Monday, 15 February 2021

There Goes Pretty

 


There Goes Pretty
is the latest novella from Dark Minds Press, the eighth in the series. It’s penned by C. C. Adams, an author whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past (and who featured a favourite monster of mine in his earlier novella But Worse Will Come).

It tells the story of the relationship between Denny and Olivia and opens with their wedding at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. As the couple begin their new life together, so the cracks begin to show – more than the to-be-expected frictions of living together though, there is an external agent interfering with their plans.

A feature of all Of C. C.’s writing has been the excellent characterisation he produces and There Goes Pretty is no exception to this. All the characters within are well formed with traits and habits which ring true. The relationships between those characters is another strength of his writing and this is definitely to the fore here. The interplay between Denny and Olivia and the mistakes they make (with the associated over-thinking) will be familiar to anyone in a relationship.

With the groundwork done establishing the characters and their relationship (and with only a little foreshadowing), the supernatural elements of the story are introduced about a third of the way into the novella. I have to say that the two main scenes in which this happens are extremely effective, generating a real sense of terror and panic.

They’re effective too in the way they fit into the narrative, happening when the couple are apart, casting an air of ambiguity over them and leading to a situation where trust becomes a major issue for the newly-weds.

As the relationship deteriorates, so the rationale for the strange events is revealed. Whilst I was cool with the reveal I did feel that it could have been done in a more dramatic way than it is here, there’s no real “wow” factor to the revelation.

The book rallies for a strong, and clever, finish though – one that nicely plays with the themes of friendship, loyalty, trust and love which have run through the book.

I liked There Goes Pretty very much; it’s further evidence of an author on the brink of big things and a fine addition to a fine range of novellas. Once again the stunning artwork featuring the characteristic red/black colour scheme is provided by 77Studios.

You can buy There Goes Pretty here.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

On the Shoulders of Otava

 

On the Shoulders of Otava is a novella by Laura Mauro and is published by Absinthe Books, a new imprint of PS Publishing. Its title is taken from a line of the Kalevala, a nineteenth century epic poem which recounts the oral history of Finnish folklore and mythology. Extracts from the poem provide epigraphs for each chapter of the book - appropriately so, given the prominence the mythology has in the narrative of the novella.

The story is set in 1918, during the civil war which raged in Finland as a result of the political vacuum left behind after the end of the First World War. This conflict was a horribly literal class war, fought between the mainly middle and upper class Whites and the Reds of the Socialist Workers’ Republic. The war lasted fifteen weeks but tens of thousands died, many at the hands of death squads and executioners.

The protagonists of On the Shoulders of Otava belong to a unit of the Womens’ Guard -  a division of the Red Guard. Around 2000 women served in such units, some as young as fourteen. The story focuses on the experiences of Siiri, and begins with her glimpsing a shadowy figure in a churchyard, wandering as if in a trance. This figure turns out to be a fellow – male - soldier who, the next day, carries out a violent, seemingly unprovoked, attack on the squad leader.

The scene describing the attack is cleverly written – as are so many within the book – with the action happening at a distance, almost off-camera and only its aftermath being described in any detail. The reader gets to share the shock of the book’s characters as the nature of the wounds which have been inflicted are revealed in the discussion that follows the attack.

This flash of violence also serves to introduce the mystical aspects of the story (although this is kinda foreshadowed with the gothic-tinged shadow in the churchyard scene). The attack was completely out of character for the perpetrator – a “goody-goody” by all accounts – but the possibility is raised that it could be linked to his prior disappearance on a hunting trip in the woods during which he experienced what may have been a supernatural event.

As the narrative progresses, and Sirii and her companions find themselves isolated in those same woods, so the supernatural elements come more into play. The choice of an ancient woodland as location is a perfect one and an incredible sense of atmosphere is generated by some wonderful prose. It’s an inspired choice of location too, given the prevalence of the natural world, and animals in particular, in Finnish folklore. Most notable among these are Otso, the bear - a major player in the creation mythology and Tulikettu the firefox. Amid the established mythology, Laura has added (as far as I can tell) her own invention – that of ghost-lighting. It’s an intriguing concept, and one which lies at the heart of the narrative - so any further discussion here will unavoidably lead to spoilers.

