This is one of those collections which earns a lower rating through no fault of its own: it does the best it can with what it has, but the limitations of the material occasionally drag it down. This second, later collection of Machen's works begins brilliantly. "The Red Hand" is a murder mystery with a sinister paranormal bent, as readable as a mystery should be but in no way insubstantial. The prose-poems of Ornaments in Jade are remarkable: their brevity and style make them hugely consumable even though they demand considerable attention--but they pay that attention back tenfold with haunting, ambiguous, beautiful vignettes. "The White People" is a vivid dream, fluid and inexplicit, richly atmospheric while avoiding the clichés of the horror genre; its demands revisiting, and I plan to reread it soon. Those selections alone make this collection worthwhile--which is a good thing, because the rest of the volume flags. It's by no means bad--Joshi admits to editing out what's not worth reading, and what remains is perfectly consumable. A Fragment of Life and "The Coming of the Terror" are both beautifully paced revelations of old secrets which haunt the fringes of modern life, and I'll readily admit that my mixed response to the rest of the selections (most of which focus on World War I) may largely be an issue of personal taste. But on the whole, the second half of this collection lacks the vibrancy of the first: some stories have sour endings, some run too long, and none of them feel like essential, truly satisfying reading. That they're grouped together only exacerbates these flaws.
As a volume, The White People and Other Stories is as much about exploring Machen's oeuvre as reading his best work, and it balances coverage against accessibility. Joshi is a fantastic editor and he selects wisely, as well as providing a solid, authoritative introduction (although I wish there were also footnotes). So on that note, this collection is a success--but it isn't a must-have for the average reader. Ornaments in Jade and "The White People," however, certainly are, and a bit more Machen (like the other stories mentioned in this review) wouldn't hurt. At his best, Machen writes with deceptive fluidity: either gently poetic or unassumingly straightfoward, his prose flows along so smoothly that the reader may almost--but not quite--miss what's happening in the shady corners; in careful time he builds strong suspense and comes to the brink of revelation without treading so far as to lose the magic, and the effect is fantastic. This was my introduction to Machen, and I like what I see and intend to seek out more. He as an author I enjoy and recommend; this collection I can give or take.