Hashish by Oscar A. H. Schmitz

A review of the transgressive short story collection Hashish by Oscar A. H. Schmitz.

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Hashish is a collection of short vignettes based around the unnamed narrator’s desire to seize life by embracing all aspects of decadence and depravity—all while remaining thoroughly languid, elegant and cultured.

There’s something amusing about the narrator’s pretentiousness. He seeks transgressions and taboos with the lofty dedication of someone who goes to the opera every week because it’s “improving.” How much of this is intentional is up for debate, but I was surprised by the humour in the writing. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole book. The blurb promised eroticism and cannibalism, but given that it was written in 1902 I was prepared for floral descriptions of lady’s racy ankles and bloodstained daggers dressed up in polite euphemisms. However, Hashish delivers some genuine twists and shocks:

“As the fury of the organ thundered down, Teresa was compelled to wilder and wilder dancing. She flung away the platter with the head and in sudden inspiration found within herself the Asian dancers’ pensive, articulated turns of limb. She presented her open sex to the bright candles and, with a violent gesture, tore away the flower of her virginity, so that her white body bled on the red rubies.”

Which, honestly, I was not prepared for.

The stories vary—Smuggler’s Pass is the most notably different, having more of a fairytale than a gothic feel—but they all contain a certain longing. The narrator(s) searching for meaning, whether through watching peasant orgies or pursuing erotic affairs with masked strangers, gives an oddly wistful tone to this collection of horror and weirdness.

I would recommend giving Hashish a go if you like oddness, humour, and a certain level of grotesque.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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