Review of Berit Ellingsen’s VESSEL AND SOLSVART

Vessel and Solsvart
Berit Ellingsen. Snuggly Books, $10 paperback (110p) ISBN: 978-1943813261

Berit Ellingsen’s work is some of the most exquisite, darkly beautiful fiction you’re ever likely to encounter. Minimalist in structure, yet spilling over with symbolism, themes and weighty truths, Ellingsen’s fiction is uncanny and her style is instantly recognizable. Ellingsen’s latest offering, the pocket-sized collection Vessel and Solsvart from Snuggly Books, gives the reader everything they’ve come to expect from Ellingsen—stark landscapes, enigmatic characters, eco-apocalyptic warnings—and more.
     Vessel and Solsvart houses five short stories and each is as meticulously crafted as the rest. When I talk about Ellingsen’s singular style, here’s a taste of what I’m getting at:

“The new heat reaches us from the seeping marsh, the lichen-veiled trees, and our soft bedding of moist sphagnum moss. The water, which used to be as cool as a mallard’s feet, is now as warm as bat blood, the trunks that were hunched and slowly being choked by vines stretch like flowers in the sun, and the glistening purple earthworms that used to peek up through the moss are no longer here.”
     These are merely the opening lines of the opening story, “Vessel and Solsvart” and everything that
follows is in this same vein. Lush, crystalline and animalistic. Reading these stories made me feel as if I were looking at a 17th century Flemish still life. A table heavy and laden with bread and dead pheasants, cups and flowers, the colors warm and heady and the brushstrokes thick. I think the art analogy works well with Ellingsen and her attention to craft, but now that I think more about it, Vessel and Solsvart could also be compared to a Vanitas—a painting in the same tradition, the same style, but depicting clocks and skulls instead of bowls of apples. A painting to remind the viewer of death. 
     I don’t think it would be a stretch to place Vessel and Solsvart in the horror genre, somewhere on the shelf next to the collections of Robert Chambers (The Yellow King). Themes of death, reminders and promises, actual and spiritual, rise from the pages of Ellingsen’s book like disturbed ashes. These stories are filled with decaying animals, zombies, ghosts, doctors, dying gods and obliterated landscapes. Her stories are creepy and shudder-inducing, but, of course, also gorgeously wrought. Here’s another line from “Vessel and Solsvart”:

“Tiny black flies cover the ground like billowing black lace and part before Vessel’s bare and grime-streaked feet with a sharp and angry hum.”

     Or this one, from “Blue Star, Singular Fire”:

“The blue star swallows the bruise-colored sky whole, magnetic fault lines shiver and merge in the engulfing, endless light.”

     Perhaps because of its size and length, because of its ethereal, yet menacing sweep, Vessel and Solsvart is Ellingsen’s most dream-like work. The five stories flow into one another creating a whole and leaving the reader thoroughly shaken and intoxicated. Ellingsen is a brilliant writer—just check out her novel Not Dark Yet to see what she can do in long form—but she has taken it to the next level in Vessel and Solsvart. Fans and new readers alike are going to be as impressed with this collection as I am. (March 2017)

Purchase Vessel and Solsvart HERE.

Reviewer bio: Steph Post is the author of the novels Lightwood and A Tree Born Crooked. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.