We all know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But the artwork for Tim Major’s Hope Island is arrestingly gorgeous and, I’m delighted to report, the story it contains is equally so.
The saying “short and sweet” couldn’t be more appropriate for novelist Kealan Patrick Burke’s new story. Distinguishing Features packs not one but several delightfully gruesome shocks into its 32 pages, at the same time delivering a fully-formed and well-thought-out narrative to get our teeth into.
A Cosmology of Monsters takes pains to warn its readers up-front that “happy endings” and other narrative conventions don’t apply to real life. The novel swerves and ducks reader expectations throughout – sometimes in ways that dazzle, sometimes in ways that are profoundly frustrating. While the book’s headers are taken from Lovecraft, and his influence hovers over the work (including a beautifully-realised eldritch location, the City), Hamill wants to explore the way horror fiction, haunted houses and monsters intersect with family life. It’s a bold mission and creates a book which I suspect readers will either love or hate.
Survivor Song was written before the coronavirus pandemic: this feels inconceivable. Within the first few pages, we’re plunged into an all-too-familiar scene from the confusion of lockdown. What does the government’s guidance even mean? Should we listen to everything we hear on Facebook about the virus? There’ll be several hours’ worth of queues at the grocery store, and our protagonist – Natalie – has already stress-eaten all the candy in the house. Tremblay’s novel places us in a nightmare vision of 2020, in which New England is caught up in a 28 Days Later-like “rage virus”, and we’re in the twitchy-curtained first few days of the outbreak.
I’m a huge fan of the short story. There’s something immensely satisfying about being able to settle with a book, knowing the story will be wrapped up within an hour or so. Of course, there is an art to it – the introduction, development and conclusion of a plot and ideas in a minuscule space – and I tip my hat to those who try, including Erik Hofstaffer in Isidora’s Pawn, a novelette spilling over with grand themes such as unrequited love and deceit.
So-called “genre” fiction has had, since its inception, an issue with defining itself. Even the word itself is vague, coming from the same root as the less-flattering description “generic”. It implies a mass of different types, clustered together haphazardly and cowering beneath the monolithic purity of the much more proper literary fiction.
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis comes beautifully packaged in a VHS-style slipcover with a faux rating/advisory (“nerve-shredding tension, nail-biting thrills”); the book itself is styled as a VHS cassette. Something of an odd choice for contemporary YA, where – notwithstanding the recent boom in 80s nostalgia – a large part of the target audience may never have played a VHS tape. But with its darkly satisfying tale of a controlling and obsessive horror auteur, a town stuck in its past as a 1920s film set, and the secrets of generational abuse, Harrow Lake is a compulsively readable treat for horror fans of all ages.
There are all kinds of phrases I want to use to review this book: relentless, unstoppable, outrageous. And I want to see them all under five stars on a billboard-sized movie poster because that is the kind of book this is. Incredibly enjoyable, the only caveat I can provide is that, perhaps like an action movie, while you are in the midst of it you are unable to step back and work out whether it is purely playing with your adrenaline and your heartstrings, or if it is reaching your mind too.
It’s no stretch to say that the games produced by From Software – among them Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne – have all contained an obvious gothic influence. From sprawling cathedrals to lonely protagonists who transgress the rules of their worlds, it’s clear that these hallmarks of gothic horror have proved a significant source of inspiration for creator Hidetaka Miyazaki.
There’s no shortage of horror to be found on film and TV streaming services, particularly the likes of Shudder, which specialises in the genre. But much of what’s on offer leans towards the lurid, gory type. The nine films I’ve selected below, on the other hand, typify the quieter, more understated – perhaps more literary – side of the genre. If you’re looking for something new to watch on those quiet lockdown nights, perhaps one of these will fit the bill…