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.
Night of the Mannequins is a novella by Stephen Graham Jones published by Tor.com that explores the vengeful aftermath of a prank and a mannequin’s role within a group of friends. Here, I speak to Jones about the new book.
A new publication from Undertow is always a treat. With books like Laura Mauro’s wonderful Sing Your Sadness Deep and the Year’s Best Weird Fiction anthologies Michael Kelly has made the imprint into a go-to for modern weird horror fiction. Thin Places is Chronister’s debut collection, blending stories previously published in places like Black Static and Kelly’s own Shadows & Tall Trees with a handful of previously unpublished works, so she faces the double-edged sword of being amongst excellent company. Thankfully, she faces it with aplomb.
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.
Whether or not our school days turn out to be, as the saying goes, the best days of our lives, there can be little doubt that they leave formative, potent memories behind. Positive or negative, unique or mundane, even the most latent recollections can have power.
Kathe Koja’s 1991 novel The Cipher is considered a classic of contemporary horror fiction. An unusual blend of body horror and cosmic horror, the story examines how a mysterious, physics-morphing hole found in an apartment building – called the Funhole by many of the characters in the novel – alters the lives of everyone that comes into contact with it, and especially the life of the narrator, Nicholas. Filled with sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque physical transformations, and laced through with meditations about nothingness and the unknown, The Cipher is an intense exploration of the outer edges of human experience. A new print edition is forthcoming this September from Meerkat Press. I recently interviewed Koja through email about the novel.
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.
Sawyer Grimes’s friends are dead. Or most of them, anyway.
Stephen Graham Jones’s newest novella Night of the Mannequins follows his phenomenal novel of revenge and the horrors of American society The Only Good Indians, which released this summer to widespread acclaim. With a multitude of novels, several hundred short stories, and accolades from prestigious horror awards – including the Bram Stoker Award – under his belt, Jones is a modern master of terrifying tales. Night of the Mannequins upholds that reputation.