Finnish folklore is possibly less well known to most than other nations’ variations – not least the Norse mythology of their Scandinavian neighbours and therefore necessitates some introduction. This is done skilfully however; the stories are cleverly woven into the narrative, never once feeling bolted on, instead merging into the flow of the story seamlessly.

Ambiguity plays a big part of course. The best weird fiction balances the fantastic with the normal, allowing the reader to arrive at their own decisions as to what is real and what isn’t. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap if being too obtuse, and leaving the reader scratching their head as to what they’ve just read. Such is not the case here. That fine line has been navigated very successfully and the novella is as accomplished at creating a sense of awe and wonder as it is in recording the harsh reality of being at war in a hostile climate.

On the Shoulders of Otava is a wonderful piece of writing. It’s beautifully constructed, the themes it establishes in the opening scenes carried through consummately to the conclusion. It’s a (relatively) short read but manages to pack in some great characters (and their interactions and motivations), social and political comment that doesn’t bludgeon the reader, elegant prose (written in a hugely involving present tense), a brilliantly created sense of atmosphere and a salutary reminder of mankind’s place (i.e. insignificance) in the grand scheme of things. It’s a book I highly recommend.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Wyrd and Other Derelictions

 

The theatre critic Vivian Mercier once described Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as a play in which “nothing happens. Twice.” In much the same way, Adam Nevill’s new collection Wyrd and Other Derelictions from his own Ritual Ltd could be described as a book in which nothing happens. Seven times.

Mercier’s quote wasn’t meant to be disparaging of course, (quite the opposite in fact), and neither is my appropriation and modification of it; the stories in Wyrd are what the author describes as “derelictions” and are all set in the aftermath of some terrible event, consisting of descriptive passages of the evidence left behind. Thus, nothing actually happens during the stories - but a lot has certainly happened just prior to them beginning. Hippocampus, the story which opens the collection is one of my favourite pieces of short fiction anyway, much of that admiration being for the style in which it was written so it’s wonderful that Adam has taken that concept and run with it, developing and expanding it to produce the six original stories which accompany it.

Given the nature of the stories there are of course no characters in which to invest your emotions and no dialogue. What we have instead are long passages of descriptive prose, a presentation of evidence and inferences from which the reader must discern what has happened. It’s a bold move and in order to work requires writing of the highest order.

Which, of course, it has. Whilst in essence the stories are lists of observations, the writing is so assured and skilful that they read like extended prose poems, composed in such a way that there is a momentum to the words, a rhythm and pace which pulls the reader in and carries them along. The imagery created is sublime and unsettling; symmetrically arranged stones, dimly lit rooms, buildings full of the dead… I’m often guilty of comparing Adam’s work to film technique - so once more can’t hurt: the stories in Wyrd put me in mind of long, single-take tracking shots, the camera moving fluidly through a scene. Such sequences can help build tension – especially if they are dialogue-free – the viewer waiting for something to happen, for something or someone to suddenly appear, and this is exactly the feeling that’s created by all of the stories in this book. The power of suggestion has rarely been so effectively deployed.

[As I write this part of the review, I’m struck by the thought that the sequence in Goodfellas sound-tracked by Layla and showing the discovery of the bodies is pretty much a filmic version of a dereliction: aftermath displayed in all its wordless glory: https://youtu.be/1Z6MJIjCJ20 ]

Because the reader is an active participant in the discoveries made within the stories, they are written in present tense, something which only helps to increase the tension. Implied within the form of the stories is the presence of an unseen narrator – or more properly a guide, leading the reader from one gruesome discovery to the next. On the whole, the guide offers no explanation or rationale, simply points out what is to be seen, allowing the reader to reach their own conclusions. I say on the whole as in some of the later stories, the guide certainly becomes more conversational, even offering up some suggestions as to what might have happened. I saw this as an evolution of the form as the book progressed, the style and content changing ever so slightly – or perhaps as signs of a growing familiarity between guide and reader. This is most apparent in the story Monument which at some points even drifts into second person, describing directly how “you” feel and the narrator/guide referring to “we” on a couple of occasions. I started reading Wyrd late at night and (because I'm old) had to read it in two goes but my advice would be to read it all at one go if possible, (definitely achievable, the overall length is that of a novella), and enjoy the subtle changes in the relationship fully.

