Jan. 6th, 2011

naomi_jay: (jason)
 

 
This book was a Christmas present, and technically I started it in 2010, but I finished it today, so it counts, right? Right. Anyway. This is a reprint of an anthology first published in 1959, and as such it's not the kind of horror book you see nowadays. A lot of the stories are more psychological - the sort of thing you find yourself thinking about for a long time afterwards, even if they don't really bother you whilst you're reading. Raspberry Jam and The Squaw fall into this category; the former a slow-burning and grotesque tale in which the final horror is unveiled in one quick, nasty burst; the latter a tale of revenge from a very unexpected source (hint, don't fuck with black cats, okay?).

A few of them aren't really horror at all, more suspense. Contents of a Dead Man's Pockets, for example, promises something truly sinister, but doesn't deliver. I got to the end with a feeling of "oh, that all worked out okay then," which is not really very satisfying. Jugged Hare, the opening story, is the same, except even less satisfying, because it's implied that all the actual horror will take place much later, when the reader isn't around. That's not to say it's a bad story, but it doesn't entirely fit my criteria of "horror," whereas I had a very visceral reaction to Raspberry Jam. As a long-time fan of MR James, I appreciate an ambiguous creepy story as much as the next ... MR James fan, but if a book is touted as a horror anthology, I want a little horror.

The weakest story in the collection for me is On The Portobello Road, a rather bland ghost story notable only for it's massive racism. I couldn't decide if the racism was the author's or the character's, but it made the story very hard to enjoy on any level. Overall though, it's a good collection. The Squaw is definitely my favourite story. It's interesting to note in the introduction that as this annual anthology continued and the stories became gorier, readers lost interest. I imagine today it'd be pretty hard to market a relatively bloodless collection like this, when horror is so tied up with maniacs gutting teenage girls, and zombies are more or less a required element. It was kind of cool to read stories that didn't feature many/any supernatural elements, and wasn't just torture porn. I hope Pan reissue a few more of these in the future.

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