Tom Fletcher’s writing has piqued my interest since I read his powerful debut The Leaping back in 2010. Its unique style, meshing of colloquial and esoteric supernatural ruminations coupled with what’s clearly a genuine passion (and talent) for this horror writing malarkey, made this reader sit up and take notice.
His second novel, the Lovecraftian-sounding The Thing on the Shore was equally troubling; its hints of malevolent, evil entities merging with the everyday mundane yet surreal, were incorporated alongside excellently steered human sentiment. It both nodded toward global concerns, magnified rotten and flawed, imperfect human nature, and really took exception to capitalist extremities to concoct a bizarre, burlesque melting pot of double-fine horror.
With his third novel, The Ravenglass Eye, we’re treated to something that really is different in so many ways to what’s gone before. But yet that unique and confident style, that unerring desire to tell a cracking supernatural yarn; that’s here, and more.
Ravenglass is a small backwater in Northern England. Its local pub, The Tup, serves an eclectic, varied clientele who share the all too pragmatic struggles of life. If this were the local watering hole for a larger town, or small city, then it could said it served a microcosm of regulars. But the regulars here really are an absolute microcosm.
The troubling, vicious slaughter of a local dog is big news, and the rumour mill begins to grind, the community trying to find a sense or question of order. Or possibly chaos. It’s with Edie, the pub’s cook and erstwhile stalwart support to many of the town’s, and pub’s, inhabitants, that the narration is given focus. Working hard to feed the numerous souls who seek sustenance within the Tup’s walls, Edie finds that things are changing here, in a manner that veers from the surreal to the insidious.
Visions, at first muddy, evolve from enigmatic into the apoplectic, even apocalyptic. Soon, that all too-thin barrier between what is perceived as real, and that as appreciable as dream-state, begins to waver. Worries become concerns, these manifest into fears and ultimately reactions to actualities. Is the local farmer really liaising with spirits from beyond; is there a real threat from within the community? Is the peeping tom lurking in the undergrowth of this place a danger or a delusion?
This is a study of the mundane, but also of deep, dark legends and again miscreant human behaviour. It’s a kick-in-the-teeth to formulaic horror for sure, and, damn the small-gods of trite-prose, may we blessed for it. It’s also an incredibly hard book to sum up concisely – but for that I’ve no real regrets.
On a personal level I miss Fletcher’s gorgeously-crafted ruminations on the minutiae of video-gaming culture that flicked up, granted sparsely, in his earlier books. But in fairness they have no home here, in these slow-paced pages that nonetheless shriek with a sense of urgent alarm the nature of the underlying mystery, and terror.
There is one parallel that I found between this book and another from a strong horror writer which I read earlier this year, being The Faceless by Simon Bestwick. In Bestwick’s The Faceless there was a definite hammering down of end-of-days theme, interwoven with an epistolary thread. Ditto here, there’s a more relaxed but nonetheless obvious hint at such subject matter. It makes me wonder if the subconscious of British horror writers is tuned to an apocalyptic frequency that the rest of us might need to take note of, what with this being 2012 and all. Given that I just looked up to my book shelf and spotted Adam Nevill’s brilliant Last Days I think that yes, we should definitely do so. Whether for precautionary measures or not I am not yet sure of.
We are enjoying a steady renaissance of British Horror fiction my friends, and Tom Fletcher is up there the best of them in punching a hole through the mundanely cobbled pulp we’ve been dealing with this past decade and beyond in a hearty, healthy manner.
Well, when I say healthy I obviously mean in a moody, furtive, wizened manner. But you get the picture.