The Wayward Muse by Brian Stableford
published by Black Coat Press, Encino CA, 2005
This is a book for those who really savour the pleasure of reading. Containing two short stories and a novella set on the island of Mnemosyne, the book takes the reader into a decadent world similar to our own late nineteenth century Europe, but where Rome never fell to the barbarians. The focus of reading pleasure is in the artists’ colony of Mnemosyne. As stated in the introduction, the three stories are about ‘the porous interface between artistic inspiration and the supernatural’, something which readers explore, as well as writers, even when they are not aware of doing so.
The stories unfold at a gentle pace, with mind-expanding musings about art, which are not ‘asides’, but essential to the whole. There are eccentric, yet humanly vulnerable characters, with intriguing names: Vashti Savage; Hecate Rain; Claudius Jaseph; Conrad Othman; Constable Clovis; Morloc Hyat; the Sisters of Shalimar. Most intriguing of all is the first person narrator, Axel Rathenius, who has lived on the island longer than anyone else can remember, and is older than he looks.
Axel claims that his only loyalty is to the cause of art, and yet he is not detached from the people around him. He is astute and compassionate in his descriptions of the other characters, and his narration includes enough self-doubt to make it believable. As the stories weave the characters together, exploring the nature and possibilities of their artistic endeavours, Axel plays an active part, and often manipulates events, but he is not in sole charge. He is, however, the interpreter of events on behalf of the reader, and his insights are fascinating.
The philosophical musings fit into these stories comfortably, both because they are integral to the stories, and also because the story-telling is so skilfully done that it appears natural, allowing space for the thoughtful passages. Ghosts as works of art, for instance, is a wonderful idea that makes perfect sense in the context of the stories; Morpheomorphism, the purest of the arts, is something well worth imagining; And the subject of ourselves as works of art is enlightening.
Brian’s introduction to the stories suggests that he may write more about Mnemosyne in the future, and I really hope he does. It is a place I have joyously escaped to countless times, reading The Wayward Muse over and over again. I recommend it to thoughtful and artistic readers.
Review by Sally Startup