Saturday 27 July 2013

Reviews: A Horror Novella Special

Because I’m writing a horror novella at the moment, I've deliberately been reading a lot of horror fiction at that length recently (and, uh, Crime And Punishment). I've read far too many to review, so I was going to do a blog post on my five favourites. But then SP Miskowski had the nerve to release another brilliant book, so it's now my favourite six

I've not applied any strict criteria on what word length is a novella, I've just loosely applied it to anything in that grey-area between a short story and a novel. As I've already given away the name of one of the authors, I may as well start with:

Astoria - SP Miskowski
Astoria is a book in SP Miskowski's Skillute Cycle, which started with the impressive novel Knock Knock (Astoria works as a standalone tale though.) It takes as its starting point one of the incidents of Knock Knock, when Ethel Sanders flees her home town after her daughter's funeral, and is never mentioned again in that book - Astoria tells what happened to Ethel afterwards, and it might just be Miskowski's best work to date. It's a hauntingly ambiguous story of doubles and dream-like imagery - dreams as in what we wish for, as well as what wakes us at night. The ending immediately made me want to reread it all over again. I can't recommend this one highly enough, folks.

Books about survivors of a zombe-esque apocalypse have, I know, been done to death. This, though, was really well crafted and went off in a different direction than you might expect. To give an example of how it stands out from its crowded sub-genre, the ‘zombies’ in this book are described like this: They stare at you and their eyes plead. They can't speak but they can wail. They can sob.... If you let them touch you they'll drag you away... and you'll come back mute save for your tears. There's a similar originality throughout this impressive novella, not just of plot but of tone.  I've not read any Joseph D’Lacey before, but on this showing I’ll be reading some more.

Genre-chameleon Iain Rowan turns his hand to a YA horror novella here, and in doing so produces yet another book that puts the rest of us to shame. A young boy arrives in a village on the Yorkshire coast, fleeing from a tragedy  at his school… and encounters something darker in the misty streets and caves there. The location and characters are beautifully detailed in Rowan’s readable yet evocative prose, and despite being ostensibly a YA book there’s a real sense of mounting tension, another Rowan trademark. Superb.
By coincidence, the title story of this collection of three novellas takes place on the same coastline as the Iain Rowan book above. It concerns a man ruined by the global recession, living in a caravan park on the Yorkshire coast with his teenage daughter, who starts to see strange things out the corner of his eye... There’s a distinctly Ramsey Campbell flavour here (no bad thing) and an ambitious attempt to juggle themes of economic and biological collapse. The other two novellas in this collection are equally impressive.

‘Dark fiction’ – it’s a term that’s casually chucked around nowadays, but this novella from Dark Fuse really deserves the term. Both literally – it concerns children living in a maze which is completely dark – and thematically. It’s an original concept too, with an original bad guy (part James Bond villain, part Samuel Beckett’s even stranger brother). There’s nothing supernatural here, and the story seemed to me to be about the crazy justifications people make for doing something evil. (Not sure about the phonetic English accent of one character though!) 

Three stories linked to Bestwick’s wonderful novel The Faceless, which regular readers will know was one of my favourites of last year. If you haven’t read The Faceless, start there. If you have, then this is a wonderful opportunity to revisit Bestwick’s grim, twisted world of haunted military hospitals, ‘spindly-men’, and real-world evil. Utterly compelling. I tried to pick a favourite of the three, and failed; damn you, Bestwick.

1 comment:

MRCosby said...

Great post James. I must admit the "novella" is a concept I've never really come to terms with; I really enjoyed your novella The Shelter, but there are clearly many others to be explored. Thanks for broadening my horizons!