Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book Review : The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce***

We are staying in Ambrose Bierce's old house when we visit California later this year, so I thought I would read the man's work before we went.

It is said that Bierce wrote his horror stories in a style well ahead of his time, and for horror fiction penned around the turn of the 19th Century his work does have a more modern Roald Dahl like Tales Of The Unexpected feel to it. The big downside to his horror work though is that he really only has one or two ideas, and these are constantly recycled.

Every story features a death, so either at the end of the story the protagonist dies, or his shade drifts around a while believing itself to be alive, or the protagonist kills someone he did not mean to. I did find that the horror stories got a bit wearing after twenty or so of them.

Bierce was a soldier and mapper in the Union Army where he fought at the Battle Of Shiloh and the second part of his short story oeuvre, the war stories, paint a dark picture of the confusion, chaos and fear of battle. Some of the war stories are pretty good, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge is his most famous short, but to be fair it follows the same pattern and ending of many of his horror shorts.

Where Bierce really shines is his humorous writing, this is sadly the shortest section of the compilation but by far the most enjoyable. Bierce also wrote The Devil's Dictionary, an occasional newspaper piece which satirised definitions of words and his humour follows a similar vein, he unleashes his spleen upon those he obviously dislikes, and the legal system and lawyers come in for a relentless pounding. Bierce's wit and imagination are really let loose in his 'World Of Tall Tales', I would have enjoyed more of these, and slightly less formulaic horror.

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