A sense of horror, but also deep beauty, oozes from the pages of this bizarre patchwork artefact.
October is upon us and with it comes our innate need to be spooked. Like the need to wrap up warm in the biting winds of winter or the need to try all the pumpkin spice drinks/smells/treats on offer, it simply wouldn’t be autumn without cosying up in bed with a good ol’ haunting read sending chills running down your spine. You could opt for a classic in the gothic spires of Dracula, or a proper slasher in the blood-soaked pages of American Psycho— but why not give something new a try this horror season? If you enjoy the macabre, gothic lore and a creeping sense of dread in your thrillers, Mayhem & Death, the new 2018 short story collection by author Helen McClory, is sure to satisfy.
For me, reading Mayhem & Death was a bit like a throwback to the Halloweens of my youth spent bingeing The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, in the best way possible. A mixture of short fiction, very short fiction and even McClory’s new novella Powdered Milk at the end, offers a veritable trick or treat bucket of themes and genres. Just rummage through and choose your favourite. From a haunted hunting party to a deep-sea diving expedition gone wrong, the collection moves between the downright terrifying and the hauntingly lonely with ease. The short story genre is perfect for imparting a sense of spookiness and trepidation in the reader: the collection undoubtedly hosts lighter moments among the frightful, yet as a story suddenly drops off into nothing, it brings with it this palpable sense of uneasiness that you can’t quite shake as you read through scene after scene.
Above all, McClory succeeds in exuding a sense of loneliness across the collection in its entirety. The beginning inscription, “For the lonely”, stays with you as you work through the pages: from the lone figure in the mirror to the mother without a child, that sense of loneliness proves to be unshakeable in McClory’s prose. Her writing has this wistful, almost mystic quality to it; she makes the mundane magical and the magical downright ethereal with her lyrical descriptions.
Yes, it’s a book of spooky, haunting stories— but not as you know it. A sense of horror, but also deep beauty oozes from the pages of this bizarre patchwork artefact. I think the best way I could describe it would be to call it Celtic noir: steeped in lore, mystery and tension amidst rolling waves and hills you can access from Queen Street Station. Mayhem & Death will take you there, and it will save you the train fare on the way.