Almost Insentient, Almost Divine
‘…top kudos to d.p. watt and everyone at Undertow for putting together a truly exquisite, breathtaking piece of work.’
‘Almost Insentient, Almost Divine is an excellent collection of short fiction from author D.P. Watt, a very British but also very modern feeling set of weird fiction. The influences of Beckett, M.R. James, Ligotti and (especially) Aickman are evident, but they are just that, influences. The world of D.P. Watt is firmly his own and this collection is proof of the surety of his vision … My favourite pieces here were the opener With Gravity, Grace; the sublimely creepy Shallabalah; and most of all The Usher, the story of a man who attends a very strange theatre performance. It’s a story that exemplifies many of the themes and techniques of this collection, and it seemed to me outstanding, a piece of weird fiction for the ages.’
‘Although the stories in DP Watt’s collection are almost universally excellent, it’s the sense of world building that develops through them which is the most impressive part of this book; a weirdly out-of-time Mitteleuropa, cut through with theatricals and theatricalities, where masks fall from mannequins only to reveal yet more masks underneath, puppet-mummers snigger in darkened rooms and the human players shimmer between realities, sometimes never to return. Even the handful of stories that don’t fit directly into this milieu are haunted by fragments of a greater whole; mysteriously indistinct figures that lurk outside the circle of firelight or even atavistic thoughts that echo beguilingly from the darkness. The sense of theatre, of the blood-smeared grand-guignol being acted to its terrible conclusion whether wittingly or not, pervades the book and gives the observant reader a more subtle interpretation of that most contentious of themes; the weird.’
‘Undertow Publications has stunned me once again. I’ve grown to expect high quality releases from this press yet they consistently surprise me. This is an exquisitely turned collection, from the beautiful cover art by Tran Nguyen, the preface by Timothy Jarvis which would be a stand out short story in any anthology, the stories of DP Watt with the great swath of knowledge and craft behind them, to the 16th Century Flemish mask designs in the grotesque style that mark the passage of the reader through the sections of the book. almost insentient, almost divine is a collection that will be treasured by readers for decades to come and doubtlessly recommended to those looking for an introduction as to what makes this genre special. I relish the fact DP Watt has a long career ahead of him and if some day I read his name alongside Carter and Calvino it will not surprise me.’
‘This release can be rewarding, no doubt, but requires a patient reader attuned to the of ambiguous, nightmarish whimsy that colours these stories.’
‘So ends this remarkable book…’
‘…a wonderful experience, probably the most important experience in any physical book…’
‘In one of these vignettes, “Sprovieri Gallery, Rome”, we have a vivid and dynamic description of the Italian Futurist theater. Suddenly, we are told that the images used as background to these presentations, representations of the mechanical vehicles speed and strength based on Neapolitan carnival, “were nothing but the force of speed and the energy of vehicles, the surging of movement and the violence of colour. They depicted only the passion of their own inception.” Perhaps, this is the best way to describe this little masterpiece, a description that also fit to characterize the intents and unstable utopias, fragile, decadent and useless contraptions produced by the perpetually fascinating art of the avant garde in the twentieth century – a mist, a stream and a ghost, whose intensity dazzles and impresses all the witnesses by its own infinite driving force.’
The Phantasmagorical Imperative and Other Fabrications
‘In her introduction to this collection of strange tales Victoria Nelson notes that D.P. Watt’s protagonists tend to be ‘a cross between M.R. James’s buttoned-down antiquarians and H.P. Lovecraft’s high-strung, slightly hysterical misfits’. That’s a good summation of the kind of person we encounter in this collection of somewhat surreal weird tales, which take place in a twilight zone between mainstream British horror and the Kafkaesque provinces of European literature … Suffice to say that D.P. Watt is an interesting and original voice, and proof that what we casually term horror is a very broad (and somewhat ornate) church these days.’
‘This is Watt’s second collection, swiftly re-released as a paperback, after that of his first, ‘An Emporium of Automata.’ (Eibonvale Press, 2013). His friend Daniel Corrick wrote in the introduction to that release how “given his taste for visual flair, it is not surprising that the intermingling between sensation and narrative plays a consderable part in some of the stories.”
Here, this is literally foregrounded with far greater use of accompanying photographs – both personal and ‘found’ – which directly, and indirectly, evoke some part of a story’s narrative. In an interview for Weird Fiction Review, Watt reveals himself – far from unconventional sources – as part of the generation growing away from Arkham-style Americana toward Europe’s own Gothic.’
