The Exaggerated Press. I love reading Des Lewis' real-time reviews but have to say that a lot of the time I have absolutely no idea what he means (a failure in my understanding rather than in his ability to communicate I hasten to add) so it was with a degree of trepidation that I started reading this book, with a mind to reviewing it, my concerns being that the writing would be so far over my head that I would have nothing insightful to say about it. (That said, it could be the case that I never have anything insightful to say about anything I review...)
Still, life is nothing without a challenge and, having now finished the book, I can say that to some degree my fears were confirmed, there were many occasions when reading one of the stories, or even after having completed it, that my reaction was "what the **** was that all about?" but this is in no way a criticism of the book. Many of Des' reviews communicate the emotions and feelings he experiences when reading rather than straightforward critiques of the stories themselves. Which, after all, is the most important thing. The function of art - in whatever form - is surely to create some kind of emotional response. My emotional response to Busy Blood, and the stories therein, definitely was one of confusion - which was in turn unsettling, which, when you think about it, is exactly what you would want from well written horror.
And this is definitely well written horror. I've banged on about Des Lewis a lot so far in this review but this book is a collaborative effort, the other author Stuart Hughes has written stories I've enjoyed in other publications (most recently in Hersham Horror's Alt-Zombie) and it's a compliment to both him and Des that you can't tell where the joins are. I'm not sure if the two authors wrote individual stories or collaborated within the stories themselves but either way I found it impossible to tell who wrote what, the tone and style of the writing is maintained throughout.
And it's the tone that's the key here. For whatever reason, this is an unsettling (there - I've used the word again so it must be true) collection of stories, disturbing even. It would be easy and superficial to describe them as "descent into madness" tales but they all share a theme of reality shifting and changing around the protagonists, (and not in a good way), of having the most unreliable of unreliable narrators. Many of the stories touch on surrealism - not my favourite style of writing usually - but manage to avoid the pitfalls that many Surrealists fall into of simply writing self-indulgent in-jokes (or bollocks as I like to call them) that are meaningless to anyone but themselves.
Busy Blood is a tricky read, but it's definitely worth the effort. Good writing should engage the brain and that's exactly what this collection does. You may well have to work out your own theories on what the stories are about, it may well be that many of them aren't actually "about" anything anyway. This is a good thing.
Can genre fiction be literary? Yes it can, and Busy Blood is the proof.