Oh yes indeed, what very strange stories!
So what can I say?
- The man can write. (As my friends know, I am inclined to forgive the devil as long as he punctuates correctly, knows the exact moment to finish a sentence and generally has a fetching turn of phrase; this capacity for forgiveness was often called upon as I read this interesting work. )
- He is sometimes very funny. I laughed out loud in a couple of the stories – though the devil does generally get the funniest lines in life, so the man has an unfair advantage.
- This isn’t a book to give your Aunty Mary or the children. Personally I would caution against giving it to anyone. (I’m sorry Mr Hatton – I dare say you arranged your book tour at this time in the hope that people would then buy your book for their friends at Christmas.) Please think twice, dear reader. It’s all very well to enjoy this book yourself, but would you really want you friends to know you enjoyed it? Or would you like to be friends with anyone who did? Seriously?
- It’s not the most revolting, distasteful, shocking and shamefully dehumanising thing I’ve reviewed this year. (That would be the Mississippi Department of Health Annual Report into conditions in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. At least Mr Hatton’s book is fiction.)
- Oh yes, and it has a gorgeous cover.
Look folks, you’ve got to understand I’m scraping the barrel here, because some of you reading this might be my friends, and I really don’t (see point 3 above) want you to think ill of me for having rather liked this book.
Some of these stories really are pretty vile, and I wish I hadn’t read them. Other reviewers picked out the one about the fluffy thing. (OK that was grim, but hey, the creature came out OK in the end, and at least the story ensured that everyone looked up Marie Provost on Wikipedia, so it was, at least, educational. If you liked this story – but of course I’m sure you didn’t – you could google ‘Post mortem injuries inflicted by golden hamster’ and please have a nice evening.) No. The one that got to me most was the tasteful evocation of a misspent adolescence, complete with a fantasy that I really wish this author had kept to himself. It didn’t help that this piece was written as a perfectly judged facsimile of one of those meandering memoirs of old friends and youthful exploits that so many people like to put together to impress their younger relatives. Which meant that I really did (actually I still do – there is bluff and double bluff involved here) believe that he was writing the treasured moments of his own adolescence. A bit tough, therefore, when I saw in the preface (shouldn’t have left that till last, I guess) that this story is a reflection on the adolescent development of a serial killer – which leaves some questions unanswered in my mind. (I’m certainly not inviting Mr Hatton for Christmas.)
Oh! I know what I can say! This is a very intelligent book of horror stories. And despite a few lapses, it’s not, actually, particularly gory. (Excuse me, don’t raise your eyebrows like that. Unless you’re Bob van Laerhoven, it’s not attractive. Yes, I do dark and difficult: I have quite a high threshold). It’s certainly not one of those tedious books that thinks it can invoke horror simply by piling on more and more blood, more and more dismemberment. Whatever. The shocking thing about those sorts of books is that the horror of gore is transient; as any surgeon or butcher’s assistant can tell you, after the first few (I-think-I-might-faint) encounters, they develop a bit of a ‘seen one seen them all’ air to them. There is nothing ‘seen one seen them all’ about this book. Each of the stories is entirely unique, and each of them weaves its magic in a different way, disturbs in a different way. This author understands that less is more: the unsaid is louder than the said. So he writes with a delicious economy and finishes his stories before you are ready. (Yessssss! That’s the art of it.) There are two very different depictions of marital loss and loneliness – poignant, both of them, if you really think about them. There are a couple of explorations of religious conviction, both of which made me laugh, but also made me question some previously unconsidered truths. There are two stories about the creation of art, one cynical the other chillingly innocent. (Does this author do everything in pairs?)
So I’m not inviting Mr Hatton for Christmas, but I’m glad I’ve met him again. (OK, it’s confession time: it’s better to own up than have some overzealous reader call me out for not declaring). Yes, I’ve read something by this author before, and I’ve even reviewed it. So I can’t pretend that I didn’t know what was coming. OK. Hands up. I admit it. I rather like this author.
But I’m only saying this once, and if you think ill of me for this, well you’d better put your Christmas present in the bin unopened.
Review by De Gevallene
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This review was undertaken as part of a Blackthorn Book Tour. I bought the book myself.