From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

Creatures of the night…

🙂 🙂 😐

from the dust returned 2Usually I give a short blurb at the beginning of my reviews, but I found it exceptionally hard with this one because basically the book isn’t really about anything discernible. Lots of creatures of the night and weird people with strange powers (maybe werewolves and vampires – I really have no idea) are en route to a family homecoming at the Elliot house in Illinois. While there, we will be told a few stories about some of them which seem to be almost entirely unlinked to each other but for the repeated appearance of a few of the characters.

I’m guessing you’ve already worked out that this book didn’t exactly thrill me. Fantasy is always a big ask for me, but at least most fantasy has some kind of story. The book apparently originated as short stories written over a long period of time which Bradbury then brought together in 2001, writing linking portions to try to give it some kind of coherent structure. This is the same way as Bradbury’s much earlier (by half a century) The Martian Chronicles evolved – a book I thought was truly wonderful despite the fragmentary feel of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite as well with this one. Firstly, with one or two exceptions, the separate stories aren’t terribly interesting; and, secondly, there doesn’t seem to be much of an overarching theme to outweigh the weakness of the linking.

The main residents of the house are a mummy known as One Thousand Times Great-Grandmère, Cecy, a girl who can dream herself into other people, Mother and Father (nope, got nothing to say about them at all) and a mortal boy, Timothy, who was taken in by the family when he was abandoned and now dreams of one day having wings like his Uncle Einar. Later Grandpère appears too – OTTG-G’s husband. Most of the stories involve one or other of these characters plus an array of other characters who tend to make only one appearance.

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury

If there is a theme, I think it might be that Bradbury is regretting the passing of belief in tales of the supernatural – sometimes comparing it to the loss of childhood, sometimes suggesting a kind of connection with the growth of atheism. But I think I may be looking too hard. Perhaps we’re just supposed to enjoy it for what it is. And maybe people who like fantasy more than I do will indeed enjoy it. Some of the descriptive writing is great, though sometimes it becomes rather overblown. I enjoyed the stories that had more of a story, if that makes any sense – the one where Cecy inhabits a young woman’s body in order to experience falling in love, for instance; or the story about the ghost, fading because of people’s lack of belief in the supernatural, and the nurse who helps him on his journey to Scotland, where he hopes that superstition still thrives enough to save him. But others are really just a series of descriptions and odd little vignettes that left me searching for the elusive point.

I think it might have worked better had it just been left as a book of short stories – the attempt to link them actually highlighted the unevenness of quality and lack of depth of meaning. Nope, I’m afraid this just wasn’t my kind of thing. Ah, well!

Amazon UK Link
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Book 17
Book 17

45 thoughts on “From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

  1. I know what you mean, FictionFan, about the fragmentary feeling in a book like this. I’ll admit I’ve not read that one; but you’re right that The Martial Chronicles has a strong theme running through the sections of the book, so that one feels the story’s cohesive. I’m also not one for the supernatural/fantasy thing, unless it’s very well done. I’m an admirer of Bradbury’s skill at storytelling, but I’m not sure this one would be for me. Your review is excellent, but the book….well, I think my TBR’s safe. For now. 😉

    • Yes, this was a disappointment after The Martian Chronicles, but it won’t put me off reading more of Bradbury’s stories. I suspect his earlier ones will work better for me. In some ways, this almost felt like he was trying too hard to be ambiguous, perhaps to try to disguise the fact that the stories weren’t really about anything very much – just pieces of writing.

      • For me, the best of Bradbury came before about the mid-1970s; thereafter it was all downhill. The writing got flabbier and flabbier, and a lot of the time he didn’t seem to have much to write about. And don’t get me started on the wholly unsatisfactory mystery novels! Before the mid-1970s, though — wow! but he produced some amazing stuff.

  2. Hmm! Sounds a bit weird to me. I do like that you are not sure about what the characters are exactly – it does sound deliciously ambiguous but I can’t see myself sitting down with this one. Also fantasy enrages me somewhat.

  3. I haven’t read this one, and now I know I won’t have to, ha! From your review, it sounds as if Ray should have left these in short story form (it was probably his publisher’s insistence on merging them, a decision that proved to be a poor one!) I’m not big into fantasy anyway, so I probably wouldn’t be attracted to it on the shelf; still, it’s nice to hear there are some redeeming points, such as the actual writing.

    • Ha! It’s always a bonus when we don’t have to add a book to our TBRs. isn’t it? Glad I could help! 😉 Yes, I suspect his publisher probably wanted to try to emulate the success of The Martian Chronicles, but these stories just weren’t strong enough to do it. But it won’t put me off reading more of his stuff – I’ll probably go back to some of his earlier stories next time, though.

    • Yes, it was a pity because it was one I was confident I’d love. But it won’t put me off reading more of his stuff – I’ll probably go back to some of his earlier stories next time, though.

  4. Interesting, FF. He’s well known for his short stories, but sometimes linking them together is too disjointed, which sounds like that happened here. I’m not a big fantasy reader either, but interesting connections to loss of childhood, rise of atheism, etc, even if that wasn’t his intention.

    • Yes, I haven’t read many of his stories but have loved everything I’ve read up till now. I think these were from quite late on in his writing career, so I’ll probably go back to his earlier stuff next time. I felt there was an interesting book there struggling to get out – it’s interesting to consider how our attitudes to supernatural stories are probably different from previous generations’…

    • Thanks, Cleo! 😀 Haha! I tried to write a blurb about eighteen times before I accepted I coudn’t really think what the book was about! Ah well, I’m sure I’ll enjoy some of his earlier stuff better…

    • Hahaha! I think it looks as if he’s strangling the poor beast, so rather than throw the book into the 451 fire, let’s throw him in! I’ll bring the petrol, you fetch the pitchfork…

  5. I know what you mean about atheism almost ruining people’s fears of the super natural. I used to terrify–DEEPLY TERRIFY–myself on a daily basis. It’s gone. I think I miss it just because I don’t have intense feelings like that anymore.

    • Yes, we’re more likely to get scared now by science-type horrors or crime stories than supernatural stuff. I know I rarely really get the chills from a ghost/vampire/zombie story though it’s nice when it happens!

      • I used to imagine the Terminator was in our woods and I could see it’s red eyes glowing. Then there was the polar bear in my parents’ bathroom that scared me into locking the door from the inside and running out and closing it. There were the spiders I could HEAR (no joke, this was a terror of mine) and the giant snakes in the shadows of my bedroom. Suffice it to say, I was a scared kid all the time.

        • Haha! Poor you! I don’t remember having imaginary terrors – my real terror of moths, daddy-long-legses and all other fluttery flying things was more than enough to contend with! And sadly I haven’t grown out of it yet… 😉

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