‘The narratives that we find in The Phantasmagorical Imperative, superficially, could be seen as the collection of a beautiful and elaborate cabinet of curiosities. We have prestidigitation and metamorphosis, inanimate objects that come to life and vice versa, heavenly music from infernal instruments, photographic effects, and audio-visual transitions, faery landscapes from dreams and nightmares. But all this wild parade is just opening to the Watt real entertainment.’
‘An emerging new talent in the British literary scene, DP Watt is the author of strange, neo-decadent, weird fiction. Call it dark fantasy, or slipstream, whatever. They’re fascinating, not easy to read, sometimes irritatingly obscure stories, but never ordinary, never predictable. The prose is elegant, and the context reveals culture and education. Hence,what better publisher than the stylish imprint Egaeus Press, providing an exquisite hardcover limited edition apt to ravish any real book lover?’
‘Memorabilia’ in The Transfiguration of Mr Punch
‘D. P. Watt takes a perhaps more traditional narrative strategy in “Memorabilia.” It’s a very traditional frame story, with a collector speaking to a client who buying a collection of Punch and Judy items. There are four stories in the single story, each one wonderful in itself, the sum of them rather more so. In “With Gravity, Grace,” a puppet maker is asked to craft his greatest creation. In “Oh Pretty Polly,” a young man becomes fixated on a woman. In “The Mechanized Eccentric,” art history gets to strut the stage. In “In Comes I,” a bad cop reaps as he has sewed. The prose for every story is a lovely, stagey mix of terror and wonder, and Watt’s elaborate framing devices form a finely tuned machine. “Memorabilia” truly lives up to the anthology format, offering a theme anthology within the triptych. It’s smart, funny and extremely chilling.
… ‘The Transfiguration of Mister Punch’ is an outstanding triptych, an organic new work that has the feel of the forbidden. Beech, Schneider, Watt and Gardner have pulled together a work that deserves awards, the bigger, the better. This is a breathtaking display of skill and imagination, a fever dream that will haunt your waking and sleeping hours.’
‘Watt’s tale continues this framing device with the character-narrator addressing the reader directly around four short tales. It is the fourth that is most memorable and genuinely chilling; less in the tale itself as in its depiction. The scene of the carnival-disguised ‘freakish mummers’ who enter a crumbling inn to confront the cornered, guilt-ridden policeman who finds himself in what appears a purgatorial parallel of his town is especially good.’
“And what do we have here, to start us off on our merry adventure?”
And what do we have here? An intriguing prelude in two sections whereby we learn of Mr Hawling’s collection, and another possibly puckish showman engagingly addressing me as the reader he specifically addresses about the collection’s memorabilia and his determination to set out a connected entertainment in four sub-divided hours with contained stories. Or so I guess, by looking briefly ahead at the book’s headings.
“…and at its heart beats the pulse of that great anarchic spirit, Mr Punch,…”
‘A beautiful to touch and beautifully written sequence of stories within a story. A shop keeper tells us of the objects which are dear to him – a flower press, a peepshow, a suitcase, a speculum and a Russian doll, and we hear a tale attached to each, often macabre and tragic.
The kind of writing which the large publishing houses overlook. Seriously, the small presses are increasingly the only places to find soul-nourishing prose.’
‘An Anita-Brooknerian-type soul, of conspiratorial mien, displanted, in the 1970s, to Planty Park and its environs for shopwork in the shadow of Europe’s ultimate pain. An achingly delicious, immaculate English prose undeniably to die for, and one can imagine its words throbbing into Polish rather than being translated…I have no hesitation to say that – based on my reading of it – this book is something truly special.’
An Emporium of Automata (Eibonvale 2013)
A fair proportion of the twenty-one stories in this collection are peopled by scholars, researchers, academics, collectors, writers and historians. Of such stuff are Jamesian stories made, but Daniel Watt is a very original and inventive writer and one quickly learns not to expect what one might normally expect from such indications … Many tales touch on deeper themes than MRJ’s ever did (though he could sometimes be deeper than we give him credit for) and ask questions about the nature of reality that MRJ would never have thought about. Daniel Watt has been likened to Thomas Ligotti, but he is actually much more accessible: An Emporium of Automata is thought-provoking, sometimes uncomfortable but always readable.
‘A most welcome reprinting of a collection originally published in 2010 by Ex Occidente Press, who specialize in extremely expensive limited editions. For this trade paperback version Eibonvale Press provided a gorgeous cover design, but of course it’s the content that really makes this book one of Eibonvale’s finest publications to date (let’s hope Eibonvale, or somebody, gets around to reprinting the same author’s other Ex Occidente publications).