There’s a change in the timing of the point of entry into the stories too. Whilst the early stories show the aftermath of events only, later tales offer fleeting glimpses of the perpetrators and create a feeling that events are still unfolding. The horrifying prospect that what is being described is not just an aftermath but also a beginning is one which looms large in these later tales.

The dead litter the pages, often described in forensic detail that isn’t for the faint-hearted. The “who” of the whodunnit is most obvious in the title story of the collection even if the “why” is open to speculation but in the rest there are only hints as to who, or what, has perpetrated the foul deeds on display. Hints of supernatural interference abound, possibly even extra-terrestrial forces have been at work here. Notably, there’s a distinctly coastal theme to the locations described, a perfect choice, a place where two worlds intersect and most of the aftermaths described are in remote areas, their isolation adding to the atmosphere and feelings of abandonment – and yes, dereliction - wonderfully.

Wyrd is an incredible piece of work. As I stated earlier it’s a bold move on the author’s part to take it on and the stories will not be to everyone’s liking. In musical terms this is definitely a concept album but in my opinion the concept is a brilliant one and the experience of reading this collection is one I thoroughly enjoyed and one I’m looking forward to repeating very soon. As ever, the book itself is a work of art with the impeccable production qualities we’ve grown to expect from Ritual. Once again, a stunning piece of art from Samuel Araya graces the front cover.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Wyrd pushes the boundaries of short fiction writing. Adam Nevill has produced a work of stunning originality and may even have created a new sub-genre in horror fiction. I loved this collection and can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Friday, 14 August 2020

The Fallen

 


My second novel The Fallen is being published in September by Demain Publishing. This will be my third collaboration with the press, and its head honcho the irrepressible Dean M Drinkel, with my novella The Lost featuring in their debut publication, the WW1 themed anthology The Darkest Battlefield and my short story Shattered taking the number 11 slot in the Short, Sharp Shocks series.

The Fallen tells the story of three different times mankind has come into contact with the same supernatural force – a fallen angel – those times being the present day, during World War Two and at the end of the sixteenth century. The protagonists are the scientists onboard an Arctic research vessel, the merchant seamen onboard an oil tanker which is part of an Arctic convoy and a group of mercenaries hunting down religious icons for Tzar Ivan the Terrible respectively.

The novel is presented in a nested format, with the present day section providing the first and last parts, wrapped around the World War Two section which is itself split around the Russian section which makes up the heart of the story. The plan was to show the interlinking nature of the three sections, and how actions in one would have consequences in the others and this seemed a more interesting way of doing it rather than just presenting them in chronological order. I did toy with the idea of presenting them in reverse order, which could have worked quite well, but decided in the end to stick with the more convoluted format.

Mt original idea was to write a novella set in an Arctic convoy and as I began plotting, I realised that it would need a prologue. When that prologue – the Russia section - turned out to be 25000 words or so, I realised that I had a novel on my hands… About halfway through writing the WW2 section, I had the feeling that the novel would need something more – which is how the present day section came about. The three sections were written in their entireties: Russia first, then WW2 and finally the present day section. Only after all were completed did I chop them up into the order they appear in the final version. That said, I’d made the decision to use the format whilst I was writing the WW2 section – which allowed me to arrive at a suitably cliff-hanging point at which to make a break both in this section and the present day one.

