The Grave Listeners by William Frank
|The Grave Listeners by William Frank|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: The village is isolated and poor. It's surrounded by a Witching Forest. And the villagers subsist largely by farming Uphegia plants - its bread-like fruit provides nutrition and its blossom provides herbal medicines. The black wood of the forest provides heat and warmth, roofs on homes, and even gallows, if needed. The fear of being buried alive is an existential superstition in the village and that is the reason Volushka, a drunken, self-indulgent, lazy lout of a man is tolerated.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 143||Date: February 2023|
|Publisher: Tuckford Bunny Press|
|External links: Author's website|
A tale maudit set in a time when medicine was part superstition and partly an appeal to ancient authorities, and the prospect of being buried alive was frightfully more common. In that horrible situation, your only hope was that a Grave Listener sitting at your grave would be there to hear your cries for help. In an old, poor village, on a cemetery on a hill, a loutish Grave Listener, an impish five-year-old boy and his little stuffed Bunny are up against a strange plague, a soigné stranger, and a frightened, vengeful village. It will be a depraved little journey, with all its Witchcraft, savagery and comedies of human nature, that tumbles to a towering end.
The village is isolated and poor. It's surrounded by a Witching Forest. And the villagers subsist largely by farming Uphegia plants - its bread-like fruit provides nutrition and its blossom provides herbal medicines. The black wood of the forest provides heat and warmth, roofs on homes, and even gallows, if needed. The fear of being buried alive is an existential superstition in the village and that is the reason Volushka, a drunken, self-indulgent, lazy lout of a man is tolerated. For Volushka is a Grave Listener and, for a fee, he will ensure your dear departed loved one has not awakened in their recently buried coffin. Nobody, except perhaps the little boy Benzi, likes Volushka but they accept that grave listening is a necessary job and someone has to do it.
And then, one day, a mysterious stranger arrives. Marcabrusa is charismatic, he charms the villagers, he has things to say about grave listening, and Volushka immediately - and correctly - identifies him as a threat. Marcabrusa also brings with him strange tales of a plague and fear and superstition that put the village on high alert.
Is Marcabrusa all he seems? Is the plague real? Are people ever really buried alive? And can Volushka maintain his position in the village?
There's a river of humour running throughout The Grave Listeners. Volushka really is the Del Boy of grave listeners. He's a snake oil salesman - or is he? - of the most lumpen variety you can imagine. It's easy to lampoon him but you can feel sorry for him too. He really comes alive in the dialogue of creative insults he shares with Benzi, the little boy who follows him around, toy bunny in tow, or with the madam at the brothel, who is forever threatening to punch him. Several times I laughed out loud.
But it's not all funny and this vein of slapstick conflict stands stark against the much darker dynamics of the hostility from the villagers as ill-understood events threaten to overwhelm the community. Mob mentality driven by superstition and conspiracy theory is not pretty. Frank invokes an increasingly claustrophobic and paranoid environment well and he leaves the door open for the possibility of genuinely supernatural influences at work. I enjoyed not being sure how it would all turn out and what, exactly, we were building up to.
The Grave Listener is a short tale of the unexpected, rooted in human nature and its existential preoccupations with the supernatural. It's written by an author confident in his style, able to evoke time and place with an elegant turn of phrase and not afraid to puncture the tension with some robust humour.
If The Grave Listeners appeals to you and isolated and insular village settings pique your interest, you might also enjoy Harvest by Jim Crace, a beautiful, imaginative fable about the transformation of common land into enclosures and invasions of the other. You could also try the classy YA novel by Marcus Sedgwick, My Swordhand is Singing.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Grave Listeners by William Frank at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Grave Listeners by William Frank at Amazon.com.
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