Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Under a Watchful Eye - Adam Nevill

 Adam Nevill is unpredictable. Unpredictable but never boring. He plays ball in all horror subgenres, and he plays it hard, merciless and oh so delightfully fucked up. And his prose is so stylish he makes the likes of James Herbert look positively infantile.

I’ve read Under a Watchful Eye twice (so far), simply because the horror in it is in places of such an uncanny, eerie dreamlike quality that stays with you less in what you saw but more how it made you feel, the way you wake from a nightmare, shaken and scattered by it all day but only able to remember snippets - probably just the tip of the iceberg wreaking havoc in your subconscious now. Which makes the book utterly re-readable, leaving you to discover new bits each time you touch base with it again.

You wouldn’t think a picturesque Devon seaside town would give you the heebie-jeebies as much as a dilapidated house rented out by apsycho live-in landlord in a poor part of Birmingham. But fear not – when successful writer Seb spots an oddly floating figure staring at him from a distance, one that looks unpleasantly familiar to someone he had escaped decades ago, the sunny beachfront soon turns into a creepy negative like the intro from Tales from the Darkside.
The figure keeps popping up in his path, out of thin air and coming closer and closer, just to disappear again, making Seb question his sanity. Until it appears in his drive, the disturbing figure of his uni housemate Ewan, a man so filthy and unkempt, Nevill’s description practically makes you gag, with no redeeming features whatsoever. He’s far from a hobo with a heart of gold – he displays delusions of grandeur and psychopathic traits and plants himself into Seb’s classy house like a human tick. You might wonder why Seb just doesn’t chuck him out – but once you’re exposed to the threat and mind-twisting manipulation he endures (paired, perhaps, with crippling Britishness) you feel as trapped as him. 

And not just that. With Ewan, things appear in the house. Things from another Arthur-Machenesque plane that followed him there and start stalking Seb, as well. Things so unspeakably horrible, images Nevill plants into your head like demonic seeds that will sickeningly blossom before your inner eye just as you turn off the lights. Lost creatures, barely human, in a nightmarish fog. Condemned spirits and souls lost in a hellish dimension after dabbling in a cult practicing astral projection. A cult that soon starts stalking Seb, as well. And Seb’s life begins to crumble as he desperately tries to find out what Ewan has let loose on him, that he needs to get involved with that cult in order to find a way to free himself of the demonic forces in his life, just to get entangled deeper and deeper, with no hope of any human forces to rescue him.
By the way, those who read Nevill’s privately published short story collection “Some will not sleep” (another absolutely unmissable, by the way) will recognise the characters from an equally fascinating and gag-inducing short story called “Yellow Teeth” – to me, one of the most disturbing one in the lot, and that’s a walk in the park compared to UWE - ; its title featuring as the name of a novel Seb produces in UWE after his harrowing experiences with Ewan and his ghastly entourage.

I swallowed that book in two sittings, leaving my eyes dry and my flesh creeping. The imagery is as haunting as scenes from recent paranormal films: put visions of Silent Hill together with the various Furthers and Upside Downs, flavoured with the spirit of Arthur Machen and Aleister Crowley, you’re getting there. Nevill induces that cosmic terror in you that he’s become famous for. That sense of spiralling out of control, with no reprieve and escape. Seb’s terror will infect your own bones and not let go. Word of advice: plan in a few recovery periods with Disney films to get through this experience with your sanity intact.

Highly recommended, easily the best horror of this year.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Some will not sleep by Adam Nevill - review

A humble claim, I do declare. Because if my experience of Adam Nevill tales is anything to go by, rest  will be but a sweet and distant memory to you while your scared, dead tired body twitches with sleep-deprived hypersensitivity at every shadow and sound around you, your eyes bulge and strain in the dark and your terror prickles under your skin like electricity once you have tucked into this exquisite collection of horror appetizers.

