#bookreview – Tales from the Annexe

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My Review

As its subtitle indicates, Tales from the Annex is a collection of seven stories based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West character, followed by seven other tales. 

I went into the collection not having read Driscoll’s Herbert West novels or anything by H.P. Lovecraft. I was very curious to see whether these tales could stand on their own, as well as to gain insight into why this character would inspire a contemporary writer to reanimate him in her own fiction. 

About half-way through the Herbert West section of Tales from the Annex, I sought out and read Lovecraft’s original story: “Herbert West: Reanimator.”  I had my answer: Herbert West is in the literary tradition of the prideful scientist who seeks to conquer death by bringing the dead back to life. Endlessly fascinating! 

After reading the seven Herbert West stories, I was left with the same intriguing question prompted by reading ekphrastic poetry: For a work of art (or fiction) responding to another work, what is the relationship between the inspired work and its inspiration? Should the inspired work be able to stand on its own, or should the two work in tandem? (That said, I would recommend readers who haven’t read the original H.P. Lovecraft story read it before reading Tales from the Annexe.)

The remaining seven tales are a mix of character sketches and speculative tales. “The Ice Cream Truck from Hell,” an imaginative riff on the siren call of the ice cream truck, was one of the standouts for me. Another standout was “The Colour of Magic” about an exceedingly strange tenant of a basement apartment. 

As a bonus for readers, Driscoll includes an Afterward detailing her inspiration for each story, which I appreciated and enjoyed.

Overall, the biggest strengths of Tales from the Annex are the excellence of the prose and the engaging nature of the voice. Both made for a very enjoyable reading experience.

I would recommend this collection to fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West character, as well as readers who enjoy curious tales that tantalize and beguile.

The Author

Audrey Driscoll grew up reading books, and found she was as interested in how stories were constructed as in how they turned out. She worked out scenes and bits of dialogue in her head, and made her friends act out little dramas based on her favourite book at the time – Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

With that background, it was inevitable she would become a writer. It just took a while. After establishing a career as a librarian – first at the University of Saskatchewan and then at the Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia – Audrey had a meaningful encounter with H.P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West.

Audrey was fascinated by HPL’s corpse-reanimating physician and his friend the nameless narrator. The result was The Friendship of Mortals, which was followed by three more novels to form the Herbert West Series. Self-publishing became respectable and relatively easy just in time to rescue Audrey from the sad fate of the Unpublished Writer.

In 2018, Audrey published She Who Comes Forth, a sequel to the Herbert West Series and in 2020, Tales from the Annexe, a collection of short stories. She is preparing to publish She Who Returns, which will be the concluding novel for the Herbert West Series and its spinoffs.

Satisfying My Curiosity

The first seven stories in this collection are based on a character created by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.  You’ve also published a four-book series featuring this character. So, just who is this Herbert West, and why is he so fascinating?

Herbert West is the title character in a story called “Herbert West, Reanimator” by H.P. Lovecraft, published as a serial in 1921 or 1922. I was aware of the story for years before I actually tracked down a copy and read it in 1998. When I did, a couple of things struck me: in contrast to the protagonists of most of Lovecraft’s stories, Herbert had a bit of personality and a physical description (slight, blond, blue-eyed). He was associated with Miskatonic University in HPL’s fictitious town of Arkham. Said university’s library owned a copy of the Necronomicon, a grimoire mentioned in several other stories. Somehow, I started putting these elements together, even though the original Herbert West story didn’t mention the library or the Necronomicon.

How did your encounter with Lovecraft’s character become a novel of your own?

I had been thinking in a vague way of writing a novel for years, so when a plot involving Herbert began to form in my mind, I thought “Why not?” and in 2000 I started writing. The story became a bit of an obsession. I could hardly wait to get back to it after work every evening, and finished it in about 6 months.

How closely do your characters hold to Lovecraft’s originals?

In the original story, the narrator (who is unnamed) is a fellow medical student and later physician. I knew I couldn’t create a narrator like that, due to lack of insider knowledge about medicine, so I made my narrator a cataloguing librarian (which is what I was at the time).

One thing I discovered was the characters and their interactions were way more compelling to me than the supernatural stuff, which was really just a framework or a set of props. Herbert West could bring corpses back to life, and his friend Charles found Herbert interesting for a variety of reasons. The corpses were secondary to me; in fact, they were kind of a pain because I wasn’t keen on having them lurching around doing gross things. (Unlike the movie “Re-Animator,” which was all about grossness.)
The real question was why was Charles (who was a conservative type) attracted to him?

My version of Herbert West gained attributes and a history as I wrote The Friendship of Mortals, and the relationship between him and Charles became the focus of the book.

I’d love for you to speak to the ekphrastic questions I raised in my review of Tales from the Annexe. For a work of art (or fiction) responding to another work, what is the relationship between the inspired work and its inspiration? Should the inspired work be able to stand on its own, or should the two work in tandem?

I think the inspired work should be able to stand on its own, but it should also retain aspects of the work that inspired it. The Friendship of Mortals follows the plot of HPL’s “Herbert West, Reanimator” for the most part. At the end of Lovecraft’s story, West is destroyed by his imperfectly reanimated creatures. In my novel, the destruction takes a completely different form, but anyone familiar with the original would surely recognize its origin. The novels and stories that follow the first one, on the other hand, are complete departures from Lovecraft. Rather than cosmic horror, I pursued the theme of how an individual could be transformed by relationships with others and life events.

Not to give your short stories short shrift, what would you like potential readers to know about Tales from the Annexe?

