In his introduction to this anthology editor James Machin suggests that works of British weird fiction can be distinguished from their perhaps more well-known American variants due to their “refusal to fully reveal their horrors, relying on ominous hints, telling detail and atmosphere, instead of the full reveal”. It’s an interesting position to offer and one, I admit, I can easily agree with.
Despite its ubiquity in our media and news cycle, death remains a taboo subject in the United States. Unless raised in a culture or religion that employs open casket viewings at funerals or part of a field that requires cadavers as educational tools, few Americans interact with the dead – American culture staves off acknowledgement of our own mortality. Megan Rosenbloom seeks to disrupt our reluctance to look death in the eye. Or, in the case of her new book Dark Archives, in the pages.
From the creeping paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby to the gory births of the Alien franchise, imagery of pregnancy and birth has proved a fertile ground for horror directors to explore and exploit. Midsommar, Ari Aster’s 2019 folk horror outing, is preoccupied with themes of seasonality and rebirth, so it’s no surprise that the film is saturated with imagery that evokes the reproductive cycle. Protagonist Dani’s journey from traumatised onlooker to embittered cultist is coded as a journey from conception to birth, and from infantilism to hard won maturity. In the process, Midsommar reveals a deep ambivalence, both towards the physical act of childbirth and the emotional reawakening Dani experiences.
The House of a Hundred Whispers is set in Allhallows Hall, a rambling Tudor mansion on the edge of Dartmoor. After the death of its master, Dartmoor Prison’s former governor Herbert Russell, his estranged children gather to inherit the estate. But within hours of arriving in the spooky old house, five-year-old Timmy has vanished without a trace. A sumptuously designed hardcover with a picture of those desolate moors, anyone picking this book up would expect a haunted-house story in the classic mould, and that’s certainly where it starts. However, Masterton’s tale veers off in a series of smartly and sharply executed swerves, and ends up in a very different place – less The Haunting of Hill House, more The Exorcist or 2018’s Here Comes Hell.
A hand sprouting within a wallet. Jars of jam and something more sinister. Sounds that capture death. Elizabeth Engstrom’s Nightmare Flower offers a plentitude of strangeness in rapid succession. There’s no knowing what may happen next.
John Lanchester’s first book of short stories sees the author taking an intriguing step into the supernatural. The eight tales are billed as “very modern ghost stories” with a focus on contemporary technology. Yet while the stories in Reality may concern themselves with the technological accoutrements of our 21st-century lives, the overall effect often skews closer to the comfortable traditionalism of classic ghost stories.
In a London suburb in 1938, with war looming on the horizon, attractive well-off housewife Alma Fielding is being plagued by a poltergeist. Glass and china are splintering in mid-flight before smashing to the floor, objects float down the stairs behind her, lumps of coal levitate from the grate… it is a house under siege – from itself.
There’s often a temptation, with the gothic, to believe that it all began with the paragons: with the first stirrings of Victor Frankenstein’s monster or the tapping of the raven at Poe’s window. But a vast and significant portion of its history lies with a different group of authors, many of whose works have been largely lost to time, whose names are no longer known and who have been commonly represented as unoriginal, unimaginative authors dealing as much in melodrama as in moralism.
It goes without saying that the majority of S. T. Joshi’s critical work is of great value. His fictional output is also worthy of consideration. Joshi’s Assaults of Chaos (2013, Hippocampus Press) was quite a charming novel, I thought, even though Joshi allowed his authorial voice to be overwhelmed by realistic pseudo-quotes from his (usually historical) characters a bit too much. The stories collected in The Recurring Doom (2019, Sarnath Press) are also fine weird fare, with “Some Kind of Mistake” being a stand-out tale that deserves to be collected again elsewhere. I am, however, less impressed with Joshi’s Something from Below (2019, PS Publishing). This novella, while tightly plotted and, strictly speaking, mostly well-written, is nowhere near as satisfying as Joshi’s other fictional work.
Into The London Fog: Eerie Tales From The Weird City invites the reader to join editor, Elizabeth Dearnley, on an “atmospheric tour through a shadowy London, a city which has long inspired writers of the weird and uncanny.” What a tour it is for those who enjoy strange stories of hauntings, seances and dark secrets which, as in any good gothic tale, return to terrify the living.