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Horroctober Book Recommendations from the Otherland

Horroctober Book Recommendations from the Otherland, close-up of a green painted woman in fear
© ‎Atlantic Books

Otherland, 11.10.2023

Who’s looking for a spooky read? The pumpkins are almost ripe, Halloween season is about to begin, and Otherland Bookshop Berlin has some creepy recommendations for you in store.

Cassandra Khaw | The Salt Grows Heavy

Titan Books: €13

"Everyone who is anyone knows the story of the little mermaid."

The Salt Grows Heavy is a slim book with a lot of fans. The first couple of pages have rave reviews from Langan, Kingfisher, Jemisin, Evenson, Tremblay, Hearne, and Graham Jones. This is partly down to Khaw's previous outing Nothing But Blackened Teeth, which managed rave reviews across the board and was nominated for every horror award under the moon, but it is more than a little because this book is a very, very good read.

The plot is simple. A mermaid and a plague doctor make their way out of a collapsing empire and seek shelter in the nearby woods. Only this is no ordinary mermaid. Nothing like Ariel, this one is missing a tongue and has more in common with an angler-fish or a lamprey than those saucy maidens you see beckoning to sailors on bottles of rum. And you do not want to run into her children. Nor are these ordinary woods. Instead of the promised respite, the trees are full of murderous teens, offering a cruel web of games and trickery, overseen by the monstrous "saints", three war surgeons promoted to gods in the post-apocalyptic social chaos. But then our protagonists are more than a little monstrous themselves, and if anyone is going to crawl their way out of the woods alive...

What a great novella. Poetic, and by turns entrancing and gory, with something of the unsettling beauty of Guillermo del Toro's back catalogue, The plot is rich with literary allusion - I particularly liked the nods to Lord of the Flies - and Khaw's vocabulary is inventive in the extreme. The first three pages alone I had to look up "penumbra", "gorgeted", "autosarcophagy", and "parturition". Khaw is playing with so many interesting ideas here, not least in having a mute protagonist for a large part of the text. This is an arresting love story. A brutal fable. An angry poem with a vein of pure splatter-punk that hunts down Hans Christian Andersen's quaint little fairy tale and throttles it. Top marks. [Tom]

Editors: Alex Woodroe, Matt Blairstone | Brave New Weird - The Best New Weird Horror Vol 1

Tenebrous Press: 22,50 Euro

First of All: The Weird is my favorite Genre in the fiction canon. I love it to death with all its unhinged craziness, the creative overflow of ideas and the general notion of warping reality. It involves everything that fiction can and should do: from starting new ideas to getting sucked in all the way.

Yes, I worked my way through The Weird by Jeff Vandermeer, which is basically the bible in the genre. And it took me only two years! So, when I found this new Anthology, I couldn't resist and oh boy! What an hors d‘oeuvre of little gold nuggets. Most of the authors featured here are basically under the radar, which doesn't matter, because they ‘re all very talented. I love that I was questioning their state of mind at points and feeling an immense gratefulness for them to spawn all this weirdness out there. I don‘t want to give away any more information, just buy the book and be open for new horizons. I promise you won‘t be bored and I myself can‘t wait for Volume 2. (Esther)

Ainslie Hogarth | Motherthing

Atlantic Books: €12

Abby's postcard-perfect domestic existence with dreamy husband Ralph is ruined when her nightmare mother-in-law Laura not only starts living with them, but then has the nerve to top herself in the basement.

After fastidiously scrubbing the floorboards, Abby finds herself in Ralph's childhood home, where the couple are beset by understandable depression and something a little less understandable... something supernatural. Can Abby keep her perfect life in one piece? And just how far is she prepared to go to keep it?

Black, black, black humor with some gory body horror and a dash of strong psychological unease thrown in for good measure. A gothic-themed horror for the twenty-first century housemaker.

Chandler Morrison | My Dark Library #2 #thighgap

Independently Published: €21

In some way, it is inherent to horror to be extreme. Take for example any situation or state, even something positive like happiness or a relationship, and drive it to the extreme, make too much of it, make it excessive and cross a certain limit, and it will, in my opinion, end up being horror.

