Douglas Clegg’s Isis: A Tale of the Supernatural

This review was written by Faith J. Cormier for a previous incarnation of GMR.

Have you ever read “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs? It’s a nasty little story that proves quite graphically that bringing the dead back to life, no matter what the motive, is a horrible idea and not for amateurs. Although its plotline is not identical, Isis nicely illustrates the same thing.

Iris Catherine Villiers, our narrator, has a pretty miserable life. While she seems to be well-off, she’s locked up in an ancestral manor in Cornwall with her paternal grandfather, who has lost his mind worrying about sex and the occult in equal measures, and her mother, who is lots of fun in the warm weather but has what sounds like seasonal affective disorder and spends the long months when Cornwall isn’t anything approaching warm in bed sipping laudanum.

Iris has three brothers, one who is quite a bit older and never around, one she loves passionately and one who she isn’t terribly fond of. Her father is gone for years at a time solving the problems of the Empire (and presumably avoiding the old homestead like the plague spot it is). She doesn’t go to school but has a somewhat deranged governess. She also spends days at a time in her grandfather’s library, where she discovers his amazing stash of occult and pornographic works.

So basically the poor kid leads a lonely existence surrounded by weirdos. In summer she gets the occasional trip to London, but every fall it’s back to the asylum, with no hope of escape. The only bright spot is her beloved brother Harvey, and even he isn’t around all that much.

Then Harvey dies, Iris has a near-death experience and life gets even more horrible. The stories that Old Marsh the gardener had been telling her about supernatural goings-on around the old homestead come true. Of course, it’s never the pleasant supernatural events that are repeated, is it?

Trust me on this one, any attempts to bring back the dead are going to end badly for someone.

Do you like horror, insanity and unconsummated incestuous impulses? Go for it! You’ll love Isis. If you don’t, stay clear of this Gothic novella.

Glenn Chadbourne’s illustrations are dark, dainty and delicate, yet blurry around the edges, rather as I imagine the scenes would look through a bracing Cornish mist.

(Vanguard Press, 2009)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

You may e-mail him, but include a reference to Green Man Review so you don’t get deleted with the spam.