IThis time of year again. Spooky season, Gothic Christmas, Hallows Eve. Whatever you call it, Halloween is traditionally when attention turns to the end of the spooky bookshelf. For horror fans, it’s a period of fun and frustration. On the other hand, our literary genre is getting its moment to shine darkly; On the other hand, we have to keep shouting that the great horror is out there Over the year!
The year 2022 was a particularly good antique. In the case of Ali Wilkes All white spaces (Titan Books £8.99) and Thomas Old Heuvelt sound echo (Hodder £9.99), icy shivers are delivered by stalking in the coldest ends of the earth. Heuvelt injects his own mountaineering experience into the story of a mysterious alpine summit and the terrifying effect it has on those who climb it, and Echo probably has the most terrifying introduction ever written.
The Wilkes Gate Barrier is getting cooler, as it accompanies a team of southbound polar adventurers in the final years of the golden age of exploration. What awaits them in the Antarctic wastes is a far cry from friendship, but inhuman hostility plays a secondary role in the horrific drudgery of life on ships and ice. All White Space treads in Dan Simmons’ ‘Terror’ footprints, but she takes her ice ax to the fantasies of empire and masculinity that underpin the adventure story genre.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Devlin And then I woke up (St Martin’s Press £10.99) is a novel’s narrow nightmare. Despite its brevity, Devlin’s post-truth tale is almost too clever to sum up. The initial setting sounds familiar: a zombie outbreak in an uncharted urban city, recounted by a survivor. However, when we peel the layers of this rotten onion, the implications of an alternate reality are more terrible than any horde of zombies. The book was grim indeed, but the book is gaining horribly weight in the wake of Covid denial and political lies.
Jason Rekulak hidden pictures (Little, Brown £14.99) More fun. Part ghost story, and part irony of social inequality, it follows Mallory, who starts a job as a nanny recognizable from every “creepy toddler” movie she’s ever seen. The child in question, Teddy, loves to draw, and his efforts are reproduced along with Recolac’s easy prose. Soon, Teddy’s drawings began portraying the bad stuff, offering parallel narratives of violence and stalking, as well as true paper-jumping narratives.
hacienda (Bantam £20.99) He is haunted by more bleak spirits. The historical Gothic thriller of Isabel Canas is set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, but contrasts with the local horror in Bronte. It deals with similar ground to recent postcolonial Gothic reviews, but goes further in the extreme of satanic events within the home. Bonus points are awarded for plumbing the full magical potential of the Catholic ritual.
Alexis Henderson hungry house (Bantam £16.99) Takes Gothic even further. It begins in a steampunk city-state before heading north – on a blood-soaked train, no less – to a grand home ripped straight from Central European history. There, Marion acts as a blood girl for the Countess, an affair that is as exciting as it is exploitative. Of course, in true Gothic style, Marion sets out to search for the house’s secrets… and finds surprisingly shocking things. Henderson’s construction of the world has a bit of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast grotesque modernity, tinged with red by a mixture of Clive Barker-esque blood and sex. It’s a horrific and lewd book.
Back to the more familiar beaches, Fiona Barnett dark among the trees (Rebellion £15.99) An exercise in classic English folk horror. The double half novel follows a group of Roundhead soldiers on an ominous retreat through some very strange jungle. Presently, a group of women are on an expedition to discover the fate of the soldiers. Of course, none of the walks in the woods go well. The Dark Between the Trees filters the engraved history of Sarah Moss’s ghost wall through the sheer weirdness of Jeff VanderMeer’s annihilation. Barnett’s awareness of unspeakable weirdness would make Algernon Blackwood proud. Fairy tales are set on myth and mixed with myth, suggesting that the truth in such matters is something porous and honey-stained.
This is just a small sampling of the dark delights that have been released this year. There is a lot that I can recommend. I hope you enjoy whatever scary book you choose, but please remember that horror stories are for life, not just for Halloween.