DARK MINDS PRESS 2017
My previous reviews of this author HERE
When I review this novella, my thoughts will appear in the comments stream below… (My reviewing queue of purchased publications is growing longer and I don’t expect to catch up until November).
“‘We’re safe now. You’re going to be fine.’ It was a lie;”
I like the way this book’s text is visually lean, but the bones of its words cannot shed the mouthing of articulates nor the overlying complicity of meaning. For me a meaning that is a uniquely striking exit from amorphous nightmare into a gradual perception of entering what seems to be a terrorist outrage on a London tube train. Then our viewpoint through Alessa Spiteri’s hindsight interpretation of those events; of the clumsy counselling she then receives, the panic attacks, the by-rote methods of making thought itself unthink by unpicking what caused the panic, the memories of what or whom did not come back into that original nightmare. And more detail than I will give you by my own rote of remembering this book. The spoiler of telling too much or too little? Or of telling not what is in there at all? Like two little fingers in a wishful tug-of-war.
“I think it would be good for you, talking with people who get it.”
Alessa’s backstory in interface with versions of words for reflected panic, a panic this side of tidal anxiety, words like ‘spiral’ and ‘bolus’. Her footbone injury as a child, the telling relationship with her parents, and we experience the actual relationship with her sister in real-time. Mosquito whine and Asda wine (I had just been to Asda and bought a box of their wine before reading this chapter!) And a haunting bugbear like a Fritz Leiber monster seen from the corner of the eye or in more than one reflective window…. escaping from train tunnels by entering softer tunnels like blankets, all consuming stuff. As I expected.
THREE & FOUR
“I’ve tracked trickier people.”
In the Alessa growing trauma aftermath, of rhythm and arrhythmia, we consume it as readers as well as co-journeyers: the unruly self-consciousness of body (lungs, a body’s softness, a body’s sharp angles, plus pungency in sense and vocabulary) as well as seeking catalysts (one is randomly found, complete with pizza delivery) to complete the jigsaw of memories and transcend insanity with possible truth. Some very nice touches of detail to enhance or at least to counterpoint the journey. Or to tether it. Or as a cello’s bass-line continuo. Those who were there and those who did not come back… And am reminded, too, of my favourite writer Elizabeth Bowen 1940s London Fiction, the ‘shoals’ of her blitzed dead rising… or sinking?
“When you’re dealing with stuff that doesn’t officially exist, you sort of have to bring your own vocabulary to the party.”
“I’ve cut bitches for less.”
Following fixation, now meeting up with others in the world of baristas and “marshmallowy leather sofas” and “whorls of dark coffee”… No spoilers here; they’ve cut reviewers for less, I guess, but I will allow you to follow me following Alessa and her two variously sized catalyst friends into a benighted building site, one that does remind me as a child during the 1950s of the sights of sites in London of the then still unrepaired blitzed buildings.
It is no secret that this is a Horror novella, but one where the Horror is developing as if it’s real life, something not concocted from frights, but a skilful evocation of an ensuing battle between trauma and what may be feeding off trauma. It is genuinely chilling, with ‘shades’ or ghosts hard enough to be dangerous to human bodies. Stubs of dislocated fingers, bony roots like teeth. And Alessa’s continued rite of rooted rote.
SIX & SEVEN
“Like a piece of modern art, all acute angles and flat planes.”
And here, too, a sense of sea-sick swells of Alessa’s anxiety, her fear of or suspicion about being ‘gaslit’ (my word). Disturbed water, turbulent water, gaps in a mental notebook to be filled by others, a notebook with an arched spine or a body, gritted teeth, Costa cups et al. ‘Ministrations’ (or a similar sounding word?) of blood like motor oil. Then ‘hogtied’ to panic as an enemy wave or a buoyant friend? Floating undercurrents like a musical continuo? One wonders if trauma creates its own monsters? Body horror or a mind’s? Pulsing like a balloon, spasmodic. A marble inside her skull. This text gets at you inside as well as out. “What truth?”
EIGHT & NINE
“I mean, it’s only sort of a lie.”
And if there are any lies in fiction, they are often variations of some intrinsic truth. Less is more. And we reach culmination and still dawning realisation, alongside Alessa, experiencing the battle between various polarities in her mind, co-journeying with her by means of this Platonic Form of Horror Novella (an often underrated potentiality of tactilely stylistic form in the realm of literature’s power, I maintain) reaching in these final chapters towards a nub or ‘nest’ of shades (shades of human fallibility made visceral and nightmarish) within the Bowenesque undertow of London whereby at one point, aptly, such shades emerge from a body’s becoming bonelessness. I will not give anything away, but the polarities within Alessa of belief and disbelief, sanity and insanity, loyalty and disloyalty, gradually evolve into some understanding of the mystery of motives that still bedevil those who try to fathom out the most recent human outrage in another city where they gamble on the balance of probabilities even more than in London. Polarities evolving, but not fully resolving from within my mind’s felt rite of rooted rote. I still have more about Alessa to grapple. Which is good. Even on the last page and a half “…hauling herself up…”
ROTE: mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned.
The fractured Bowens…