The Transfiguration of Mr. Punch is a beautiful and unusual book that that was published by the small specialty imprint, Egaeus Press. It is described as a literary triptych, and I believe that is an accurate representation of the three novellas contained in the work. The three novellas in question have three different authors: Charles Schneider, D.P. Watt, and Cate Gardner. Before I get into a review of each one, I should first explain what Punch and Judy shows are for those who may not know. Punch and Judy is a traditional English puppet show that, while intended for children, is actually quite violent. Add to that the creepy nature of the traditional Punch puppet, and you have the perfect subject for three horror novellas. Here is a link for a YouTube clip of a Punch and Judy show, and one for the Wikipedia page.
Charles Schneider starts off the storytelling with his essay, The Show That Must Never Die. This was a well written fictional essay that contains a few interesting stories about the origins of Punch and Judy and the writer of the essay's own conclusions about what all of this means. While it does have a satisfying ending, for me the reading to get there was a bit tedious at times. I think that is more of a reflection of my own personal tastes rather than any fault of Schneider's. I am not fond of an essay format used in fiction, so this was my least favorite of the three novellas, but I am sure some people will love it.
The second novella has a big change in style and format, as D.P. Watt writes a story that contains several stories within the story. Memorabilia was as well done as it was creepy. It starts off with the reader getting to see one side of a conversation of someone who is selling some Punch and Judy memorabilia to a second character that isn't really given a voice. It allows the reader to imagine a sort of play where there is the main character talking to someone unseen, just off stage. This main character then introduces several vignettes where the stories within the story are played out. These vignettes were excellent; my favorite is titled "The Mechanised Eccentric". This one entails a Punch-like figure that has been brought in as a tutor for a class of art students who are then to put on a play of their own. Things become more sinister as the story progresses, and the ending is one that has really stayed with me.
The third and final novella, This Foolish & Harmful Delight, is by one of my favorite writers, Cate Gardner. I always have high expectations when I pick up something by Cate Gardner, and she certainly does not disappoint here. The story begins in hell, where Punch and Judy have been living along with a mountain of body parts and a man named Stijin. I won't say more than that about the plot as this is a story that is best left for the reader to discover all on their own. Gardner's sense of the whimsical mixed with the horrific is perfectly blended here. Her unique style completely immerses the reader in the terrifying world that she has created where Punch and Judy, as well as all of the other characters, are indeed transfigured. This novella was my favorite of the three and I think I may just have to sit down and read it again.
I am highly recommending this book, and as of right now, it is still available from Egaeus Press. It is a limited edition book, so when they're gone, they're gone. But if it is no longer available I would recommend seeing what else they do have in stock as this was a well crafted, well edited book. It is a lithography printed, sewn hardcover with pictures of Punch and Judy on the colored end-papers.
I give it five cocktails.