Thursday, February 17, 2011

The End of the Line

The End of the Line
Edited by Jonathan Oliver

Solaris, 2010

What could be better than to pick up an anthology of British horror and read it a little every night? And if the authors of this anthology are horror dream team? The presence of star names, however, does not guarantee one hundred percent satisfaction from reading the book. Some authors confirmed that they are masters regardless of what they write. Another part moves only on the surface, not down there in the subway, in the dark tunnels of fear, in the trains full of despair and powerlessness.

All the stories in this anthology in one way or another connected with the subway. Topic is extremely interesting: subway, despite the level of technological development, the perfection of the security of the metro passengers, continues to keep dark secrets. It's worthy noting that there are no poorly written stories in the anthology (remember: all the authors are professionals, all famous writers), but some of them do not have enough depth. Fear is always hiding inside, not outside, and those writers who are not digging in, not sink into the ground, provided good stories, which, however, can hardly be called outstanding.

The first strong story in the collection - «The Lure» by Nicholas Royle. This is also most complicated story in a book, full of silences, omissions, secrets - secrets that we hide inside ourselves. The action of the story takes place in Paris, and Royle writes ease with the French. His story smells of French perfume, but it's not the smell that you want to inhale. «The Roses That Bloom Underground» by Al Ewing is much more straightforward, but appealing with ease and ill-concealed black humor. Candidate for mayor of London offers three weeks for completely renovation of the subway, if the people elect him. There is absolutely no dirt in the renovated subway, doors close silently, seats are not broken, subway inspires people a sense of happiness: you bet - it even smells like roses. But for the convenience you always have to pay.

Ironically, in the second half of the book there are much more outstanding short stories than in the first one. The best of them «In the Colosseum» Stephen Volk. Volk, like no one else succeeded in the short story to show how people go crazy and what this person feels. To get a good order, Marcus agrees to take part in the party, which his future boss organizes. Marcus and others from the party go down to the underground and locked themselves in the room, where the monitors are installed by security cameras. And what is displayed on these monitors, it is not something that every one of us would like to see. «In the Colosseum» is a story- mirror in which the author invites us to look and see what lies within us and those who are close to us. Michael Marshall Smith’s «Missed Connection» reveals the characteristic feature of the human: we are looking to the last of a logical explanation, even if everything does not fit in the usual course of things. Hero of the story comes out in a subway station, hoping to quickly get to the store to buy a family Christmas gifts. But not a soul around him, escalators don't work, so that the protagonist seems that the station is just shut down for repairs. «Siding 13» by James Lovegrove is rather a nice joke, but still creepy. «Crazy Train» by Natasha Rhodes exploits bored theme «death and rock 'n' roll», but it does so not without grace. The narrator of the story is committed suicide bassist of rock group, which have been woken up near the bar by a woman, suggesting the dead go to a concert. Musician is stunned, but agrees to travel on a crazy train. He does not know who this girl is and what this trip will lead to. Joel Lane in «All Dead Years» tells the story of two women - therapist Val and her patient Helen. Helen suffers from mental disorder: as soon as she descends into the subway, she becomes ill, she gasps, and she sees corpse remains in the walls. Desire to help the patient leads Val to strange consequences. Lane's prose is imbued with compassion and suffering. In this story, he showed how people can stay alone with the emptiness.

«The End of the Line» is very high-quality anthology of short stories in which a third of the outstanding, and the rest just good.

What They Hear in the Dark

Gary McMahon
What They Hear in the Dark

Spectral Press, 2011

I already wrote about the books released by Nightjar Press (damn, I reviewed all their books!), launched a series of dual release of so-called chapbooks - one book / one story. All six currently published books contained the outstanding story, picking up a very high standard for writers working in the area of dark literature. Now we have yet another British publisher, who is also engaged in production of chapbooks. The first their book came out very strong.

Gary McMahon is far from the debutant, he is the author of numerous novels, as well as several collections of short stories. «What They Hear in the Dark» is a wonderful example of how not using the straight-line methods, you can whip up the atmosphere, reducing the fantastic element in essence to a minimum.

After the violent death of their son, husband and wife moved into a new house, hoping to start anew. House, as well as their family life, is not at its best: want to repair. A place where spouses can escape from the oppressive emptiness becomes Quiet Room. In this room there is completely darkness, and most importantly - it has absolutely no sound. In this room, the sounds do not penetrate outside and extinguished all the sounds inside. The room becomes something like a drug for Rob and Becky.

This story is not a one-time reading, although I still will not reveal further the plot. McMahon feels what often overlooked by many authors of horror fiction: the worst lives always inside the person, not outside. The author describes the reliability of the person who lost the most precious thing in my life and does not know how to live.