The Herbert West stories in Tales from the Annexe are for those who enjoyed the series and want more of the characters and atmosphere. Or perhaps for those who would like a taste before committing to a lengthy novel. I would recommend the story “Fox and Glove” to such readers. It’s fairly light but conveys the essential elements of The Friendship of Mortals. And the other stories in the collection are excursions into everyday weirdness, except for “The Blue Rose,” which is a peek into a world I haven’t yet created, but may someday.

145 thoughts on “#bookreview – Tales from the Annexe

  1. I loved your interview with Audrey, Liz. I read this collection of stories a couple of years ago, without having read any Herbert West or HP Lovecraft. Though the stories stood on their own, I wish I’d read some of the inspirational pieces first. I think it’s very cool that Audrey followed her impulse to expand on the existing works. I enjoyed She Who Comes Forth too.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Liz, I’m delighted that you read the book and wrote this wonderful review. And I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my version of Herbert West. Tales from the Annexe and The Friendship of Mortals are free this week at Smashwords as part of Read an Ebook Week.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Liz, a great “package” — review, Q&A, etc. — about Audrey’s fascinating-sounding “Tales”! I’ve read quite a bit of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and it is of course weirdly compelling.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful interview, Liz. I like your ekphrastic questions, and Audrey Driscoll gave a great response. I’m not sure if I read any Lovecraft many years ago–certainly he’s influenced many. Given his blatant racism and anti-Semitism, I’m not likely to read him, but I can understand his characters serving as inspiration for something different.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I hesitated to mention it because I didn’t want you to think I was implying anything negative about your work. However, I also felt it had to be said about Lovecraft. We’ve seen what comes from not naming things for what they are. Best of luck with your books!

        Liked by 3 people

  5. What a thorough discussion of this book, Liz. I love your commentary on a “prideful scientist who seeks to conquer death by bringing the dead back to life. Endlessly fascinating!” Those last two words–yikes! Me–endlessly gruesome!

    This sounds like a cousin of fan fiction? I’ve seen several books lately ‘inspired by’ a different author. Clever.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Jacqui. Fan fiction came to my mind as well. I did a little digging online and learned that fan fiction takes the same characters and gives them new adventures, whereas Audrey’s books take Hebert West as an inspiration and starting point to further develop the characters from the original and create completely new works.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There is an element of fan fiction in The Friendship of Mortals, but I think it goes beyond that because I’ve fleshed out 🙂 the character quite a bit and taken him in a different direction than H.P. Lovecraft would have.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Excellent review Liz! I liked that you took the time to read the Lovecraft work – Herman West-Reanimator, to place the related short stories in their literary context. A very thorough review. Enjoyable read. Thank you for all the work this must have been to produce this share. Blessings.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. HI Liz, I have this book and have been meaning to read it for ages so thanks for the reminder. I’ve read The Ice cream Truck from Hell and I loved it so I’m sure I’ll enjoy the other stories. It’s nice to learn more about Audrey’s inspiration for the Herbert West stories. I did not know who he was.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Robbie. Yes, I first published the Ice Cream Truck story on my blog in 2019. And Herbert is also the subject of a couple of 1980s mock-horror movies that are now “cult classics.” I’ve seen one of them, but it didn’t do much for me. I prefer my version of Herbert. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much, Linda! Even X number of years since graduation, student brain always kicks in when I read.

      I’ve started to think of one work of creative expression responding to or inspired by another as call-and-response.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Liz – a great review, as always! I very much appreciated the backstory and foundation for “Tales From The Annexe”

    Audrey – what a brilliant idea to channel H.P. Lovecraft. I first met H.P. Lovecraft when I read his horror novella – “The Shadow over Innsmourth” which forms part of the Cthulhu Mythos about a malign undersea civilization. He certainly had a marvelous imagination! I enjoyed this post immensely! Thank you to your both!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I will add my Ditto to the comments above this. This is a great interview and review. I read the book and enjoyed it but have not been able to go and read the original story that sparked it but it’s on the to do list and Audrey has a great writing style

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for promoting Audrey’s work here. I noticed that she acted out story plots, which now gives her keen insight into how stories are made. The book cover is intriguing as is the author’s writing process. Thank you–both!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fans of the iconic Lovecraft and of “everyday weirdness” would love this review, your interview, and Audrey’s books. Her writing sounds intelligent, thoughtful, and well-crafted—not to mention entertaining! Thanks for broadening our horizons yet again, Liz.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m fascinated and intrigued in equal measure, Liz. Thanks for introducing me to Audrey and for expanding my limited knowledge of Lovecraft. There’s always more to read after enjoying your reviews 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, it is! This is your calling, on top of writing. Okay, who are the biggies whose reviews are revered? Kirkus leaps to mind. I’m just giving you a gentle point in this direction since you have already earned your wings.

            Liked by 1 person

  13. Should the inspired work be able to stand on its own, or should the two work in tandem? I think it depends on how fluid the author is with the connection. I think Audrey’s ‘Afterword’ that explains her inspirations is a unique and great idea. Congratulations, Audrey, and thank you. Liz, for sharing this wonderful review/ interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love these questions about the interaction between fictional works based off of one another–it’s always fun, as a reader, to find subtexts–it’s delightful and imaginative, playful work. I’ve GOT to read this collection!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I haven’t read any of Audreys’s books. Nonetheless this sounds fascinating.
    “seeks to conquer death by bringing the dead back to life.” is reminiscent of a couple of men I met many years ago. One is Saul Kent, who is a pioneer in the practice of cryonics. This is where they freeze …I think your head, until you can be brought back with new technologies.
    He came for dinner.
    I couldn’t eat.
    Thanks Liz!!!!!!
    Fab review Audrey!

    Liked by 2 people

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