D.P. Watt has a decidedly unique imagination and a love of esoteric wordplay (sample sentence: “I had not taken you for one who skulks behind the scenes to see God’s entrance debased to pure mechanism”). His writing is reminiscent of horrormeisters like Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, yet it displays the verve, literary mastery and idiosyncratic worldview that denote a standalone master of the form.’
‘Watt combines history, weirdness, surrealism and literary prose in these stories and creates a magically charged and alluring atmosphere which will leave readers spellbound. The author’s beautiful literary prose highlights the strange atmosphere and literally seduces the reader with nuanced descriptions of the happenings and places.
In my opinion D. P. Watt is one of the best authors of literary fantasy and weird fiction at this moment. He seems to have a vast imagination and he wonderfully exhibits signs of being able to write beautiful and macabre stories, which will charm readers with their unique weirdness and gothicness. The macabre elements perfectly manifest themselves in the way the characters act and what happens to them.
D. P. Watt’s beautiful prose deserves an extra mention, because his prose is stunningly beautiful. He uses plenty of descriptive expressions and sentences, and hooks his readers with them.
What separates D. P. Watt from other authors of weird fiction is that he explores the world, characters and happenings through a wonderfully twisted sense of wonder and darkness. He addresses several themes from identity to morality and pays attention to the atmosphere. He is an observant author and he offers fascinating glimpses into the lives of humans.
To be honest, D. P. Watt is one of the rare authors who can write weird stories and make them his own. He has a unique voice of his own and he is clearly a master of his art, because he writes about humane and philosophical elements in an unforgettable way.’
‘Mr. Watt’s fiction puts one in mind of decaying Europe cities. Bizarre, archaic secrets hide behind the facade of fringe theater, puppetry, and mechanical toys. The language is reminiscent of older theater, poetic, and at times using words that have an eccentric, archaic feel to them. This itself is present in the titles of the stories (which are wonderful): Erbach’s Emporium of Automata, Dr. Dapertutto’s Saturnalia, Of Those Who Follow Emile Bilonche, Archaic Artificial Suns, and Pulvaris Lunaris or The Coagulation of Wood just to name a few. Almost every single story in this book is deep enough for the reader to benefit from re-reads.
…This collection offers much to weird fiction connoisseurs, and up until now was only available as an expensive, hard to find hardcover. Watt’s collection appeals to the curious child in all of us; the macabre mysteries within shot through with a melancholy, captivating beauty.’
‘This preoccupation with not just the humanity before us but with all of the individual humans who are absent is, I believe, at the root of several of the other strengths of Mr. Watt’s work, including the extreme beauty of his prose and the way that his narrators directly address the reader. While these traits obviously owe a debt to the author’s roots in the theater, their real impetus is the urgency that results from the dizzying work of confronting such a terrible vision.
An Emporium of Automata is a truly landmark collection and is as rich a treasure as literature is capable of producing.’
‘There has existed all through the Ages an extraordinary idea that puppets are inanimate creatures controlled by human beings; but after spending some years behind the scenes in manipulating the strings of marionettes I am well assured that the position is quite the reverse, and that a puppet-showman is entirely at the mercy of his figures.’
Walter Wilkinson, The Peep Show, 1933
I can think of no better quotation that sets the stage for this magnificent collection of timeless and haunting tales by British weirdsmith D.P. Watt. This new edition of the author’s collection, An Emporium of Automata, delivers a thesis of the theatrically strange. In these stories the frightening hints penned above by a literate Punch and Judy man long ago are cunningly proven and made starkly manifest. This fine new edition places in the hands of all seekers after the beautiful and weird a grand collection which, for so long, has been privy to the locked bookcases of collectors and connoisseurs of the macabre and fantastique.
Story after uncanny story unfolds before the reader; a maze of carnival mirrors that we fear we might never escape from. Here are missing tales from some lost, darkly romantic Germanic madman’s attic. The rotting, wooden fissures that manifest fill in a gaping and pockmarked wooden maw somewhere between E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nabokov and Ligotti. To these name vaguely reminiscent stylists is far too simple. D.P. Watt dips first and foremost into his own, personal experience.
Through his sepia colored lens we are allowed to gape inside the old trunks of puppet men who have sold their souls in the rain, so that they might write such stories as these. The reader senses the authenticity of these cryptic pains, ritualistic longings, gorgeous and slow destructions. A literary answer to the modern neon sewer, these pages embrace the worship of decay, the altars of the desolate and all things archaic or fundamentally grotesque. The violently attractive, dangerously jagged islands of the mind which Mr. Watt guides us to are his own half-charted territories. I must also note that the book is structured in a manner, and so dense, that one is really getting three books of first-rate outré literature for the price of one.
