Mansfield with Monsters
is a new collection of stories by Katherine Mansfield, that doyenne of New Zealands
literary landscape; but a collection with a difference. This is a thematic collection of
works illustrating Miss Mansfields 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 Mansfields 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 couldnt 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 Mansfields 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.
I was quite prepared not to like this book. Id 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
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 Mansfields stories are from the 1920s.
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,
Mansfields 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, youd 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 Id 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.