By Quentin S. Crisp

Reviewed by Barry J. House

Reading through Quentin S Crisp's perceptive Author's Introduction, which is a great read in itself (I particularly subscribe to his views on genre labelling and realism), I learned that he writes in the genre of what he calls 'demented fiction', because of his 'love of the flawed masterpiece' and his 'penchant for leaving irregularities' in his tales. Crisp also mentions that he has a 'tendency to start from a totally absurd premise and gleefully play the whole thing through to the end with a straight face.' Those comments left me itching to get stuck into the six stories that followed.

The first offering, Jellyfish Joe, is a beautifully original and entertaining tale that bounces effortlessly between the hilarious and the metaphysical. It concerns the founder/leader of a bizarre sect who decides to leave his disciples in order to depart on his final pilgrimage. Does the world control the jellyfish or does the jellyfish control the world? Read it and find out for yourself.

The Haunted Bicycle is markedly stronger than the first story. It's a novella length piece about... well the title should serve as a clue, shouldn't it? Crisp is certainly capable of flashes of brilliance in his writing but he tends to balance them off with occasional forays into the nonsensical, which, for me, can be a little off-putting at times. I was somewhat disappointed by the conclusion of this tale, feeling that it just fizzled out but perhaps this is just the author's inclination for the 'flawed masterpiece' in operation.

The next story, Zugzwang, is stronger, again. About a young man who meets his dream girl only to find that things aren't quite as they seem, it unfolds with a sense of creeping paranoia - one from which my only escape was to finish the tale in one, lengthy, dread-filled sitting.

The Tao of Petite Beige is a fantastically exotic (or should that be erotic?) tale relating a man's obsession with a 50s' pin-up girl and his subsequent encounters with an oriental goddess. By this stage of the book I had already reached the conclusion that each story is stronger than the preceding one. Or is it just that the further I delved into Rule Dementia! the more I became accustomed to Crisp's inimitable style?

The penultimate story, The Waiting, is my personal favourite. An H. P. Lovecraft influenced tale, I think, concerning the discovery of a manuscript written by a young man who has discovered the awful truth that lies beyond reality. I found myself being dragged through this series of horrific revelations, surrounded by the same sense of impending doom that I had first encountered while reading Zugzwang, only this time, tenfold.

For me, Unimaginable Joys is the weakest story of this collection and putting it at the back of the book next to the strongest tale tends to highlight this all the more. However, the tale, about a girl, the boy she meets and the youth who destroys their relationship after joining an occult group, is still a good read.

I find Crisp's style to be refreshingly original, with its sparkling insights into the human condition comfortably juxtaposed with wild fantasy, absurd asides and out-and-out horror. I can't even begin to think of a comparison, so I am not going to try. Rule Dementia! is Quentin S. Crisp's third collection of stories. I, for one, shall be looking to read the other two.

Rule Dementia! by Quentin S. Crisp. Tpb, 277pp, £14. Published by Rainfall Books, 22 Woodland Park, Calne, Wilts, SN11 OJX, UK

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