A promising debut of a new publishing house. We will follow what Spectral Press will present us next time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Joseph O’Neill

Fourth Estate, 2008

The protagonist of this novel, a Dutchman by birth who lives in England and the USA, Hans van den Broeck begins his memoirs from 2002, when Hans first became acquainted with Chuck Ramkissoon. They met at Walker Park in New York, where they played the cricket. During one such match some crazy runs onto the field with a gun in his hand. With all the players run off the field, except Hans and captain of the opposing team's Chuck, who persuades crazy to throw his gun and leave the field. After the game, in a bar, Hans and Chuck meet properly. Hans is white and from Holland, Chuck is black and from Trinidad.
The life of Hans is bursting at the seams. A year before the meeting by Hans and Chuck Hans’ wife Rachel leaves for London with their son Jake. After 9\11, Rachel does not feel safe in the States. She does not want to live in a country participating in war. Collapse of trade centers influenced on Hans, too, he feels an inexplicable fatigue. The job of analyst at the bank does not give him any trouble, he does it automatically. The next time, Hans and Chuck meet by chance in a few months after that cricket game. Learning that Hans is banking analyst, Chuck is interested in the services of Hans. He plans make some kind of deal, and perhaps Hans calculations will not be redundant.

«Netherland» is a book about embarrassment, about how you can not find yourself in a world of globalization, when many boundaries are erased. After the events of 9/11 Hans feels that it is something not right, he dropped out of society and does not know what to do. He tried to blend into American society, but the attack seems to have erased all his attempts, Hans became an indirect victim of 9\11. Against the background of inner feeling of being exhausted his family falls, and he can not do anything. A straw, for which he can catch (although Hans does not realize it) to get out, becomes Chuck. He is not a Native American, but settled better into this country than many people who were born and raised in the United States. Chuck had not only taken root, he wants to change the country, in its plans one can even discern the union of many nations, living in the U.S.

Ramkissoon in this novel is one of several heroes of American literature, which can be called great dreamers. His plan seems crazy, but it doesn't matter: a dreamer Chuck unwittingly helped Hans to find himself, to find his ego. Chuck is just a gangster linked to the Russian mafia, unwittingly embroiling Hans in his dark deeds, but because of his ideals and grand plans, the dark side of Chuck's almost not visible. Chuck does not become an ideal for Hans, he offers no solutions to Hans of how to save his life, but Chuck cleans Hans from accumulated emptiness.

This novel is also a book about urban life, with fine detail, magnificent scenery, with the turmoil, but the charm of this will be understood only by residents of big cities. For the rest it will not be so obvious. And in general, not living in the United States or Britain, it is difficult to capture additional meanings of this remarkable book.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Little Bird of Heaven

Joyce Carol Oates
Little Bird of Heaven

Fourth Estate, 2010

In the first part of this novel (and the most interesting part of it) we are introduced to the protagonist, Krista Diehl, 11 years old girl. Time in the narrative changes, moving forward and backward. In 1983, in the small town Sparta, Zoe Kruller who once worked at a local diner, but never leaving hopes on show business was brutally murdered in her home. Zoe had a bluegrass band with which she gave some gigs. Police suspicion falls on two men: Zoe's husband, with whom she has not lived for some time, and her lover, Eddy Diehl - the father of Krista. None, however, was not arrested, but Eddy's affairs became known to his wife. Eddy is forbidden to approach the Diehl’s house, not allowed to meet with his children, Krista and Ben. However, Eddy is constantly drinking, lives in another town nearby, and occasionally visits his daughter. And Krista is glad about that. She feels that her father would not lie when he says that he is innocent of murder. Krista loves his father more than mother, and in any disputes she protects him.

The strength of this novel is not in the plot, which in general is nothing special, but in the tone of the narrative, which Oates so successfully invented and used. A little girl who madly loves her father and, despite the obvious things, for all his sins, forgives his father, preferring him to her mother. Oates told the story of how two families are breaking down at once, from the inside, successfully selecting the lens: see through the innocent eyes of a child for what happens in adult life: murder, betrayal, suffering, injustice, shame.

The first part of the novel is simply brilliant. Transposing the action and the memories of Krista in the years ahead, then a week ago, the author collects before the reader not even pieces of the puzzle, but pieces of the life of Krista, her family, living a small town. Oates has created not only a convincing Krista’s portrait, but also portrait of her father.

The problem of the novel is in its second part. Oates tried to look at the story from another angle, in order to not only complete the picture, but also create another one complex character of Aaron, the son of Zoe. But nothing good comes out of such attempts. In the third person narrative there is not so much appeal, than in the first-person narrative. Aaron is less interesting to the reader character; the author couldn't create a unique identity, as happened with Krista in the first part. Aaron is more formulaic. In addition, we learned all story from Krista, and re-read what we have read, but in the worst performance, is not something desirable.

In the final, Oates raised another important theme of the book - the theme of memory. Staying in her hometown - it means to Krista to bury herself, to bury under the remains of a past that is not its best to remind myself of daily. And little bird of heaven flies away from her past.