Grotesque, eerie, nightmarish, cosmically terrifying… work your way through all the synonyms of the genre and it will just about cover what is on offer here. Some of the tales will remind you of his novels, but not in a rehashed way, but the way you’d greet old friends… friends who thought it funny to give you prank calls at 3am in a distorted voice, knowing you had just watched The Ring for the first time, friends who crawled down the stairs with their hair hung in their faces after you came home from the cinema to watch the Grudge, making gurgly noises at you. Friends you fondly recall, but frankly, at the time, you wanted to punch them in the face.

Ah, the joy of being scared out of your pants. Join our Dinner Party of Doom, and our butler Adam Nevill will be serving you these fine literary hors d’oeurvres with a cold, wicked, dead-eyed smile.

Some will not sleep by Adam Nevill - review

A humble claim, I do declare. Because if my experience of Adam Nevill tales is anything to go by, rest  will be but a sweet and distant memory to you while your scared, dead tired body twitches with sleep-deprived hypersensitivity at every shadow and sound around you, your eyes bulge and strain in the dark and your terror prickles under your skin like electricity once you have tucked into this exquisite collection of horror appetizers.

Grotesque, eerie, nightmarish, cosmically terrifying… work your way through all the synonyms of the genre and it will just about cover what is on offer here. Some of the tales will remind you of his novels, but not in a rehashed way, but the way you’d greet old friends… friends who thought it funny to give you prank calls at 3am in a distorted voice, knowing you had just watched The Ring for the first time, friends who crawled down the stairs with their hair hung in their faces after you came home from the cinema to watch the Grudge, making gurgly noises at you. Friends you fondly recall, but frankly, at the time, you wanted to punch them in the face.

Ah, the joy of being scared out of your pants. Join our Dinner Party of Doom, and our butler Adam Nevill will be serving you these fine literary hors d’oeurvres with a cold, wicked, dead-eyed smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's a lost child under the reign of King Death?

I’ve been a fan of Adam Nevill’s tales since Apartment 16 made me too chicken to switch off the lights at night. Since The Ritual made me obsessed with Scandinavian folklore and my Germanic  heritage demons that still haunted my mother (there’s a tale there). Since Banquet for the Damned created a discordant homage of twisted love to the dark beauty of St Andrews and the unfathomable horrors of a Lovecraftian mind. Since the cracked hands of my inner evil porcelain doll clapped enthustiastically to the Victorian horrors unfolding in House of Small Shadows.

So far Nevill has ticked all the boxes of my favourite kinds of fears.  It’s like he is an evil wizard pulling all my bad dreams out of my head like a rope of threadbare, rotten knotted handkerchiefs, twirling my demons like Mickey in a Fantasia directed by James Wan or John Carpenter. Only horror fans might appreciate that particular addictive (if not slightly masochistic) joy.

The paranormal is Nevill’s specialty, and I imagine it will always feature to some degree in his tales of doom. But there is a new side to him, which I can only describe as a modern Dickens. Last year, with the publication of No One Gets Out Alive, Nevill dealt with a modern horror that has touched too many of us: unaffordable housing and unstable jobs, leaving us in a poverty so grinding that we are at the mercy of rogue landlords. Nevill might have exaggerated it somewhat (although I have met people like Knacker McGuire, which makes this book all the more terrifying) – but there is illustration in exaggeration, and Nevill’s recent books have become sharp magnifying glasses pointed at contemporary societal ills, not instilling an indescribable horror but stirring up the familiar already there. He’s done poverty, the housing crisis and unregulated rental markets.

