‘Marionettes’ by Claire Dean

‘Marionettes’ does for Prague what ‘Don’t Look Now’ does for Venice. For Claire Dean it’s both a living city and a territory of the imagination: her knack for terse but memorable portrayal of landscape and built environment makes a massive contribution to the story’s mounting sense of unease and dislocation. The unnamed protagonist and her partner, Karl, return to the city after a gap of seven years, revisiting key landmarks and reminiscing about the previous holiday. She discovers an unstaffed marionette shop and, on a visit without Karl, finds a pair of marionettes that resemble the pair of them. When Karl doesn’t believe her, she attempts to find the shop once more but its location seems to be curiously provisional. It can only be found when she isn’t looking for it. The narrative is peppered with hints, overt and symbolic, that the woman has become stifled by her relationship and the final segment is an alarming, dreamlike recapitulation of this theme.

First published as a Nightjar Press chapbook, 2011 and collected in The Museum of Shadows and Reflections, Unsettling Wonder, 2016

‘The Unwish’ by Claire Dean

I had never heard of Claire Dean until I picked up this chapbook from Nicholas Royle’s ever-reliable Night Jar Press; I am so glad I did because this is one of the best contemporary weird short stories I’ve encountered. ‘The Unwish’ creeps up on you like all good writing of this type should; it is the story of two sisters, one happily settled and pregnant, the other waiting expectantly on the texts of a new boyfriend, who gather at a house in the countryside for a family event. But flashes of a past perhaps buried begin to show themselves. Wasn’t there a third sister?

First published by Nightjar Press, 2017