Oh, the haunted house. Centrepiece to many a piece of classic horror fiction, whether with creaking floorboards, strange noises from the attic, wallpaper dripping blood, and possibly an Indian-burial ground near the vegetable patch; you know the drill.
In a classic twist from his editing last year’s strong horror anthology The End of the Line with its focus upon the Underground, Solaris’ editor Jon Oliver has continued to pull out the stops with House of Fear to deliver a top-notch collection of short stories themed around the haunted house. And he really has created a quite sublime selection here, and some dark delights are afoot for the horror fiction massive.
The contributors to this tome of terror include some of the genres finest writers, and as with the previous anthology, the selection is far from staid in its nature. Each story is lovingly crafted, with a different focus, some classic, others contemporary, some retrospective; all of them are worthy however, and I can’t emphasise how enjoyable making my way through this book was.
From the off the sense of discomfort is set beautifully by Lisa Tuttle in Objects In Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear. What might at first appear to be a bucolic tale of the search for a dream house in a rurally idyllic hamlet turns out to have a most unpleasant ending.
This is followed by Stephen Volk’s Pied-À-Terre which unusually for the genre uses a non-fictional case of murder to drive home its payload. I must add that though this was shocking, and scarily effective in its effect, it was done in a tasteful, respectful manner – with acknowledgement to the victim of the crime in question and associated charity at the close of the tale.
That the two opening tales so cleverly utilise not just a novel twist upon the haunted house concept, but also an associated framework of human relationships to pin up the devices being executed is interesting. After all, homes are made by the people within them.
And so with fluid continuance the utilisation of the relationship theme as an effective, but not major, component in this dread prose continues in House of Fear, with Terry Lamsley’s In the Absence of Murdoch. This was part Aickman, part Gaiman (think Smoke and Mirrors) but a nonetheless originally weft of pattern Lamsley crafted, as a search for a missing associate of a relative results in a quite horrifying and hypnotic search for the missing party in their house with its Hope Hodgson-like dimensions.
And then came Florrie. Adam Nevill is, I insist, the Mac Daddy of contemporary supernatural horror fiction. I know we all have a soft-spot for our favourite genre authors, but really, time after time Nevill’s work does two things to me. Firstly, it unsettles me in a way few writers are able to. Secondly, it makes me smile, primarily because of the manner in which it manages to do the first thing.
In Florrie Nevill manages to make dismal, dark and horrid not only the process of moving into a new house, but all those nostalgic aspects to which one might cling not just when moving house, but in life itself. And most effectively, he reels in the baited hook of plot device so masterfully. You know something is wrong here, horribly so, yet you can’t help but sink in to the guilefully comforting aspects of a decade or two-gone-by as though its literary quicksand. And in the convection-like pull of such, your senses are suffocated too.
I realise that I’ve mentioned stories in sequence thus far – I shall not cover every single tale here in such a way – but do hasten to add that any stories not mentioned are not excluded for any reason of being less strong, but only to keep my review from turning into a novella of its own.
Be assured that so many and varied angles are covered. As hinted by the opening tales, there are so definitely many different ways to sell a haunted house tale convincingly, as this collection is testament to. And so many talented authors pulled together under one umbrella to give it a shot.
Now, I must mention a few other tales that stood out for me before I conclude, simply because it would be criminal not to do so. Christopher Fowler’s An Injustice is an interesting take on what constitutes a haunting, both conventionally and in the mind’s eye. Nicholas Royle’s Inside/Out is an ethereal, Aickman-infused and hauntingly surreal and trademark enigmatic approach to the brief of the collection, and one of the many strong examples of how unique in structure and approach such tales in House of Fear are.
As it opened well, so it closes appropriately. Joe R. Lansdale’s What Happened to Me, a semi-traditional haunted house tale steeped in the pastoral and things shamanic and ancient, natural but also malevolent. A tale of terror, and yet appropriate closure too, if you will.
Jon Oliver has weaved together a strong selection of dread literary vignettes, and created a worthy collection in House of Fear. It’s exciting stuff indeed, and as with last years The End of the Line, is proof of Oliver’s eye for detail in the sea of horror fiction and ability to bring together a strong body of written works, cementing together a terrible construct that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
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