Thursday, October 19, 2017

Avalon Brantley and The House of Silence (2017)



The writings of William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) have inspired a number of later writers, beginning with the first Carnacki, The Ghost Finder (1913) pastiches of “John Nicholson” (pseudonym of Norman Parcell), Costelloe—Psychic Investigator (1954), which have been followed by a growing number of other Carnacki pastiches, most notably those co-written by A.F. Kidd and Rick Kennett and collected in No. 472 Cheyne Walk (1992; expanded 2002).  Hodgson’s The Night Land has been “retold” by James Stoddard in 2011, and Andy W. Robertson edited two volumes of tribute stories, William Hope Hodgson’s Night Lands (Volume I: Eternal Love, 2003, and Volume II: Nightmares of the Fall, 2007). With more originality but still showing Hodgsonian influence, there are Iain Sinclair’s Radon Daughters (1994) and Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time (2008).

Now comes Avalon Brantley’s The House of Silence (Zagava, 2017). This edition is limited to only 170 copies, a frustratingly low number because this book deserves a larger readership.  One hopes that an affordable paperback may be forthcoming.  Yet in general terms The House of Silence is a difficult book to describe and a more difficult book to assess. Some aspects of it are brilliant, while others seem strained by self-indulgence on the part of the author. 

Ostensibly the book is an example of the found-manuscript trope, and the bulk of the story is purported to have taken place sometime in the late 1940s.  It is the first person narrative of Ashley Acheson, who is returning to his boyhood home near Ardrahan in the west of Ireland.  Ashley ran away to go to sea when he was thirteen, and this homecoming is brought about because of the death of his father, an Anglican priest. Here you begin to see the resonances with Hodgson’s own life—he ran away at thirteen to go to sea, and for a short while when he was young, he lived near Ardrahan where his father was an Anglican priest for a few years beginning in 1887. Names recur in the novel from Hodgson’s real family—his father was Samuel, mother Lizzie (plus a sister Lissie), and he had brothers Frank (Francis) and Chris.  In The House of Silence, Ashley has siblings named Samuel, Lizzie, and Francis, and a cousin Chris. Hodgson published in 1917 a silly poem he wrote called “Amanda Panda.”  In The House of Silence, Ashley has written a poem of the same title about a childhood girlfriend named Amanda whom he called Amanda Panda.  What the point of all these casual references are I do not know. 

More seriously, The House of Silence evokes the specifics of two of Hodgson’s novels, The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912).  The locale of Ardrahan and specifically one unique house comes right out of the former novel and finds its way into The House of Silence. There are other resonances taken right out of The Night Land. What is entirely non-Hodgsonian is the way that Brantley tries to bring what might be called the Hodgson mythos in line with early Irish prehistory, its gods and heroes. It’s an intriguing attempt to align the two together, but I don’t think it works. Indeed, what Hodgson set out to do with The House on the Borderland in terms of cosmic significance seems to work very much against the bringing of any of it together with Irish mythology. The attempt seems to me to diminish the power one finds in Hodgson.  Which is not to say that Brantley fails completely. It’s entirely to her credit that she brings it all together as much as she does.

Alas, this book is evidently Brantley’s only novel. Just after publication it was announced that she had passed away. Given the details of her life (1981-March 5, 2017) and residence in West Virginia, I could find no corroborating evidence that such a person really existed. For this and other reasons I assume “Avalon Brantley” was a pseudonym.  She published two other books, a play Aornos (Ex Occidente, 2013) and a collection of short stories, Descended Suns Resuscitate (Zagava, 2014).  I hope sometime we learn the real story behind this author and this book.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for a great post about this author whose life was cut short far too soon.
    Just wished to add this work also: "Transcensience," a book of short stories by Avalan Brantley & Locokett Hollis, from the "L'Homme Recent" imprint of Ex Occidente

    ReplyDelete
  2. She - or "she" - also contributed to "Dreams of ourselves, an appreciation of Pessoa", Les Editions de L'Oubli, 2014. All published in very small editions in Bucharest. "[Aornos]" (the title is written in Greek characters, it seems) and "Descended Suns Resuscitate" claim copyright dates of 1943. No copies known in any library of any book! Information via www.worldcat.org
    I wonder whether "Avalon Brantley" ever died or lived except as a Pessoan heteronym. I'd certainly be interested to see a complete works and to learn of any re-incarnations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Des Lewis has wonderful reviews of Brantley's works on his site, including photos of the actual books. This one is of "Dream of Ourselves:"

      https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/dreams-of-ourselves/

      Delete
  3. I do hope the mystery is solved.As soon as the passing of Brantley was announced - with no details at all - a writer I respect who has an instinct about such things immediately said there was something a bit off about the whole matter. Apologies
    to Brantley's family if she was a real person who actually passed away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure about answers, but one further bit of "existence" is that after her death, Avy's father reportedly placed her book collection for sale here:

      https://www.thebrantleycollection.com/

      Delete
  4. I also hope I'm wrong about this but I briefly checked over the CD and book collection downloads from the link.

    That's a listing of 7000 books and CDs with prices/notes (nothing rare but common books priced at the top of the internet "optimist" range).

    Maybe Dad typed all of this up or maybe Avalon already had her collection typed up. I wish I was so organized.

    And anyway, I noticed that there are NO Yardbirds listed in the music collection. Surely, this would indicate a hoax. I mean....really....

    ReplyDelete
  5. If this is a hoax it's pretty damn cynical to attempt to offload a load of common books and cds on the back of it. I really feel if Avalon was a real person the family ought to clear the air and give some details, if only to protect her reputation.

