Terence, Mephisto And Viscera Eyes is a collection of nine short stories (and several illustrations) by pulp and bizarro author Chris Kelso. The cover should perhaps warn the casual browser that they’re about to open something bleak and a little disturbing, but it’s the stories themselves that will truly rattle Kelso’s readers.
The first story is a short but dark vignette – we are witness to a display of violence on the deck of a slave ship. It’s startling for it brutality, but otherwise has little to commend it. The descriptions are awkward and quite often don’t make sense (“Terminal glance”? “Wood-wreathed”? “Meaty palmed”?). The action leads nowhere, and revolves around characters we neither know nor care about.
The second tale (which shares a name with the title of the collection) has a lot more going for it. It takes place in a world where people keep other people as slaves, and contains an interesting meta-fictional strand in which the protagonist attempts to publish a book of stories that bears an eerie resemblance to Terence, Mephisto And Viscera Eyes. It has moment of cleverness throughout, but rather loses its way in the middle, coming to a muddled and unsatisfying close.
The stories that follow explore further the same world, and are similarly chock-full of depravity. There’s sex with a corpse. There’s murder. There’s blood and gore. There’s brutality and violence and a recurring edge of clever wit.
I can’t say that Terence, Mephisto And Viscera Eyes is not vivid, nor that the images it conjured weren’t effective or didn’t stick with me. It’s certainly shocking, and there’s a compelling purity to the utter bleakness of the nine tales between its covers. But the stories themselves just didn’t work for me. I didn’t see the characters as real, or care about what happened to them – perhaps because what happened to them seemed so random. The stories didn’t reach me, and I couldn’t escape the apprehension that they were written with little more in mind than to shock.
That said, I kept reading. If nothing else, Kelso provides a particular flavour – a cocktail of nightmarish imagery and despair and in-you-face punk attitude. It wasn’t a cocktail I enjoyed, but it might be one that’s worth experiencing if for no other reason than its sheer potency.
Christopher Frost now lives in Stoke-on-Trent, after studying at nearby Keele University. He is a freelance writer, and spends most of his time working for a local charity. In his spare moments he reads furiously, and writes book reviews.