Wednesday, September 10, 2014

THE SURVIVOR - Dennis Parry

The Survivor (1940) by Dennis Parry, newly reprinted by Valancourt, is a distinctive novel of the supernatural that has been too long overlooked. As I say in my introduction, "it is surprising that it has not gained a greater reputation among enthusiasts of supernatural fiction. It is true that the near-omniscient E.F. Bleiler does give it qualified praise, noting the book’s “many good touches and flashes of wit”..." but very few other readers or critics seem to have noticed it.

It is a story of possession set in the wintry fens around Ely during a virulent epidemic. The haunting is not a matter of fine shading and ambiguities. The spirit that returns is arrogant, boisterous and cunning: it exercises a sardonic sway over a remote village just as it had in life. Dennis Parry presents us with a cuttingly modern ghost story inflected with irony and Saki-like wit. At the same time, in the remorselessness of the fatal plague afflicting the country, he creates a chilling dystopia that adds to the bleakness of his work.

It seems to me that Parry achieved with The Survivor a strikingly different and contemporary kind of supernatural story and it is a pity he did not continue to extend the possibilities of the form. I can imagine him working towards a smilar achievement as Robert Aickman or Elizabeth Bowen. As it is, this book is well worth our attention as an impressive contribution to the field.

My introduction provides some detail about the author, but briefly (from Valancourt's announcement), "Dennis Parry (1912-1955) was the author of ten critically acclaimed novels but fell into an undeserved obscurity after his untimely death in a car accident at age 42. His third novel, The Survivor (1940), a classic story of the supernatural, earned rave reviews from critics, who ranked it alongside Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and the works of Algernon Blackwood."

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