Last year’s Women’s Weird was an exceptional anthology, brilliantly put together by Melissa Edmundson. It covered fifty years of history, featuring stories by a variety of women including Edith Nesbit and Mary Butts. As well as compiling an anthology packed full of excellent weird fiction, the book also made a case for redefining the weird canon. It’s no surprise then that Women’s Weird 2, which covers a similar timespan, is as good as it is. What is very welcome and surprising is the way Edmundson has taken her original concept and branched out. Within Women’s Weird 2 are not only authors from the UK and US, but from across the world. The stories are uniformly great, and curiously, though presented chronologically, find a way of talking to one another.
The clear highlight of the anthology is Bessie Kyffin-Taylor’s ‘Outside the House’. Originally published in 1920, in which an injured soldier falls for his nurse and winds up visiting her family. Once there, he learns that no-one ventures outside after dark, though they cannot explain to him why. The soldier, naturally curious, breaks the rules and finds himself, “saying this idiotic sentence over and over again ‘not out of breath, but nothing to breathe.’” There are parallels to be drawn between his experiences in the war, thick gaseous fogs rendering him suffocated and, in the end, driven mad. The family’s way of dealing with ‘outside’ is to just ignore it, to carry on indoors and pretend that it isn’t even there. It’s a frequently funny story, akin to pieces that would soon follow by authors like Robert Aickman. Though the end of the story provides some explanation as to the nature of the strange goings-on, it remains a strange, inventive, and often blackly comic piece.
Helen Simpson’s ‘Young Magic’ is also nicely inventive. The story concerns Viola, who has an unsettling, unseen friend who moves things for her, making scissors dance in front of terrified nurses. She spends a childhood blaming it on a fairy named Binns, who becomes a mainstay in the household as her imaginary friend. Her mother has a quaint view of Binns describing them as “a fairy who comes and plays with her, and helps with the dolls washing.” Only her uncle sees through it and has some understanding of her invisible companion. Eventually, Viola grows older and meets a young man whom she falls for. ‘Young Magic’ becomes a strange coming-of-age story, and its final pages, in which Viola attempts to form a psychic connection with her lover, are intense and creepy.
Elsewhere, Mary Elizabeth Counselman’s ‘The Black Stone Statue’ is a classic of bastardised artistic ambitions, with a terrific central conceit and a darkly ironic ending.
Variety is the key here, from the fortune telling witchcraft in ‘The Green Bowl’, to the uncanny crime story ‘The Twin Identity’, and the surreal ‘A Dreamer’; Women’s Weird 2, like its predecessor, runs the spectrum of horror and is all the better for it.
Any Cop?: Once again, Edmundson has put together one of the best anthologies of the year, and Women’s Weird is becoming one of my most highly anticipated collections each year. Fingers crossed that there’s a volume three on the horizon.