Strange Horizons review French author Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud‘s collection, A Life on Paper, published by Small Beer Press:
I first came across Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud in the pages of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #25. The story, “A City of Museums,” concerns a group of “rats”: homeless youths living secretly in public museums. From the first sentence, I felt I’d stepped into an old-world sort of fiction, a story by Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne: a tale told by gaslight, accompanied by meaningful pauses and gulps of ale. “You wouldn’t dream of staying here without having booked a hotel room far in advance, for once in town, trying to find lodgings with the locals is hopeless” (p. 139). This sort of tale generally ends with the teller rubbing his beard (yes, it’s a he, and he has a beard), and delivering advice or a piece of rueful philosophy. That doesn’t happen in Châteaureynaud’s world. Instead, the tale opens, revealing a dizzying gorge with something at the bottom you can’t quite make out. There’s a death, a chalk outline, a slap, a hint of betrayal, a glimpse of dreams pursued in secret, and then it’s over.
The story stayed with me, and when a collection of Châteaureynaud’s stories, A Life on Paper, was published by Small Beer Press, I bought it. And I experienced, time after time, the sudden jerk, the sense of being swept up by a rogue wind, which had thrilled me when I read “A City of Museums.” In these stories, a father records his daughter’s brief life in 93,284 photographs; inscriptions with a terrible meaning appear all over a soldier’s body; a collector purchases a mummified girl and dresses it in jeans and a sweater; a decapitated head drinks moonshine and begs for death. Yet the weirdness is never left to stand on its own. The tale always takes one more step, yielding powerful imagery or psychological insight. When the living head drinks, it sits in a bucket and swallows the same moonshine over and over; when the mummy meets her end, her erstwhile owner gets married with the insurance money. The startling moments and unexpected turns packed into these extremely spare stories, many of which are less than five pages long, make for a reading experience that is disorienting in the most rewarding way, subtly creepy, and often breathtaking. – continue reading.