The bigger the contrast between the starting point and the end, the more interesting to me.

But take a thing which isn’t associated with positivity at all, like an eating disorder, a situation strongly related to the feelings of wanting to disappear or losing control of one’s life, manifesting itself in an excessive control over the body, a nightmare situation for some, and drive that further and you have hell. #thighgap is hellish in that sense.

I want to be nothing but bone. I want to disappear.

The life of former aspiring filmmaker Louanne, now skinny model Helene Troy in LA is, of course, a very dark and sharpened version of where an eating disorder can lead if left to blossom in an environment which endorses and encourages it - biting critique of that very environment that is LA of course included.

The extremeness which marks the plot in #thighgap doesn’t spare its characters: there’s really not one remotely likable character in this book, except maybe the uber driver. From her extremely superficial crush, to the film director she casually hooks up with, to her therapist - every single male character actively contributes to Helen sinking deeper and deeper into the fangs of anorexia. Helen herself acts out of a need for a sense of superiority, even though we’re shown where that comes from, our compassion for her is limited.

But anyway, this was great. Looking at the author’s page I see influences like Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk and I definitely see that.

Favorite quote – “I can’t tell if he’s hitting on me, or if he’s just gay.” – lol, so Berlin! [Inci]

May Sinclair / Mike Ashley (ed.) | The Flaw in the Crystal and Other Uncanny Stories

British Library: €13

Born Mary Amelia St. Clair in 1863, May Sinclair was an intensely private yet widely successful writer who had impressive literary connections and served in Belgium during the Great War. As a writer she was interested in languages, philosophy, and poetry, and once a successful novelist she turned her mind to psychoanalysis and the supernatural.

Uncanny Tales (1923) was her first collection of weird fiction, followed in 1931 by The Intercessor and Other Stories. This current collection gathers 14 of the best of these tales into one otherworldly bundle.

Here then is a more practical, realistic use of occult practices than you are likely to find elsewhere. In Sinclair's tales illicit lovers find themselves trapped together in hellish afterlives, spurned partners return from the grave with urgent questions for the living, and romances are driven by psychic powers outside the normal laws of nature. Throughout the tales we are met with the strangeness at the heart of human relationships and Sinclair's own personal fascination with the uncanny. I wouldn't say any of these tales were particularly scary, but they well deserved the title "weird", and they gave a fascinating glimpse inside the minds of their characters and the underlying sexual politics of the early twentieth century. Unique, personal, and at times a little odd. [Tom]

Ray Russell | The Case Against Satan

Penguin: €14,50

'The Devil's cleverest wile is to convince us he does not exist' (Baudelaire)

Here's a horror classic for fans of The Exorcist (Friedkin's film version, that is, not Blatty's book).

Almost a decade before William Peter Blatty wrote the text that would go on to inspire one of the greatest horror films of all time, Ray Russell was putting the finishing touches on the story of a young, teenage girl from a small American family who is (possibly) possessed by Satan. It features a pair of Catholic priests: one is older, wiser, and with the breadth of religious tradition at his fingertips; the other is young and conflicted, versed in psychoanalysis and progressive scientific logic. Sound familiar?

I was expecting this to be trashy and a little tiresome, but it read like a good, old-fashioned thriller with intellectual backbone. The characters are properly fleshed-out, the theological and ethical arguments fantastic. Chapters are short and snappy and the whole plot thunders towards its uncertain conclusion with aplomb. There were times reading this when the potential for malevolence, for genuine evil, became almost overwhelming. Very clever. Where Blatty is bombastic and expansive, Russell's tale is naturalistic and restrained, and all the better for it. If you can, read both the introduction by Laird Barron and Russell's footnote - both are worth it. And if you enjoyed this, Russell's collection Haunted Castles is equally influential. [Tom]

If you haven't found anything interesting here today or it wasn’t enough for you, next week we will be back with even more Horror recommendations.