difference. This is a thematic collection of works illustrating Miss Mansfield’s observations of the weird and unnatural in everyday life and not a rejacketing of what has gone before.

Mansfield with Monsters is not, as one would suppose, a stylistic pastiche such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but a revelation as to how the then established publishing industry recoiled from the outlandish in Miss Mansfield’s work – much of it published during and shortly after the horrors of the Great War – and domesticated that work for a readership recuperating from those horrific years and their miserable aftermath.

Matt and Debbie Cowens have done an excellent job in rediscovering these works in their original form. This is a collection that runs the gamut from re-animation, through braving the krakens of Cook Strait, to giant insects and jealous were-wolves. My hat is off to the Cowens as I couldn’t tell where the first published works end and the reconstructed stories start – the renovation is flawless. I will add that for me the stories have gained something that felt missing by their renovation; given the stature of Miss Mansfield’s original publications that gain was an unexpected joy.

If Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a one note song then Mansfield with Monsters is a choral piece of depth and vibrancy. This is a book that should adorn the shelf of every lover of fiction: master works by a master of short fiction. Mansfield is that good.

Simon Litten

I was quite prepared not to like this book. I’d failed to get very far with Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, and Mansfield was one of those writers I was forced to read in English class, not someone I ever read for fun. Not until now, that is. Mansfield with Monsters proved to be a remarkably entertaining read. The macabre twist added to each tale is always different, and always delightful. I found myself wondering with anticipation, as I began a new story, where the Cowans would take this one. The level of integration of new material into the stories is sufficiently seamless that I found myself trawling the Internet for the originals to make comparisons (Project Gutenberg has The Garden Party and Other Stories which contains many of the titles also in Mansfield with Monsters).

I suspect that Mansfield with Monsters is a more successful mash-up than Pride and Prejudice with Zombies for three reasons. Firstly, the fact that it is a collection of short stories allows for a level of variety – I find that zombies can get very tedious, very quickly. Secondly, Pride and Prejudice dates to 1813, while Mansfield’s stories are from the 1920’s. This makes her a contemporary of Lovecraft and Wells, so the integration of elements of their works can be done smoothly and without any sense of literary anachronism. Thirdly, Mansfield’s stories often already have a sense of discomfort, of inner horror, which the Cowans have drawn out into the open and extemporised upon. This is not your cosy urban fantasy, but the truly scary stuff. Definitely no sparkly vampires in sight – and if there were, you’d be looking to stake them, not date them.

It all works, surprisingly well. No doubt the Mansfield purists will be rolling their eyes in horror, but I’d certainly recommend this book for those English teachers who would appreciate a fresh take on Mansfield, bored students who need a break from the traditional short story, and anybody who likes properly scary horror fiction. Expect to see this book up for the Sir Julius Vogel awards next year.

-Jacqui Smith

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