The Fallen is a creature-feature and is partly a homage to the books and films which I love and which have influenced the things I write about. The most obvious cinematic references are to The Thing (and The Thing from Another World) and Alien. It’s always tricky getting the balance right in situations like this but hopefully I’ve succeeded in paying homage rather than blatantly ripping off. There are enough references in the text – overt and subtle – to acknowledge the debt I owe to them.

I had a great time writing The Fallen and I hope the enthusiasm I felt has transferred onto the page. At heart I’m a frustrated film director and writing this novel has allowed me to present the epic blockbuster I’d have loved to direct. It has some of the biggest set-pieces I’ve ever written but hopefully enough human drama to make you care about the characters I’ve pitted against the demon.

My thanks again to Dean for taking this on and also to Adrian Baldwin for creating such a fine cover. The Fallen will be available first as an e-book then later as a paperback and you can pre-order it here.

 

 

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Flower Power.


Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! Is the latest literary offering from the force of nature that is Duncan P Bradshaw. This is the man who in the past has brought us his own interpretations of the classic horror tropes of extra-terrestrial cannibal nuns and serial killer vacuum cleaners. For this book, the author has put aside the literary style and allegory of those earlier works and is definitely playing this one for laughs.
So, Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! – where do I begin? The ending maybe? Blimey, I didn’t see that coming.
In all honesty, there was much of this book I didn’t see coming. (OK, all of it). Anyone searching Wikipedia to find useful bits of information to use in a review to make themselves look clever will discover that works of surrealism contain the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non—sequitur. All of these things are present in Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! – so it definitely is surreal. For those who read the whole Wikipedia article rather than just finding interesting sound-bitey snippets, there’s the discovery to be made that surrealism is regarded by many as an expression of the author’s unconscious mind.
If this is true, then the picture Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! paints of Duncan P Bradshaw is a deeply disturbing one. Then again, it is only Wikipedia so it’s probably wrong.
So: Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! What’s it about then? It’s about a couple of hundred pages in total, each one of which contains images and ideas that will disturb or entertain you depending on your personal genetic makeup. The title’s a giveaway really so if you don’t want to spoil the story I’d recommend not looking at the cover or the first few pages.
In truth, it’s probably best not to dwell too much on the plot as , although it’s there, its main function is to provide a framework on which to hang a smorgasbord of surreal concepts, those concepts given flesh (and bones natch) by an array of eccentric characters. Among those characters is the narrator himself, a cunning, fourth-wall breaking malcontent who make this book more meta than meta-meta-man, meta-king of metaworld.
Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! bombards the reader with madness. Reading tip number two is to remove the idea that “that couldn’t possibly happen” from your repertoire of thoughts before you start. If you cling to a realistic, pragmatic approach to your enjoyment and evaluation of Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! then you’re going to be in real trouble. Go with the flow is my advice.
Those familiar with Mr Bradshaw’s oeuvre will be aware of his penchant for appropriating cultural references and twisting and corrupting them into something terrible (yet entertaining). There are the occasional nods within Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! – most notably Jason and the Argonauts and Alien, but this is a book that relies less heavily on them, making it all the more worrying that the scenes and set-pieces which make up the book are based on original thoughts. I was actually impressed by this change in tack, saw it as evidence of an author growing and maturing, finding their real voice, coming into full bloom as it were. And then the narrator made exactly the same point and opened up a vortex into another dimension. (Possibly). In truth, that was my favourite meta-moment in a book full of them. Indeed, the book is so metafictional, it’s quite possible that it’s actually a reinterpretation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman – though one done in a more literary style.
Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! is the weirdest book I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the most entertaining. There’s always a risk that a book quite this bizarre can alienate a reader, of tipping over into self-indulgence. Luckily, that’s a trap Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! doesn’t fall into. (If it did, it wouldn’t be a real trap anyway, merely some kind of device for harvesting the nectar of wildebeest). Each random image and idea somehow fits into the overarching theme and narrative, and all are written with a finely judged sense of comedy timing. I will admit to laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Here you’ll find a Speedo-clad policeman with concealed trebuchets and mysterious gentlemen dispatching clues via the medium of biscuit. There’s some really silly stuff in here too.
Don’t Smell the Flowers! They Want to Steal Your Bones! (copy and paste is such a useful tool) is less a novel, more an experience. It’s an experience I recommend you should definitely, err, experience. Bizarre, surreal but most of all hugely entertaining. As is the case with all of EyeCue's output, the production values are superb with as much care and attention lavished on the presentation as the madness of the narrative. I suggest you buy it. Now.

