Great British Horror 1
Black Shuck Books 2016
Edited by Steve J Shaw
Stories by V.H. Leslie, Rich Hawkins, Laura Mauro, Ray Cluley, David Moody, Barbie Wilde, James Everington, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Adam Millard, A.K. Benedict, Jasper Bark.
When I review this anthology, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…
HERMANESS by V.H. Leslie
“…or to haul themselves up and over and see what existed beyond.”
…beyond the edge.
There seems some hauling about the enfolding ‘haar’ and the eponymous nature reserve called Hermaness: man enfolded or edged each side by two women, her- and -ess. And the gannet shrieks that imitate one of the women, the one whom the couple meet, someone from that edge’s view toward the Americas?
Evocative Shetlands ambiance as the couple approaches that northernmost edge of their relationship, for me a young couple having just weathered each other for a mere few years and now coming apart, this holiday of bird watching and views intended as already failed sticking plaster. And a legend of that ambiance, a twirling, a dance towards cronehood or widderhood. Except they weren’t married? But the holiday had already been “marred”…among the sea stacks.
Perhaps there is also some mileage in blending this story with the geographical ambiance and emotional ethos of Gary Couzens’ story ‘Out Stack’ that I reviewed here? My ageing memory is not good enough to crystallise the connection of synergy between these two fine works.
MEAT FOR THE FIELD by Rich Hawkins
“Dark soil and cold earth. Blood in the dirt of the field.”
I liked the incantatory threads in this text, refrains, a flow-obsessional, such as the relatively short sentence with all these words in it: “furtive”, “pallid”, “leering” and “crooked”.
Also I had the feel at first that this was a foreign countryside community, the main protagonist being named Gregor, but I soon learnt it must be our green and pleasant land but full of ungreen and unpleasant features, yet these are features that a horror genre reader relishes, a complexity, nay, an ironic combrexity that makes this story as far from Great Britain as possible but still on the edge of it, as with the previous story’s Shetlands ambiance….?
The haunting sacrificial harvest festival somehow paradoxically seemed to become a side issue to bigger concerns beneath the ground we walk upon.
STRANGE AS ANGELS by Laura Mauro
“She smells resolutely terrestrial, though:”
It seems not a powerful enough word to call this story powerful. It carries on the meat in the ground (here as a result of a car accident in the Sussex wilds) of the previous story into a world of a young black girl working on the ASDA checkout (you will not believe that I visited this morning an ASDA supermarket midway in the process of reading this work before the reference to ASDA occurred in it, but it is definitely true and added an uncanny feeling to the whole experience for me!) – meat in its most succulently bloody shapes, a girl as self-styled alien herself with self-conscious hang-ups and problems that stem from such dependence on transcending her own felt weaknesses of behaviour, discovering, along with her reluctantly ‘platonic’ boy friend, an angel as alien that grows from nub to almost person-shaped as well as wingèd, by dint of such succulence she feeds it. The interaction of the two humans, alongside the exponential ‘found art’ of the angel, represents a down to earth, but dark visionary, panoply, one that is absolutely perfect within its own terms. As is the ending, so utterly fleshy-devastating, but also hopeful that the now fully constrained and bloodied margins of our green and pleasant land can find new wings…as well as the girl herself.
Later today, cross-referenced this Mauro story with a concurrent real-time review of ‘Ubo’ here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/ubo-steve-rasnic-tem/#comment-9163
Also cross-referenced later today here with the Essex Serpent: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/the-essex-serpent-sarah-perry/#comment-9166
THE CASTELLMARCH MAN by Ray Cluley
“Anyone could look happy if they buried their secrets deep enough.”
A genuinely compelling and intriguing theme and variations on the custom or game of geo-caching and a relationship on the edge, like the relationship in the Leslie story. Not quite a coat on the car’s passenger seat (see the car accident, too, in Mauro ), “not quite a tractor”, not quite the rainy Wales whence I myself have my roots, on the breaking edge of things yet again. Who ever regrets a Google-cache? A bespoke sat-nav or gps? An equine voyeur? And you’re becoming the voyeur as this pattern or gestalt of clues and caches make you the tobacco roller not your own self. This is insidiously frightening. Love the pub donkey joke, the pet Welsh phrases, fridge magnets, and knotted ropes into snakes, the whole italicised tour of tourist traps, indeed everything about this journey if not its destination, nay! Its destination, too. Its palimpsest of the present and the past.
“Every nook and cranny of Britain held a secret, it seemed.”
OSTRICH by David Moody
“He said he didn’t want me stacking shelves or sitting on a till somewhere but, you know, I think I would have been happy with that.”
A disarmingly engaging workmanlike Pan or teapot horror of a story, with that workmanlikeness as a common touch of British turn of phrase … in more ways than one, a down-to-earth couple — on the edge, though, as it turns out like the Leslie and Cluley couples. Buried in one’s own routines, dozing in front of the telly with unseen but eventually felt routine-bullying, by neatly displayed spouts or an ever-groomed lawn. And where was the ostrich actually buried? The elephant in the room? Not their LGBT daughter, I guess,
BLUE-EYES by Barbie Wilde
“He halted near the edge and peered into the grave.”
This plain-spoken story of a wino homeless man in the woods tempted into a blatant strain of sucked-into viral necrophilia by power of the sex-gorgeous – this deadpan Pan shocker with reference to the “raw hamburger that had been wrapped in cling film too long” as part of this book’s ‘meat in the ground’ theme (followed by an explicit sort of McDonalds meal later!) – is either a crass abomination of literature or an obliquely sophisticated series of metaphors for our Brexit times, starting with the blue glow…
Whichever, you won’t forget it easily.
