In 2016, Orenda Books published Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories, a mystery shot through with elements of horror. It was one of the first novels to use the conceit of a true crime podcast to inform its structure: the story is told through episode transcripts, with the show’s host, Scott King, acting as narrator.
Back in 2008, Comma Press created a cult hit with their anthology The New Uncanny, which invited authors to write stories in response to Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny or unheimlich. The collection won that year’s Shirley Jackson Anthology Award and even spawned a film, Matthew Holness’s modern British horror classic Possum. 12 years later comes The New Abject. As co-editor Ra Page’s introduction puts it, “The horror, disgust or recoil we experience when we are faced with what we have shed, let go, expelled, sloughed off – that is the fear of the abject.”
Our introduction to the tenebrous, haunted streets of London Incognita is the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated “Judderman”. Set in 1972, it sees two brothers, Gary and Daniel Eider, explore the city’s dark corners and “thin places” as they attempt to catalogue its hidden stories, those that belong to the forgotten, dispossessed and abused.
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.
Famished is a set of seventeen short stories which take food as their connecting theme. It’s filled with vivid evocations of flavours and textures, with those in “What He Choked On” proving especially memorable: manchego cheese tasting of “saddle and the hair of beasts in heat”; the “lemony smack” of Thai food; custard “viscous, like aortic blood”. Elsewhere you might encounter fudge “as dense as wet cement”, boiled tripe “encircled by effulgent lumps of onion”, or the “lambent smoothness” of a sugared almond.
In 2016, Ottessa Moshfegh stirred up controversy by claiming her debut Eileen started life as a cynical experiment: using a “ridiculous” guide called The 90-Day Novel, she had deliberately attempted to craft a book that would be commercially successful. “It started out as a fuck-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. Her plan worked – not only was Eileen a bestseller, it was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
On a summer’s day, two girls and their mother move into a house on the North Yorkshire coast. The sisters’ whimsical names – July and September – belie the darkness of the gothic tale that weaves itself around them. The house, too, is ironically named; the Settle House, full of mysterious sounds and shifting air, is anything but settled.
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…
Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of Violet Paget (1856–1935), an extraordinarily prolific and versatile writer who published essays, novels, stories and pamphlets on topics including aesthetics, travel, music and the art of writing. A lesbian who, as her Wikipedia entry delightfully puts it, “always dressed à la garçonne”, she was a feminist, a pacifist, spoke four languages (and wrote in three), and is credited with introducing the concept of empathy – then a newly translated word – to the British Aesthetic Movement. Much of Lee’s work is concerned with ideas of beauty, art and aesthetic experience, but she is also known for her supernatural short fiction – work this new British Library volume sets out to introduce to a new audience.