Dark and Recent Reading
In the past few weeks I have read more than written, and now I will write more than read. In an effort to jog-start the writing brain, I’ll just write down a few thoughts on the works that I have read recently and particularly enjoyed.
‘An Obstruction to Delivery’, Sean Adams, in ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine’ July/August 2017
Although there are several other stories in this issue that I loved, I was amazed by the humour and originality of this fantasy story about an exiled underground postal service and the problems it encounters. Excellent.
‘Behold the Void’, Phillip Fracassi
A true craftsman. Crisp and poetic sentences, cut sharp, with endings that are very difficult to predict. I enjoyed every story in this collection, but a few really stood out for me, such as the opening story ‘Soft Construction of a Sunset’, which really messed with my mind, ‘The Baby Farmer’, which was so visually evocative, and ‘Mandala’, which ratchetted the tension up really high and didn’t let up till the end. Dark and beautiful work.
The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Let me just say that my first contact with this story has been an audiobook, and it was chilling. This story is of a woman confined to a room in a holiday house to rest after the birth of her child. The room has terrible yellow wallpaper, and the tale is related in the first-person, as if from her diary. I won’t mention what occurs too much to let the reader or listener experience the story for themselves, but the story is shocking for several reasons. Her husband is a doctor and can control what she is allowed to do as if she were a young child. Her own ideas are belittled and ignored. She is not allowed to do anything that could potentially make her feel tired, and her contact with her child and the outside world is restricted. In addition, the ugly wallpaper in the room starts to function as some sort of gateway to release parts of herself or of what lies beyond. Although I don’t want to spoil the ending, I believe the story can be read in so many different ways: as cosmic horror, as psychological horror, as psychological liberation, a political and social allegory, or various combinations of these. This story really makes you think. Please read it.
Under a Watchful Eye, Adam Nevill
A richly-layered supernatural horror tale, which brings to mind M.R. James. I don’t want to give any spoilers for this one, but here’s a run-through flash of contents by way of a trailer: cosmic horror, humour, annoying flatmates, mystery, dark conspiracies, out-of-body experiences, being pursued by supernatural forces, book deals, beautiful descriptions of seaside towns, murder, cults, madness, and people with terribly poor hygiene standards. Readers who are familiar with his wonderful short story ‘Yellow Teeth’ in ‘Some Will Not Sleep’ will feel parts of this story are too familiar at first, but rest assured (or maybe you won’t be able to rest), events change dramatically after about the first two-thirds of the novel, as the mystery starts to be revealed. Just don’t expect every aspect of proceedings to be spelled out and explained in triplicate –Adam Nevill’s novels require the reader to pay close attention. There are dark horrors lurking at the edges. Thrilling.
(A minor quibble for me: in Chapter 15 the conversation between a yellow-jacketed figure and the protagonist was a little hard to follow, interspersed as it was with lengthy description. The descriptive details were necessary, but I thought there was too much separation between statement and response.)
The Wasp Factory, by Iain Banks
I returned to this after 20 years and reread it. It is a short novel – dark, twisted, and humorous, and I’m constantly finding my mind returning to parts of it days later. I’m surprised I haven’t reread it again until now. Reading this hot on the heels of American Psycho, I’m considering what would have happened if the characters in this book had access to AR-15s. The story would have ended a lot quicker for sure. It’s well worth reading, if you haven’t already and don’t mind a bit of shock and horror. Trust me, you won’t be able to predict the ending either.
That’s it for now. I’ll try not to wait so long before writing again.
Keep on rocking,