Reviewed April 2020
Here is an author who really relishes the darkness of the damaged human psyche. In the more cheerful of these stories this is a darkness that erupts in a torrent of revenge or anger. In the more chilling ones, it seeps and creeps from her characters, a sickness becoming gradually apparent in faces that start off looking innocent. Sonia Kilvington is surgically merciless in these explorations. She mines through her characters’ twisted reasoning, till the reader is there, deep inside the hurting mind, knowing how that place feels, how the world looks, seen through those eyes. And it’s not nice. All of her many characters are disturbing and most exist either on the borders of psychopathy or a little the wrong side of it.
It’s a strength of course, in a collection of dark stories. There is nothing monotonous about the darkness here. Her enormous cast of characters is hugely varied and every story seizes the attention – whether by a grip around the throat or a delicate fingernail on the cheek. The plots and the settings are equally varied – different moods, different styles, different surprises in each story. Perhaps the writing needs sharpening up sometimes – for my taste, she should trim a little round the edges, be leaner, meaner in her prose – but still these stories are well written and cleverly done. You will read one, and then feel compelled to read another; they are stories that won’t let you go.
This isn’t a feminist collection, but it’s a collection by a woman and carries the rage of that, deliberately or otherwise. There are lots of nasty misogynist men and ill-treated women. There is male violence, certainly, but female as well, and (should I say ‘refreshingly’?) the dangerous women are not offered as vampish murderesses for the titillation of male readers. Most of them are interesting angry women of a certain age and the objectification or betrayal of these women doesn’t generally end well for the men concerned. No one in these stories is rescued by romance, though many of the characters, both male and female, are driven to their personal hell by a quest for human connection. The stories include, unusually, a number of explorations of the darker side of female attachments – sisters, friends, mothers and daughters. There’s nothing sentimental nor complacent here – no celebration of female solidarity. These relationships, generally, are pretty grim.
I love dark stories – for heaven’s sake, dear reader, they are the raison d’être of this blog! And yet, and yet… There is something in this collection which leaves me out-of-love with it. I think it is because there is no one in the collection whom I want to meet again: I’ve fallen in love with plenty of disreputables in my time, and generally I’m happy to take a walk with monsters. But not these ones, any of them. Does even the author like her characters? Does she want me to? Hard to tell. One senses in her writing a moment of celebration each time a woman turns to homicide, and there are flashes of compassion towards a few of the characters, both male and female. But more often I sense an enduring angry bitterness which sits ill with me. I have read dark books and felt enriched by them. At the end of this one, I felt curiously destitute.
All the same, these are quality stories. Can I, of all people, let myself complain because I find no light in them? No pretty romance? No joy? I should woman-up! And YOU should, too, sister. Read these stories and enjoy them: they are clever and witty and insightful.
I know: why not take them to bed with you? (But if you sleep alone, or if your loved ones have betrayed you, and especially if you’ve recently strangled them or buried them alive in the basement or stuck them in an asylum, take some cocoa and biscuits with you too. Everyone needs a little sweetness in their nightmares.)
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Sonia Kilvington is a journalist and fiction writer from Cyprus, who loves to write dark and disturbing short stories in genres such as noir, crime, ghost and Sci-fi. Credits include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk fiction, Pulp Metal Magazine & Near to the Knuckle. She can be found in the international noir collection, Exiles, and has written two kindle crime novels, The Mainline Murders and Buried in the Hills. Her first poetry collection, Dangerous Love, has been published in English and Romanian.