The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine
by Peter Straub
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596064416
Date: 31 December 2011 List Price $20.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A renowned, multi-awarded author of horror and dark fantasy, Peter Straub needs no introduction. His last novel, Dark Matter was published in 2010. His newest publication is a novella of ninety-three pages entitled The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine.
Although any confirmed enthusiast of Straubís work will probably be happy to swallow this little candy, I doubt it very much that horror readers, in general, will find much to enjoy in the novella. The adjective that best describes the book is "disconcerting". Straubís remarkable imaginative power produces a story featuring a girl and an older man, who become lovers and keep on staying together for a period of twenty-five years, apparently mostly spent aboard a mysterious yacht cruising along the Amazon river, the crew of which remains mysteriously invisible until the very end.
The characters, probably because of the limited word count, remain very sketchy and, all in all, rather hollow. The plot is baffling, and in some instances, deeply (and purposely?) obscure. The atmosphere of the novella blends, not always properly, eroticism, sado-masochism, horror, and lyricism. Hence, the narrative fluctuates between moments of vivid, gripping intensity and moments of annoying inscrutability or downright tedium.
Imbued with a tantalizing sense of eroticism, the description of the love affair develops by jerks, back and forth across the years. Thus, although the short novella has its merits, the general feeling left to the reader is that of an unaccomplished work, a divertissement, or, better, a trial proof of a larger fictional work that we might or might not read in the future.