Puppets rejoice! Read herein these baroque fables in which the drifting souls, toys and ticking things of men revert to fulfil far more ancient impulses. You have nothing to lose but the strings of your mind. Just as Walter Wilkinson was finally convinced that ‘a puppet-showman is entirely at the mercy of his figures’ so too, the reader of An Emporium of Automata will find themselves utterly at the mercy of dark conductor, D.P. Watt, who wields his rusty-scalpel words with the precision and mad gusto of a wildly leering, yet jaded, carnival showman.
Charles Schneider, author of The Mauve Embellishments
This Hermetic Legislature
‘If you’re going to splurge on one expensive book from 2012, it ought to be this homage to Bruno Schulz from Ex Occidente Press. It contains some of the most beautiful short stories ever written.’
The Ten Dictates of Alfred Tesseller
‘The thing which continually impresses us about Watt is his exotically coloured and scalpel sharp style and the consistency with which he keeps it up. He has a good eye for apt, almost aphoristic phrases and lively metaphors: an apple is ‘alive with the evil chuckle of wasps’, the stricken character hides in the mud like ‘a medal on a lost corpse’, and so on. The more avant garde format allows him to go all out with descriptive narrative to dramatic effect, so much so that the very prose becomes intoxicating in its intensity, possessed of an immanent fecundity, burgeoning forth with images, colours, scents, sensations and apocalyptic utterances. This choice of style, both chaotically vitalistic and necrotic for want of a better word, combines for a clever mingling between the chaotic vision and visitations described and the narrative structure itself: therein lies the greater part of the novella’s power maybe. This can at times make the text difficult to read, which is one of the reasons why we’d advise readers to approach it as a lengthy poetic work as opposed to a straight story… still, it is the most exciting work from a modern author we have read this year.’
‘D.P. Watt is one of my favorite writers, and this book shows that he is not afraid to take his work in bold new directions. The Ten Dictates of Alfred Tesseller contains more of what makes D.P. Watt’s voice such a powerful one: prose that is almost unbearably beautiful and a way of speaking to his audience so directly that it lends the work a seldom encountered intensity. I only wish that the book was a little more comprehensible.’
‘…the cross-sectioning of our single lunatic mind as constituted by the felt sanities of each self we wield… All conveyed by a prose style to die for. This is a symphonic poem without enjambement or notes – other than that tangle of notes above us like knitting. Those images and words that I suspect are clinging deeper the deeper I go. Not an easy experience but certainly a fulfilling one…’
An Emporium of Automata
‘Watt has real talent. His work is not easily defined, but his stories, like Aickman’s, may be categorised as ‘strange’. They deal with questions of identity, illusion and reality, shifting perspectives and moral structures. This may sound daunting, but the quality of the writing engages the reader. Watt writes in a neo-decadent style: elegant, euphonious, with an observant eye and ear… Watt is a writer who offers us a consistent vision. It touches on and reflects the world we know, but as in a glass darkly. Performance and puppets play a role in many of these stories because they both examine and defy what we imagine to be reality…’
‘This was a wonderful collection of the bizarre, supernatural, uncanny, and flat-out weird… I gladly recommend this collection to any reader of the weird, fantastic and supernatural (or any reader of great lit).’
‘D.P. Watt is a bit of mystery and his work is still not discussed as much as it should be. An Emporium of Automata collects his best stories published to date elsewhere as well as some new material appearing in this collection for the first time.
In a field that is fairly crowded with great authors, Mr. Watt’s voice is unique and one that I will eagerly watch in the years to come.’
‘This particular text is full of great stories that stand on their own – Jamesian, Samuelsian, Ligottian, Meyrinkian, but above all Wattian… This book, by retrocausality of night’s fidgeting words, now takes on a new vantage point, where aeon swallows moment, and vice versa. Its gestalt is ‘being’ in everything I found above blended together. It is in the slowly emerging flavour I found in the book while I hope you, the review-reader, find a similar or, even, different flavour during the course of reading my own personal findings of Wattian leitmotif in the book.’
Pieces for Puppets and Other Cadavers
‘Myself / Thyself’
‘“Myself / Thyself” by D.P. Watt comes quite close to being a classic and I can imagine it being reprinted.’
‘In D P Watt’s ‘Honey Moon’, a recently married couple – he initially eager, she prudish – undergo a modification of sexual roles, as a landscape and its history tease out the limbic forces in both, drawing them inexorably into animalistic passion. The tale’s deceptively simple, cleanly written surface only enhances the power of its truly wild conclusion.’
