As a reader, I’m sure you know that feeling you stumble across sometimes where you click absolutely with the text in hand. I’m sure you know that feeling very well. I’m sure that small snik of recognition is why some people continue reading as much as they do, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Connell’s The Life of Polycrates has proved to be one such experience.
The name is off-putting, I know. It paints pictures of dreary schoolroom afternoons and Homer, the endless list of ships.
It begins with a novella, the title piece. It reminded me of Homer, not as I read him in my younger years but in my later, when studying Ulysses, The Odyssey was suggested to be read alongside. Like with those initially off-putting tomes of ancient lands, when I began reading I found myself submerged in a strange, angular world where the names were half-familiar and the scenes mimicked films we’ve seen of late—or is it the other way around?
But it’s not until after The Life of Polycrates that you get into the heart of the matter.
Connell has been described as a Master of the Weird. There’s that irritating saying about books and covers, and I confess to list that special form of judgement among my many sins. With this collection you would be expecting something completely different to what you’re getting, as far as externals are concerned—your eyes are only fully opened when you’re deep in the belly of the beast.
It’s almost as if Connell wanted the novella and the cover and the title, the whole shebang, to be perfect as far as cunning traps can ever be perfect. The reader stumbles out of the ancient names and nouns of Polycrates and into such extraordinary, ghastly rooms and scenes (Collapsing Claude, The Dancing Billionaire) that the confusion is almost comical.
This is a form of story that is not often encountered. Having finished anything Lovecraftian, Poe-ish or even Goremenghastian and entered the 21st century in despair that such oddity would be experienced again: The Life of Polycrates is a delight.
Aside from the gentlemen and the text above, the only other works I can relate this with are those of Dickens. If you’re thinking The Muppet Christmas Carol, think again. I’m talking about the spontaneous combustion; endless, awkward corridors and corners of cities and palaces that go nowhere; bizarre caricatures of characters that seem to be all nose or all hunchback; dirt, slime, vice, greed.
This is the filth and grotesque of literature in its entire unabashed and hideous phantasmagoria. It is a collection to haunt the corners of the mind, with stories that will be thumbed over again and again, for lifetimes.