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.
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.