    ReplyDelete
  6. From the wee booklet (its very end) by Alcebiadez Diniz, one that you oughta received with your copies of "The House of Silence":

    "Not by chance, one of Avalon’s last testimonies makes it very clear that she, like Blanqui and Nietzsche (or Borges), believed in the infinite plurality of worlds, of existences, of lives. In one of these plural worlds she continues to build her work, sung by aoidosand other vagabonds or poets like the songs of a close brother, Homer."

    Hmmm. Take that as you will.

    Really, I do wish that Brantley was someone's Fiona MacLeod.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm indeed! One might note that Jeremy Reed's forthcoming autobiography is called Vagabond Poet,from Zagava incidentally. Mystery solved?

      Delete
    2. Bandit-Poet (which sounds like a term Zhdanov would have used to justify putting a poet in the Gulag) according to the Zagava website.

      Delete
    3. Gentlemen, I hope Avalon Brantley‘s grieving family will never read this gossip. I have difficulties to find the right words.....
      Jonas
      Zagava

      Delete
    4. Jonas has just informed me my contribution to his book Filmlore will not be used because I dared to speculate whether Brantley was real.Luckily some of you are anonymous here or you will never see your work in a Zagava book! Seems an extreme reaction but no worry - every time I try to publish the piece (on the censor file on Masque of the Red Death movie) the publisher goes bust, someone loses their job or some other disaster occurs.Anyone care to risk it? I said only yesterday to a friend that something would go wrong.

      Delete
    5. Oops, sorry re title of Reed book, was misinformed.

      Delete
    6. Reply to Jonas of Zagava: When someone puts out what seems to be an obviously fake persona, why do you expect people not to react cynically?

      Delete
    7. Wow, that's harsh, to have your contribution rejected because you express your opinion. I won't purchase any further Zagava titles.

      Delete
    8. I did think it was a bizarre overreaction as the two things are unrelated, and I actually said given the debate it would be a good idea to release a statement to protect her reputation. I would have thought that was a helpful thing to say. Anyway, thanks for your support but I don't want to be the cause of some backlash against Jonas however much I disagree with him. In any case, within hours of him refusing to use the piece an American publisher of lovely editions of weird fiction enthusiastically agreed to look at it. Cheers!

      Delete
    9. @Jonas

      I hope that you will reconsider your decision, sir.

      Neither Mr. Anderson's comment nor the related reader comments bellow his article came off as being in the slightest way mean spirited. I think that this sort of speculation is only natural given the circumstances. Also, take in account what blog we're at: Wormwoodiana contributors could probably think of some past author pulling out something comparable to what some people apparently think has happened here, right on top of their head.

      Delete
  7. Did anyone ever find out any other info about this?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Not that I've heard. I see in Wormwood that one of my favourite writers, Reggie Oliver, rates The House of Silence as close to a work of genius.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I just noticed that in a book Death By Unicorn by Brian Gambale there's a character named Brantley who talks about the mystical Avalon. Also noted that the Brantley sale states the CD collection is unplayed discs as Avalon never played them. The reason given is that she made her own copies and played those. I make no comment on any of this as I'll only be portrayed as a horrid fellow again, but as people still seem to be fascinated by the Brantley phenomenon I thought I'd post this here. At least it keeps her name in circulation. Anyone got any other information?

    ReplyDelete
  10. It does seem like theres oddities, but I wonder if its case of finding clues that have confirmation bias? Who knows - it certainly seems like a real person to me, with the blog dates and family stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Good point. I think the likely explanation is the AV name is a pseudonym. I do think the publisher handled her passing badly by giving virtually no information and then having a hissy fit when people quite naturally began to ask questions in public.Sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No question of that. Toys = out of pram.

      A simple statement would have done it.

      Delete
  12. The Brantley Collection's Amazon Store: https://www.amazon.com/sp?seller=A2YA7F5MXL30WQ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Entire inventory's disappeared. Maybe seller's on vacation.

      Delete
  13. I've never understood the quirk the lady is said to have had about doing bootleg copies of her CDs and only playing the copies, which is the explanation for the sale items being unplanned new items.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The female heteronym appeared in this year's Drowning in Beauty: The Neo-Decadent Anthology.
      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37493469-drowning-in-beauty

      Alongside some familiar co-contributors to 2014's Dreams of Ourselves: An Appreciation of Pessoa.
      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23715675-dreams-of-ourselves

      Another discussion that complements (and references) the one we've been partaking in: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1465128-avalon-brantley

      I don't enjoy examining this. But if this is a hoax, it doesn't sit well with me that someone would be selling their expensive book/music collection under the FALSE PRETENSE of it being an estate sale whose proceeds go towards the grieving family of a young woman who tragically committed suicide.

      I have great empathy for those who struggle with suicidal depression *and* for those who've lost friends & loved ones to suicide. As I have. The issue hits close to home.

      I've also witnessed suicide notices long ago on ancient messageboards that were later revealed to have been hoaxes. It's an act that doesn't sit well with me.

      I take no pleasure from this speculation. But in past hoaxes the "horrid fellows" ended up being correct in the long run. And those who gave the surface story the benefit of the doubt ended up experiencing the stinging sensation of finding themselves duped and their sympathies exploited.

      Speaking as someone who is himself a reclusive & private person, this situation if nothing else demonstrates a need for publishers to validate the identities of the authors they publish. It's possible to be reclusive and still provide proof of identity. It's also possible that heteronyms can serve the same function as sock puppets or trolls.

      Delete
  14. Unplanned = unplayed. Darn autospell.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Further discourse on the malleability of identity, for better souls than I to unravel: http://www.ligotti.net/tags.php?tag=brantley

    ReplyDelete
  16. Can't get link to work for some reason.

    ReplyDelete