Since writing above, I checked out author and found this – http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/chris-alexander-and-barbie-wilde-announce-their-new-feature-length-horror-film-project-blue-eyes/
A GLIMPSE OF RED by James Everington
“Lots of people got the devil in their eyes, Beyza knew; and she knew here, in this damp and grey land, the devils were different from the hot, fiery demons of her own country. Here they were cold, malicious beings — unmasked she imagined them as no bigger than imps, snide and officious monsters who could chill your blood, freeze your heart.”
And thus this book is in tune again with the 19th century post-earthquake-Brexit of The Essex Serpent that I am concurrently reviewing, linked above. And this Everington story is an IMPORTANT work for our times, whichever way you look at it, a hot-and-cold heartfelt portrait of an immigrant and her son, brought to this country by a noted man, the broken-through edge of inchoate passion that ensues and those who suspect her of God knows what when she is given refuge in a small Conservative town down south. A build up of that community’s cool sense of place, compared to the hot impulsive glimpses of, not the little red girl in that black and white scene in Spielberg, but a red splash or slash of anorak worn by her fleeting son…. her son absent or present by dint of what? Adventures away with the school or the erstwhile cruel cuts of man or politics or endemic phobias?
Nobody touches the inner sides of a huge funnel of racist shrug called Brexit. The Devil is in the withheld detail, I guess. The falsity of a movie set, the fakeness, made explicit by look and paper banner. Jeering. Two-facedness. The made-up names. The smile that stayed but lost its warmth. Why so smug? The rent sky. The connecting sky. The duck-less duck-pond.
A story, too, instinctively if not intentionally steeped in this book’s gestalt so far of ‘meat in the ground’, here “meat left out” and “the off-meat smell, as if the devilry and butchery…”
NB: My gestalt real-time reviews are always my impulsive take after a first reading of a work. Some works need more than one reading eventually as they sink in over the years.
MR DENNING SINGS by Simon Kurt Unsworth
“…things moist and swelling, of flesh that rebelled against itself…”
Mr Denning is upheld by the Church each Sunday, a gestalt of purpose, radiating out and back from the world around him, his veritable underpinning, hymns included. Here a cougher in the Church during the singing one Sunday becomes the most meatily scatological coughing you will ever read about in literature, echoing the demons and imps in Everington, a brexiting, barking, burgeoning cough, in liaison with the Church’s blood and flesh communion Eucharist… scatology and eschatology.
It is utterly symbolic. But of what? I leave you to be subsumed by that inchoate symbolism within the context of the whole book so far. Each to their own.
Or it is coughing for its own horrific sake. Thankfully undidactic.
HE WAITS ON THE UPLAND by Adam Millard
“Those dogs aren’t built for England.”
From the noise of SKU’s coughing to the noise of Graham’s wife. Yet another couple who are on the edge for this book to savour, being savoured like the meat in the ground, now meat as the tender lamb ripped apart and lying UPON the ground. Waiting to sink in. A bit like the dementia older people face. This couple included, and the abysmal social care of brexited England. The naive Graham, matched by the relative naivety of the narrative, faces the feral rivalries of farm life, facing the foreign canines and their owner. Faces, too, an attritional, almost hateful, marriage, but one where, tellingly, a share of love is poignantly present, too. An ending that blasts the gun in one’s own face. Each reader, beware.
Growing old is not for cissies. Going daft, too. I should know.
MISERICORD by A.K. Benedict
Sheep that turn into thought bubbles above the grass soon as look at it. This is a church quest, a lonely church attracting “strays” as visitors or irregular worshippers, not M.R. Jamesian so much as oblique and off kilter, where yet another man-woman couple for the context of this book reaches their edge, as it were. Where their barely bearable relationship openly grates, amid one of this couple sort of imposing a hobby on the other, despite the otherwise pleasant hummus picnic outside the church ….. studying pulpit- or misericord-etched symbols upon symbols like a palimpsest pattern of evidence scored with erstwhile history’s ancient marital or loving edges? Love etc, as a swarm of atomised insectoid meat to desiccate or clog within, to resonate with the rest of this book? But more like meat drowning than being buried.
“….picking over the remnants of the feast like aunts at the end of a wake.”
QUIET PLACES by Jasper Bark
“You have the- have the- have the meat- the meat- the meat…”
In the first half of this novelette, we have the consuming apotheosis of this book’s MEATINESS trope and MAN-WOMAN COUPLE AT THE EDGE, in fulsome display. Unbelievably so.
The couple has arrived in a small Highland town, and the “suddenly sheepish” man-half who needs unlocking, enticed to expunge his Churchillian black dog by a sort of big cat as a black beast that roams the forest nearby. The woman-half half-reared in one of SUK’s Catholic Churches (SUK, as you can tell from my review link for his work above, tellingly produced two story collections entitled “Quiet Houses” and “Lost Places”) … and here the remoteness of each character comes from strange beliefs, one that Church, the other more occult folklore.
The second half of the novelette I personally got somewhat into a lost place, amid an info-dump for the backdrop of the novelette’s first half. Still, it was, overall, a powerful workmanlike coda to this book.
A book that I recommend without hesitation to the Horror reader and the Brentry mourner.