Friday, 25 October 2019

The Reddening.



The Reddening is the new novel from Adam Nevill. It’s the first to be published by the author’s own Ritual Limited (the company’s previous two books being collections of short fiction) and the author’s ninth novel, arriving some two and a half years after the last one, Under a Watchful Eye. Within that time, of course, the film version of Adam’s third novel, The Ritual, has been released to huge acclaim.
It’s little surprise that The Ritual was such an effective film as Adam’s writing has a true cinematic feel to it. This is not a case of damning with faint praise - cinema is an art form in itself and when done well can evoke the strongest of emotions - rather a huge compliment to the skill of the writing itself. That writing is so assured and precise that the images it seeks to convey are delivered straight into readers’ imaginations, the scenes playing out in their minds’ eyes as they follow the words on the page.
The cinematic feel to The Reddening is perhaps enhanced by its differences to Under a Watchful Eye. Whilst the latter was a slow burner of a novel, preying on psychological rather than visceral fears, The Reddening pelts along at a cracking pace, employing multiple points of view and short chapters both of which lend a real urgency to proceedings. A few of the chapters start with a startling image or piece of action – the literary equivalent, I guess, of a jump scare – and the author even manages to use sound effectively (again testament to the skill of the writing) to unsettle and terrify the reader. There’s a scene in Adam’s novel Last Days which really freaked me out at the time, and which still gives me a shiver to think about, involving strange sounds on a recording and that effect is recreated in a scene in The Reddening with equally impressive results. The power of suggestion created by “noises off” is not to be underestimated (think movie versions of The Exorcist or even The Ritual – the scene where Luke can hear whatever is happening to Dom in another room inside the cabin…) and it’s used to brilliant effect here again.
It’s the set-pieces in The Reddening that really stand out though; among them a dog attack, a desperate fight against drowning and, at almost the halfway point of the book, a scene of extreme horror that is one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in quite some time. I’m already regretting using the term “extreme horror” as that conjures up (in my mind anyway) lurid and gratuitous descriptions of violence designed to shock and disgust rather than create any real feelings of horror. The scene in question does involve extreme violence but the writing here is so good that the emotions it stirs in the reader are ones of horror in its purest sense; eschewing over the top descriptions, the spare and concise way in which it is written magnifies the terror of what’s happening. It’s a grim and relentless scene that will leave you shaken and stirred; a masterclass in how this type of thing should be written.
Set in Adam’s own stomping ground, The Reddening is a novel of folk horror. Its starting point is the discovery of a cave containing Neanderthal remains, among which is found evidence of ritualistic behaviour involving bizarre, dog-headed idols, mass slaughter and cannibalism. The novel opens with a series of vignettes, setting the scene and introducing some of the book’s characters. The always tricky job of providing information to the reader is handled very cleverly, the findings of the teams exploring the cave are presented retrospectively in a press conference, the reader discovering the horrors alongside Kat, one of the book’s main characters. It’s another brilliantly written scene with the dark revelations of the dig stirring feelings of horror and revulsion in Kat, her emotional responses magnifying and enhancing those of the reader experiencing them vicariously.
