Category Archives: Horror

Read 38 of 2022. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Title: Mapping the Interior
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: Tordotcom
ISBN: 978-0765395108
Genre: Novella, Fantasy
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

For a novella, Jones sure knows how to pack it all in. There is family dysfunctionality (well, if you read it that way which I sure did), there is loneliness, the concept of home, the Native American culture, the way we are raised, some horror as well (quite a lot actually), and the superstitions that surround us.

Mapping the Interior is a story of the protagonist, a sleepwalker, who at fifteen years of age sees the silhouette of his dead father (or at least he thinks it is his father) in the house where he, his mother, and younger brother who suffers from seizures live. Nothing is clear about the father’s death who died mysteriously before the family left the reservation.

In all of this, the boy wants to know more. So, he decides to understand where he came from, where his family came from – their culture and roots but also about the house and its hidden corners and passages, and to comprehend the haunting (if that’s what it is).

Stephen Graham Jones’ writing is beyond superlative. The way he blends coming of age with a supernatural story, and also about what it means to be clueless about identity is staggering, and that too with such brevity. It is so short that it can be devoured in a day, and that was also one of my issues with it – I wish it were longer because it is so good. At the same time, I am also conflicted in thinking that the length is just right for the story Jones wanted to tell. I cannot begin with explore his other books and read them all, one after the other.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari. Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari Title: Darkness
Author: Ratnakar Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353573331
Genre: Short Stories, Horror
Pages: 228
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3/5

I love the horror genre – whether it is in movies or books. Something about consuming it, getting terribly scared, and then not being able to sleep for days. Yes, it does seem kind of sadistic, but I enjoy the “thrill” of that as well.

So, when I came across Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari – a collection of 18 horror and supernatural stories, translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande, I was whooping for joy. Finally, there was one collection of horror stories, in translation, from the sub-continent. I am sure there are more, but I don’t know of them for now.

The book starts off with great promise. The opening story “Birthday” is about a young boy who can predict death-days by knowing your date of birth. Honestly, I was spooked by it. I think I even got gooseflesh. The titular story “Darkness” is excellently written – pulpy, takes the reader to the edge, and leaves you wondering what actually took place. A story of doppelgängers? Time travel? What just happened? As I progressed, I was skeptical about the quality of stories but surprisingly the pace and fear factor were maintained. “By the Clock” seemed predictable but wasn’t. Most of Matkari’s stories seem predictable but they aren’t and that’s the beauty of evoking the chill in the reader, long after the story is over.

At the same time, some stories did not work for me and seemed rushed. “I See Vikram” was so-so – about an affluent kid who seems to have an imaginary friend from the slums did not do it for me when it came to the writing or ambience.

Most of his stories hint at other dimensions, other worlds, time-travel, and of what will come to be which is already known to the characters. “Monsoon Guest” is a great example of infusing mythology with horror – some way also reminded me of the movie Tumbbad – the eeriness, the ambience which becomes a character in itself, and the dialogue that takes over the story.

While reading this book, I also often wondered if the experience would be even more enriching reading it in the original Marathi, and the answer was a resounding YES. Couple of reasons for it: The terrain and locales in which these stories are set are so deep-rooted in Maharashtra that only reading them in Marathi would do complete justice to the writer’s vision and storytelling capabilities. The second reason being, nothing like reading anything pulpy in the original language only to truly feel the emotion the author intended you to.

“Darkness” for me worked on several plot points, stories, and gave me the much-needed spooks. At the same time, it also got repetitive in most part, and predictable. I would still recommend this collection of stories, wonderfully translated by Vikrant Pande – keeping the essence intact in most stories. It is the kind of collection that will jolt you and make you also look over your shoulder once in a while.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson Title: The Sundial
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0143107064
Genre: Horror, Gothic
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

So it had been a while since I read something gothic or along the lines of horror. I then thought of Shirley Jackson. I had heard of her now and then but never got around to reading her. Friends did tell me about, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” and the more famous, “The Haunting of Hill House” but somehow I never got around to reading her. I am amazed and a little sad that I did not read her before. Well, it is never too late. I am going to devour every book written by Ms. Jackson in this year itself.

“The Sundial” is a book which really come to think of it cannot fall under any genre. While reading it, I thought it could be classified as Goth or Horror, but somehow that does not do justice to a book of this range and magnificence. The book’s central character is the Halloran mansion, belonging to the Halloran family. The book starts with the death of the son of the family and the story kicks in from there.

Aunt Fanny has always been the peculiar one in the family. The one, who wanders, gets lost and then eventually returns on her own. This time she returns with a revelation: Her father, the late Mr Halloran appeared to her – a vision and revealed that the world will come to an end and the only people who will survive will be the ones who are in the house. The household is rather calm about it, they believe her and wait for the end to arrive. There is Mr Halloran (Fanny’s brother) and his wife, Mrs. Halloran, their daughter-in-law, Maryjane, their granddaughter Fancy, the help (so to say) Essex and Ms. Ogilvie, who are the principal characters of the house, and more start entering the house, once the news spreads.

