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.
Bird Box depicted the outside world becoming a dangerous place, filled with creatures which drive humans mad when perceived. In this direct sequel, the creatures are still very much here; Malorie and her children, Tom and Olympia, live safely amongst other survivors at a school for the blind. But in Malorie’s visceral opening scene, the madness – and the creatures – break in, and they are forced to flee once more. Ten years on, Malorie has raised the teenaged Tom and Olympia to “live by the fold” (the blindfold) and follow the strict rules which have allowed them to survive so far. The children don’t always agree with her – and neither does the rest of the world.
The Only Good Indians deals – with a dream-like sense of inevitability – with the fall-out from a hunting trip gone wrong. Ricky, Lewis, Cass and Gabe are four very different Blackfeet men, born and raised on the reservation, taking their last opportunity to hunt together that season. But the elk are all in the section of forest reserved for the elders, and they transgress, crossing the boundary and shooting wild-eyed with “buck fever” at an enormous herd. In the frenzy, Lewis kills a yellow-eyed and pregnant female elk who seems to refuse to die; he forms a connection to her. The trip costs them dearly – losing their rights to hunt on reservation land – and, ten years on, Lewis struggles with a profound sense of guilt.
Junji Ito is not new to adapting novels into his characteristic horror manga style. In 2018, the English translation of his Frankenstein was released. As disappointing as that was, his No Longer Human (2019) is of a much higher calibre, in terms of the detail in the illustrations but also in the depth of the story. Frankenstein seemed stripped in many respects (of its verbose Romantic style and its homoeroticism, in particular). No Longer Human, on the other hand, actually expands upon the original text. This is at times more successful than at others, but it makes for a startling and unsettling repackaging of the novel.
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.