It soon becomes apparent that the horrors uncovered in the cave aren’t as ancient as they might seem. Enter Helene, the book’s second protagonist: sister to Lincoln who has disappeared after having made the aforementioned recordings near the site of the cave. It’s another clever move, introducing a character to play the role of the outsider – a standard in any tale of folk horror, a baseline of normality against which to measure the strangeness of the “locals”. This is done extremely effectively when she finds herself caught up in a procession, the inherent hostility of the residents – and the sense of unease and danger this creates - permeating the whole scene.
As both women pursue their investigations, so the dark secrets of this particular part of South Devon begin to reveal themselves. People, it seems, have been disappearing on a regular basis. A possible explanation for these disappearances is that of a drugs empire protecting itself, a nice sub-plot which injects some ambiguity into proceedings and also the allows the introduction of seventies’ folk singer Tony Willows who may or may not be involved in what’s going on. It also allows some nice cross-references to Adam’s other books, a feature of most of his novels; subtle enough that if you spot them you’ll feel the warm glow of familiarity and your own cleverness but if you don’t the narrative is in no way affected.
Whilst the drug runners may provide a rational explanation for the disappearances and general weirdness, there is another, supernatural, rationale to be considered. Something, or so it seems, lurks beneath the surface of the ground; something worshipped – and feared – since prehistoric times. As with Black Maggie in his novel No One Gets Out Alive, Adam has created an entirely plausible, and terrifying, mythology as the backdrop to The Reddening. Old Creel is a fine creation, a distant relative of The Ritual’s Moder but a traveller along a different evolutionary pathway. I do like a good monster, and there are none better at creating them than Adam Nevill. As with Moder in (the novel of) The Ritual, the descriptions of Old Creel are handled in such a way that the reader’s own imagination is engaged to paint their own picture of what the monster looks like. It’s another example of skilful writing and reinforces that in most cases, less really is more. Samuel Araya provides an incredible image for the book’s cover, perfectly capturing the imagery suggested by the prose within. The cover of the hardback is particularly effective, presenting the art work unencumbered by the book’s title - an artistic decision which works incredibly well. As with all of the Ritual Limited books it’s a quality product, the care and attention to detail apparent in every aspect.
The separate storylines eventually converge in a thrilling showdown at the book’s conclusion. The third act actually begins with a flashback – a bold move considering it could have interrupted the momentum which builds all through the novel. Could have, but doesn’t. Backstory is provided in order to give the reader information the protagonists lack and sets the scene for the final showdown. There may not be any wicker men involved but the horrors Adam conjures are just as effective.
The Reddening is described on the paperback edition’s cover as a Folk Horror Thriller and there can be no argument that this is exactly what it is. It’s the paciest book Adam has written, hurtling along, drawing the reader towards its horrifying climax. The writing throughout is of the highest quality, nothing is sacrificed to the momentum of the plot and the characters populating the story are perfectly drawn; real people facing an unreal situation. The use of location is particularly effective here, the eerie landscape of South Devon a character in itself. The Reddening is in essence a plot driven, literary novel. Now there’s a thing.
Although I’ve just used over thirteen hundred of them, words can’t adequately describe how much I enjoyed The Reddening. There are a few authors whose new books I await with great anticipation and Adam Nevill is most certainly one of them. The imagery and themes contained within The Reddening make this possibly the quintessential Nevill book but I don’t for one moment think that this is an author resting on his laurels. The change in tone, and style between this and Under a Watchful Eye shows how gifted and versatile a writer he is and I can’t wait to see what comes next.















