I was already a fan of Kirsty Logan’s work, which explores the dark and fantastical, through her previous novels, as well as hearing her perform at events, such as when she read her wonderfully titled short story “Girls are Always Hungry When all the Men are Bite-Size” which also features in Things We Say in the Dark. Since then, I have been excited to hear more of Logan’s horror – her new collection does not disappoint.
Things We Say in the Dark is a collection of short stories separated into parts – the House, the Child, and the Past – with interspersed vignettes from Logan, some of which recount her time on a writing residency in Iceland. These vignettes are sometimes deeply personal, or painful insights into the writing process, or reflections on the beauty and isolation of her time in Iceland. One specific section haunts me: when Logan recounts her first interaction with another person in some time and realises she hasn’t said any words aloud but only in her head. Between the stories and vignettes are woven literary quotes and references from Austen, Dickinson, Tennyson, and Kipling, to name a few. The stories themselves explore the idea of fear from specific and personal nightmares to collective subconscious horrors that belong to a society, touching on folklore, literature, the fantastical, and the macabre.
Some of the stories are traditional narratives, following a character and narrative arc, whereas some of my favourites were more experimental. Logan has chosen lengthy titles for all these stories, giving a small sense of what lies in wait for the reader. She utilises lists, something seemingly practical and quotidian, in “Things My Wife and I Found Hidden in Our House”, “We Can Make Something Grow Between the Mushroom and the Snow”, and “Half Sick of Shadows”. But some of the wildest and affecting stories involve metatext, utilising footnotes to reveal dark truths such as “The World’s More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand”, or “Sleep Long, Sleep Tight, it is Best to Wake Up Late” which uses a questionnaire to devastating effect. Reflecting upon this collection felt surreal, like slipping into a fever dream, despite the fact I read this in slices, wanting to savour it. The strength of the collection lies in Logan’s ability to experiment with form and explore various types of nightmares; the horrors which Logan imagines strike a chord through the sheer vivacity of her prose.
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Despite the collection’s wide-reaching themes, the stories are always deeply grounded in relationships, whether romantic, familial, or within a community. Logan utilises fears around womanhood and the domestic space as a landscape of horror in the majority of the stories, often distilling one setting or atmosphere and using a small cast of characters, creating a sense of seclusion. This is most overt in Part 1: The House, which contains two stories I’d like to highlight in their contrasting fears. “Things My Wife and I Found Hidden in Our House” presents itself as an autobiographical story of Logan and her wife Annie moving into a house inherited from the latter’s grandmother, a woman with some tall tales who has knowingly or unknowingly left behind an inventory of bizarre items which bring up painful and chilling family legends and lead to events which unnerves the couple. The fear is rooted in an architectural haunting, reinventing the traditional haunted house to be a space possessed by memories of a departed family member even as the new owners attempt to make the place their own.The second story I loved, “Birds Fell From the Sky and Each One Spoke in Your Voice”, subverts the ideas around the nuclear family and the safety of the home. The story follows Sidney, who lives in a half-finished housing estate where he is the only resident and works in a memorabilia shop that only sells collectors’ items from the 1990s. A customer begins persistently enquiring after a mobile, which leads Sidney to unearth long-buried memories from a tragedy which blighted his childhood.
While I had my favourite terrors from every section, Part 2: the Child is where I found most of my favourite unsettling stories; partly these stories spoke to me on an individual level, but another reason these stories are so evocative is because of the weaving of the personal into the fiction. Logan digs into the abject in “My Body Cannot Forget Your Body”, divided into several ‘Fears’. Using beautiful and strange imagery of childbirth, including being inseminated by flower petals and skin splitting as a finger pushes against a body from the inside. There are stories which gave me goosebumps in their slow unravelling, which have to be read and experienced for themselves: “The Only Thing I Can’t Tell You Is Why” follows a mother who cannot shake a terrible feeling after the birth of her child, despite the world telling her everything is fine, “Half Sick of Shadows” undercuts a joyful family day out to the theme park with a darker parental motivation, “The Only Time I Think of You is All the Time” follows a woman oppressively haunted and loved by a ghost, and the only solace she can find is holding her breath in a pond at the bottom of her garden. All these stories play with the idea that a parent-child relationship can be something other than the fulfilling and happy ideal which society motivates us to strive for.
The final part of the collection is Part 3: the Past, which touches on the primal fears that particularly haunt women and girls within a patriarchal society. The story I couldn’t shake from this section was “Watch the Wall my Darling as the Gentlemen Go By” which follows a horrific cyclical narrative of entrapment and abuse.
Things We Say in the Dark succeeds as a short story collection in its ambitious thematic scope which is lifted by Logan’s lyrical and haunting prose. There are stories to touch on multitudes of fears, and the fervour with which Logan writes is both infectious and overwhelming, which is why I would recommend dipping into this collection to savour the nightmares Logan leads you through. Before reading this collection yourself, please be aware that some of the stories are quite explicit and difficult to read, touching on subjects such as sexual assault, rape, and miscarriage, so consider this a content warning.
Logan’s first overt foray into horror is a powerful promise and follows in the legacy of writers such as Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, and Carmen Maria Machado.
Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan is published by Harvill Secker. Buy the book.