So. the short stories in this collection? They didn’t do much for me. Or at least, I found two out of three strangely disappointing. Perhaps it is me, really. I am sure I did not understand what I was meant to gather from these stories. Perhaps it is that these were short stories, a genre I do not always like as I should.
Olalla was the only story I enjoyed reading and that I can see myself coming back to someday. The story is about a soldier who is sent to a house in Spain to recover from his injuries. Here, he meets three strange inhabitants: the mother, the brother and the sister, the latter of whom is called Olalla. The soldier finds himself strangely attracted to Olalla, and rather likes the mother and brother, even if they seem strange – somehow. The story leans on many aspects that I relate to gothic stories: a strange house, the long-death, the threatening aspects of beauty, vampirism. The built up of the story worked for me and I started to feel something for what was happening here.
The same cannot be said exactly for The Body-Snatchers or Markheim. Both stories are less mysteries perhaps and feature more to-the-point brutality. Body-Snatchers is about a man whose job it is to buy bodies for medical research. There is the atmosphere of something respectable (ie. medical studies) that hides something dark: most of the bodies are people who have been murdered in order to be delivered to the dissection rooms.
Markheim is about a person who enters an antique shop and murders the shop owner in order to steal from him. The rest of the story, I think, portrays the thief’s struggle between repulsion and acceptance of the crime.
If I had to sum up my reaction to Markheim and The Body-Snatchers in a diagram, it would look something like this (except that in reality, my appreciation never reached such heights):
The thing is, these stories were alright in build-up. And towards the middle of them I felt I was almost able to grab onto something of the atmosphere and spookiness that I was supposed to feel. But then, the ending. In Body-Snatchers my reaction was: “Huh? What?!” I just didn’t get it. Perhaps it was supposed to make me feel uncomfortable, but all I could think was: this is too illogical. You see, if you want to make me feel spooked, I’d like it to be in a way that is logical somehow. Of course, the mysterious often defies logic, but that does not mean it cannot be portrayed in a manner that makes it seem somewhat real. Here, any conception of what was happening was missing, which made it seem strange rather than mysterious? As for Markheim, the ending was a simple disappointment of “oh, alright” *shrug* “let’s move on to the next story”.
This is not how I am supposed to feel about these stories. Me, who is scared by movies that are meant to be funny, not scary, should not be able to end up thinking “um, ooo-kay”, I should be slightly mystified, a little thrilled, a little – I don’t know.
You see, this has me wondering if I missed some crucial steps in these stories, something that might explain to me what happened. Or is it that Stevenson meant for me to be left with only questions? I like books that make you think, but this one provides no context per se, nothing that makes me able to ponder what I do not “get”. Oh, I understand the idea of two-sidedness of human nature, of society even, portrayed in these stories, but the endings seem to point towards something more (at least I hope they do, or they’d be rather pointless) – Something I’m not able to grasp because there is no context here that enables me to grasp it.
I won’t give up on Stevenson. I’m sure one day I may be persuaded to read Treasure Island. But these stories? I don’t think I can be bothered to pick them up again.