Friday, 2 August 2019

Apocalypse Then. And now...


Getting old has many advantages. To be fair, I’ve yet to experience any of them – the only changes I’ve noticed thus far are a musculo-skeletal system that seems to take a couple of hours longer to wake up than my brain (at which point it does nothing but complain anyway) and an increased desire to wave my fist and shout “gerroff my lawn!” at passers-by. Something else it’s brought however, is a wave of nostalgia which has manifest itself in a longing to revisit the books I read in my youth, to rekindle my love of the horror genre by reading the works that hooked me in the first place.
Joy then, greeted the news that PS Publishing have re-issued a book from one of my literary heroes, Stephen Laws, with a swanky new signed hardback and trade paperback edition of Chasm. First released in 1998, I not only read it then but attended a launch for it in Newcastle. The fact that Stephen hails from Newcastle, and set the majority of his novels in the North East played a big part in my admiration of him but not so much as the skill and imagination he employed in his writing did. Each of his novels – whilst grounded in the familiar tropes of the horror genre – always presented something original with new and entertaining ideas crammed into every intricately constructed plot.
Such is very much the case with Chasm, Stephen’s tenth novel, an epic (in every sense) tale of the aftermath of what appears to be an earthquake which strikes the town of Edmonville. Following the vividly described destruction, the town’s surviving residents find themselves marooned on isolated pillars of rock, the rest of the town having disappeared into what appears to be a huge crevasse.
The crevasse is, of course, the Chasm of the book’s title. And yes, I’ve used a capital C – exactly as the author does throughout the novel, and for good reason. This is no ordinary chasm, is in fact…
To say more would of course be a huge spoiler. Much of the joy of the novel comes from working out exactly what has happened alongside the book’s characters. Alongside the physical dangers faces by the protagonists, a host of supernatural threats are also thrown into the mix, most notably the Vorla, the darkness that dwells within the Chasm. The Vorla is a brilliant creation, a tour de force of imagination, a truly original monster.
The characters facing up to the horrors within Chasm are all skilfully drawn – real people thrown into an unreal situation and reacting in exactly the ways their characters dictate. The book’s protagonist is Jay O’Connor (whose initials – minus the O’ - may or may not be significant) whose journal entries provide a framing device for the novel. Jumping between these journal entries and the narrative itself (told in third person) lends a fragmented nature to the novel, something I loved as someone who appreciates form as much as content in a novel. This effect is further enhanced by introducing what appears to be a completely separate storyline in the early part of the book, the “Ordeal of Juliet Delore” before cleverly bringing the two strands together.
A feature of Stephen’s writing is the cinematic feel he brings to his stories. His prose is so precise and his powers of description so skilful that it really does feel as if you’re watching a film as you read the book. There are some who will throw their hands in the air at this, or possibly wring them theatrically as they cry out, protesting that books and films are different art forms but personally I greatly appreciate any author who has the skill to paint pictures with their words that put images directly into my head. Chasm is a prime example of this skill, with a whole host of brilliantly rendered set-pieces to enjoy.
Chasm is a long book, but so tightly written and with so much action contained within that you’ll fly through it. The fractured structure lends itself to plenty of cliff-hangers (including one thrilling literal example) which keep the reader hooked. The supernatural horrors are a joy to read – a mix of originality and new variations of established tropes – but it’s the introduction of some human monsters in the book’s third act that ushers the reader towards the conclusion.
I vaguely remember a feeling of disappointment when I first read Chasm that the horror had switched tone but on my re-read now see that it was in fact a master-stroke. Throughout, the book is beautifully constructed, edited to maintain pace wonderfully, storylines and characters interacting to brilliant effect and so it is that the introduction of the Caffney family provides the catalyst for the novel’s dénouement, disrupting the tenuous status-quo the narrative had fallen into.
There’s heroism, redemption and action galore in the conclusion of Chasm and, ultimately, the explanation both characters and readers have been searching for. If I have any criticism of the book it’s probably that the huge ideas the events described in the novel are based on are covered relatively quickly. It’s far from an info-dump but perhaps a little more time spent on the revelations may have been better.
I loved re-reading Chasm, enjoyed it more this time round. Given it was written in 1998, I had concerns that it may have felt a little dated given that this is the original text of the book. To be honest, this isn’t the case. True, there are no mentions of the internet or mobile phones – smart or otherwise – but, given the cataclysmic events which occur disable all means of contact with the outside world this isn’t really an issue. At one point a Ford Cortina appears but this only added to the nostalgic glow I was seeking anyway.
I’m so happy that Chasm has been given a new lease of life and is available again to a new generation of readers. It’s a thrilling, terrifying, thought-provoking read – pretty much everything I want from a horror novel.
You can – and should – buy it here.