So, after a manic week of work, chasing stray cats out of the house, and being generally soaked on by the obstinate London rain, I finally got chance to sit down and read the “Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies”, kindly sent over by DF Lewis, the book’s editor. Below is the promised review, published on Friday the 13th – a cunning plan, or spooky coincidence??
I have to say, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the book – its title suggests it as definitive guide to Horror Anthology, which I have to say, I thought was aiming pretty high (still, shoot for the stars, why not). I need not have concerned myself with that however, as it quickly became apparent that this isn’t a guide to horror anthologies, but rather a collection of actually quite excellent short stories , all of which unite under the common theme of referencing, in one loosely defined sense or another, anthologies of horror.
The twenty stories that make up the book all explore the powerful forces that surround words and books. Unlike many anthologies, the authors have taken the theme, and between them been allowed to stretch it just about as far as it is possible to do so – from the confusing to the grotesque, from the surreal to the downright terrifying. By choosing the stories wisely, DF Lewis has created with the ‘HA of HA’ a collection that, again unusually for an anthology, successfully maintains the tension throughout, encouraging the reader to keep reading, story after story. I personally found this quite satisfying, as I willed myself to venture further and further into the book, feeling as if, with each story, I was drawn deeper into some mysterious, macabre world – slowly enveloped by the eerie atmosphere created by Lewis’ choices. I actually got quite a kick out of staying up way past my bed time (strictly 9.00pm on a school night) to read a couple of extra tales!
The stories themselves are by and large finely constructed and well written; the tone being generally well judged and use of metaphor measured and effective, with just enough nods to some of classics from the genre, from Lovecraft to Poe. There are perhaps a couple of points at which the writing seems to struggle to sound natural enough, as if on occasion the author had not quite mastered their own style, and they waiver momentarily on sounding just a bit too self-conscious, too unsubtle; however, this does little to hamper the collection’s overall quality. As with all books of this type, I had favourites, but having read through large parts the book again before writing this review, my initial opinions have already changed. This suggests that the anthology will stand up well to subsequent reads, and offer up hidden insights allowing preferences to change again, and thus makes it a perfect book to keep by the bedside table, or in the bottom of your bag in case you find yourself stuck on a train!
A point to note on the idea of horror found within these stories – it is not the usual fare found in the typical Saturday night, slasher type Hollywood notion of horror. From the painfully real horror of dementia described within Reggie Oliver’s grief ridden “Flowers from the Sea”, to the wonderfully bleak distance achieved from recounting the events found with the rings of a tree in Daniel Ausema’s ‘Tree Ring Anthology’, the stories Lewis has chosen unnerve the reader in a brilliantly unconventional way. They frequently prey on common, everyday notions, yet play them out in taught, sometimes perverse ways; in the grim, cruel, ‘Apoplexy of Beelzebub’ by Colin Insole this twistedness is heightened by our familiarity of the overbearing culture, the pressures of family life, the packed lunches. Even the confusingly eerie ‘The Useless’, allows you to not understand what heck just happed, but still enjoy the read.
In a way the ability of these really quite short stories to keep you off balance is part of the books overall charm, as are the more than occasional flashes of brilliance shown by some of the authors. Throw in some truly spooky cover art by Tony Lovell, and you have an unsettling, dark, often bleak, but ultimately satisfying collection. For all true fans of the horror genre, a definite must read!
Buy it here!!!!