BLACK WATER – THE BOOK OF FANTASTIC LITERATURE edited by Alberto Manguel

Published in 1983, Black Water, edited by Argentine-born Canadian writer Alberto Manguel, is a mammoth short-story anthology, collecting together 72 fantastic tales from around the world (many of them translated from their original language). Contained within are disquieting stories, fragments of novels, tales of physical transformation, even traditional ghost stories (if such a thing exists as a ‘traditional ghost story), all of them possessing an element of the fantastic.

I have owned this book for many years and it has had numerous recommendations from people I know and respect, so I’m amazed it took me this long to pick it up. Perhaps the size had previously deterred me – it does come in at 955 pages in the version I have – or perhaps I knew of its diversity and wasn’t confident in my reading tastes matching that of the editor. Nevertheless I’m glad I eventually got round to it, because Black Water is a superb anthology, probably one of the best in the genre of weird fiction.

The stories span a range of centuries and are sourced from such literary luminaries as Franz Kafka, Tennessee Williams, Rudyard Kipling, Ray Bradbury, Graham Greene, MR James, Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Alexander Pushkin, Robert Louis Stevenson, DH Lawrence, HG Wells, Silvina Ocampo, Vladimir Nabokov, Oscar Wilde, Ursula K LeGuin, Henry James, O Henry, EM Forster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and many many others. As with any publication containing such an array of stories, not every tale will work in the same way. However, overall there’s a wealth of goodness here, something that will connect with most readers. Whilst the stories aren’t overtly . It certainly impressed upon this reader a renewed appreciation for writers from the South American continent. There’s a story by Horacio Quiroga which is actually nightmare inducing.

The rather highbrow nature of the fiction, and the age in which some of these stories were written, means that possibly not all modern readers will appreciate every entry – there were some that felt a bit too dry for my tastes or perhaps too subtle for my understanding – but nevertheless there is much to enjoy here and I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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