‘Among the various contributions some are especially worth mentioning … In the intense “Honey Moon” by DP Watt, a newly wedded couple spending their time in a remote country cottage are overwhelmed by a Pan-induced storm of passion and lust.’
‘A mildly amusing, but ultimately uninspiring, honeymoon story… [an] end bracket…’
‘A Delicate Craft’
‘…an unsettling, cautionary tale about witchcraft.’
‘“A Delicate Craft” by D.P. Watt is also about a transformation. This time the encounter is between a disillusioned Polish laborer and an elderly woman expert in the art of lacemaking. The final event comes as no surprise, so the selling point of the story is the author’s excellent attention to detail, demonstrating a thorough knowledge of a beautiful, bygone craft.’
‘A significant Wattage of lace-making lore and the condition of modern humanity…Electric prose with Aickman dim and sleekly soft undercurrents.’
‘Laudate Dominum (for many voices)’
‘D.P. Watt is an author I recently became familiar with, and very much enjoy. Laudate Dominum (for many voices) is a good example of the author’s talents. Watt takes a stuff-shirt protagonist, and puts him in an awkward social situation which takes a turn for the worse. This story is a great example of one of those stories that can make the reader laugh one minute, but freak them out by the climax.’
‘…he was water before he was fire…’
‘D.P. Watt is the first author in the anthology of whom I am not familiar. After reading …he was water before he was fire… I am now determined to become more familiar with his work. The story concerns a city man who decides to go camping, which is rather uncharacteristic of him. He becomes enchanted with a certain cove, and it isn’t long before the place’s magic has a hold on him. Watt’s story is masterfully narrated, and shows a rather dark imagination. Another favorite.’
‘D. P. Watt’s “Vertep” is arguably more puppet horror than classical music horror, but either way it’s a good one. Initially its narrator’s flat affect is a mixed blessing, making the prose seem crude rather than simple, but as this tale of obsession builds toward its unexpectedly blatant climax, that bluntness becomes appropriately disturbing, a mark of insanity that strikes an appropriate balance between terror and a terrible humor. Admirers of Thomas Ligotti’s later work are particularly advised to check out this story.’
‘ “Vertep” by DP Watt is narrated by a man whose passion is collecting Jack-in-the-Box toys. He discovers a damaged specimen that plays Stravinsky, and his life soon descends into visions and obsession. This author has a very listenable voice and we are transported by the magic to a shocking, sharp conclusion.’
‘All His Worldly Goods’
‘Watt’s “All His Worldly Goods” is an excellent, solid piece of fiction where a copy of Montague Summers’ “The Supernatural Omnibus” (that anthology really exists! I got a copy on my shelves…) keeps haunting a lonely bookshop clerk. A great mix of horror and nostalgia.’
‘In D. P. Watt’s story, “All Your Worldly Goods”, we are introduced to the deceptively cosy world of a charity shop volunteer. His carefully regulated life is gradually undermined when a mysterious man brings a fateful book into the shop. The very ordinariness of the man’s life, its petty jealousies and creeping sense of worthlessness creates a profoundly moving setting.’
‘The book ends on a high note with “All His Wordly Goods” by D.P. Watt, the ghostly tale of a man who works in a charity shop and discovers that a donated volume – the Supernatural Omnibus – refuses to leave him alone. Well written, and suffused with a creepy, small town claustrophobia, this tale also nails that fragility of lost childhood.’
‘«Apotheosis» by D.P. Watt is, perhaps, the best in this anthology. This is a metastory where the protagonist, a writer, discovers that some of his prose is stolen and published under a different name, Tullis. The most striking thing for this writer is that he himself had sent his text to unknown plagiarist. Watt wrote a nearly perfect story about information and how it absorbs everything: information is nameless, and this is the worst thing in it.’
‘In Watt’s tale, S.D. Tullis is an enormously prolific and celebrated writer, whose secret is that his work is assembled from the solicited contributions of who-knows-how-many others. Our narrator is one such writer, who received a letter from ‘Tullis’ and responded with a short paragraph – and now obsessively checks Tullis’s output for signs of his contribution. ‘Apotheosis’ works enough well on its own as a character study and a story that hints at a hidden view of the world; but it works even better in Null Immortalis, whose structure echoes that of the work in the story.’
‘D. P. Watt’s “Apotheosis” similarly draws outside its fictitious borders by presenting a sort of literary experiment by which all writers’ words are collectivized into an entity named Tullis, the greatest author in the world. Watt’s stylistic repetition lends an extra jolt to his story, a play on language very at home with the Lewisian fondness for coining new terms like “Nemonymous.”