The family believes that the new world is just for them. There are a lot of undertones in the book – which I had a ball reading and identifying. The strained relationships sometimes lead to violence. The hatred for one another is apparent and the new world also perhaps cannot do much for them. There is a part in the book which is my most favourite – that said by the young child, Fancy, about the new world. I thought it would be best to make it a part of my review:

“Look. Aunt Fanny keeps saying that there is going to be a lovely world, all green and still and perfect and we are all going to live there and be peaceful and happy. That would be perfectly fine for me, except right here I live in a lovely world, all green and still and perfect, even though no one around here seems to be very peaceful or happy.”

For me the above quote somehow sums up the entire book and yet as a reader, I had to keep turning the pages to know how it ends. The title of the book comes from the huge Sundial which is in the Halloran’s garden and of course indicative of passing time and how time is no longer of essence really, but still is.

The characters created by Shirley Jackson are spooky, brave, fearsome and at the same time, willing to work towards a change for the better. Their lives are fractured to that extent that they want to put their belief in anything. The writing is packed with punch at every single page. My only grouse (a slight one at that) was that some characters did not get enough of the limelight, but that is alright. It is a great book nonetheless – spooky, weird and contemplative as well. Shirley Jackson for now is my favourite writer of this genre and like I said, I will only read more.

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Book Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film by Marisha Pessl Title: Night Film
Author: Marisha Pessl
Publisher: Hutchinson Books
ISBN: 9780091953799
Genre: Literary Fiction, Horror
Pages: 624
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are few books that will petrify you. That will evoke fear in you. That will make you jump at the slightest sound as you turn the pages. That will perhaps also have the strange effect of wanting-to-finish-the-book-no-matter-how-huge on you. I always thought that reading a book could not scare me. I was probably right; till I picked up, “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl and now I am a believer.

I read Pessl’s earlier work (a debut), called, “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” and I must say that her style and plot narrative is nothing like that in “Night Film”. It is completely different, so much so that you would not believe that the same writer has written these books. “Night Film” had me sleepless for almost a week after I finished it and here I am recommending it to every single person, mainly because of the way it is written.

So here is the plot: Ashley Cordova, daughter of the cult filmmaker Stanislas Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her death is ruled out as suicide. Ashley was a child genius who wooed the piano with her skills. Stanislas was last seen in public thirty years ago. He lives or is known to live in The Peak – his plush mansion away from civilization. Stanislas is legendary for his horror movies – to reveal the dark side of humans. His films are unsettling and there is always death of his family members – as associated with him.

Enter Scott McGrath, an investigative journalist who thinks that Ashley did not commit suicide. He has been on the trail of Cordova since years, where one unfortunate incident made him lose everything that he ever had. He wants to know the truth behind the Cordova family. What are the movies all about? Are they real? Are they fictitious? What is about them that drive people insane to worship Cordova? What happened to Ashley? Why did she fall down to her death? What were the reasons? McGrath is out to find out the truth with the help of two strangers and this is hardly where the story begins.

The book is true to itself. It does not talk of darkness and light. There is no bad guy; neither there is the good guy. Things are not as easy as they seem. The dark self and the so called self in the light could probably have a very thin line separating them, which we might never know. That’s what the book is about.

I finished Night Film in about a day and a half. While it could be categorized in the horror or suspense genre, it is for sure more than that. Every chapter almost opens another layer, and another and one more and doesn’t let up till you have reached the end, which in itself is another layer. The book is full of graphics as well – from newspaper articles to interviews to internet links, which only add to the entire eerie effect.

The writing is a breeze. It is perhaps even way better than her first book. “Night Film” is a book that deserves to be read keeping the phone aside, the computer switched off, no one to disturb you and the sounds of the night to accompany you for sure. Read it over the weekend and yes, get spooked. I cannot recommend it enough.

Here is the book trailer:

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Book Review: Night Shivers by Ed Pessalano

Title: Night Shivers
Author: Ed Pessalano
Publisher: Moose Hide Books
ISBN: 978-1-894650-82-3
Genre: Horror, Short Stories
Pages: 73
Source: Author
Rating: 2.5/5

An amusement park turns to a nightmare for a newly married couple. A night camp turns morbid for three teenagers. A dead horse is the cause of his owner’s death. These are just some of the short stories’ brief synopsis from the collection of unlucky 13 stories in Ed Pessalano’s collection, aptly titled, “Night Shivers”.

Writing a horror story is not easy. It takes a lot to think of what will scare the readers and what has already been said by other horror writers. Night Shivers is an attempt to scare readers and it achieves that to some extent (but only when you have not reading anything which is remotely similar).

I found the writing taut and simple, though I wish some stories would not end abruptly or had more meat to them. For instance, The Mourning about a mad uncle trying to do away with this nephew started off brilliantly and then ended too soon to be able to speak much of it. Similarly, I was looking for more while reading, Razorback Hill, however even that ended too quickly.

The collection in all is a bit spooky for readers (might I also risk and add: Young Readers) who have yet to venture into the horror genre. Ed knows how to tell a story and that I give him. At the same time, I do not understand the need to make the scary parts so obvious. I mean why let them be so scary-in-the-face?

If you have already read horror stories, then may be this book will not manage to give you the chills or the shivers. A tale or two would manage to but that is about it. For me, the only thing that didn’t work is that the stories weren’t spooky enough. I wish there was more to that.