His latest, literally, goes more global. It’s not post-apocalyptic, it’s bang in the middle of it. Lost Girl is not just what some called a version of Liam Neeson’s Taken – though if you prefer to read it that way, you certainly can; it makes a damn fine thriller. But there’s more to it than just the Leeson meme we’ve all seen. Set in the near future, in a world that is increasingly crumbling under the effects of climate change in which man has gone past the point of no return – ecological disasters, food shortages and water rationing and the resulting mass migrations to escape their doom to not much more habitable areas – in a Great Britain that is collapsing under the strain of an apocalyptically hot summer, killing pensioners off like flies,  an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, where only the rich can afford to get decent food and protection from an insane organised crime wave so infiltrated in society that the police is as effective as a cocktail umbrella in a super hurricane of lawlessness…  a global horror, a likely horror, a horror bound to happen if one just spins the yarn further from now, a horror along the lines of Soylent Green and The Death of Grass, just more brutal and more likely, where “year after year, decade after decade, always worsening, always leaving things changed after each crisis. The past is unrecoverable. Extinction is incremental. There is no science fiction. Advanced physics, inter-galactic travel, gadgets? An epic fantasy, the lot of it. There is only horror ahead of us now."
In this setting of despair, a family move to Devon from Birmingham to escape the constant flooding, to a quiet, still somewhat idyllic place where self-sufficiency protects them from the worst of the food shortages. And it is just then when they feel marginally safe, that their beautiful little daughter gets snatched out of their front garden in a moment of carelessness, and disappears.

Lost Girl must have been incredibly uncomfortable to write – I had to think of Stephen King’s discomfort with Pet Sematary.  While there are autobiographical elements (a family moving from Birmingham to Devon with their little daughter), the thought of getting your toddler daughter kidnapped from right under your care is every parent’s nightmare. Add to that happening in a world where you can’t expect help from anyone, the law is impotent, a half-hearted investigation is abandoned due to lack of manpower, and the forces you are up against are gigantic. It’s an exploration of the agonies of a father trying to find his child, not knowing whether she is alive or dead, or what horrors might have happened to her. It’s about the lengths he goes to, at the peril of everything he has and is, to save her.

What makes this tale so much better than bland old Taken is how deeply you get submerged into the father’s mind agonising to the brink of insanity with the grief, loss, worry and uncertainty over his daughter’s fate, and the horrific fantasies tormenting him. What adds to the intensity is that he remains unnamed, known only as “the father” through the entire book, making him akin to an archetype that anyone can identify with, where names don’t distract from the state of his soul. It gives it the eerie effect that made McCarthy’s The Road such a haunting read.
The father is not blessed with the skills and coldness of an ex-CIA man; obsessive research and the help of an anonymous agent aids him in tracking down the captors, but often he is tormented by his humanity cracking under the necessity of barbarity to elicit answers from the most callous and vicious agents of his daughter’s disappearance, people so immersed in a world of corruption and violence that the father’s attempts to be threatening at first seem laughable to them. The dilemma the father faces is that in order to save his daughter from the monsters, he has to become one himself. He has to risk losing his ability to be a good father and his own sense of self just to get his child back.

The twist at the end I really did not see coming.  I will not give much more away other than that is left open  like a wound in which an infinitesimally small glimmer of hope  is the only balm on offer – but in times of doom one is grateful to at least have that.
Lost Girl is a relentless study of grief, loss, not just of a loved one but of humanity in crisis. Nevill skilfully puts it in a setting that makes this tale both larger than life and just a mere anecdote in the sea of peril slowly swallowing our planet, a brief zooming in on an individual fate in a flood of many, a new take on awe-inspiring horror.

The almost prophetic descriptions of a vast refugee crisis (considering Nevill wrote this book before the current problems hit the papers) was almost spooky in its timeliness. And the vivid details of his story-weaving sucks you right out of this world into the one he is master of.

As with all of his books, I advise that you read it at your own risk. But at the same time, you will be glad you did. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sexy time with Chicken

Because fucken Facebook is quicker to remove a cat video with a song in it than it is to remove hate- and violence-inciting, racist and extremist groups, I shall upload this incredibly sexy video of Chicken making sweet love to my duvet here and just link to it. 

Thanks, Jamie!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Edinburgh Free Fringe Review: Is he a bit Simon Jay?

Is he a bit Simon Jay is no spring chicken at Great Britain’s fair fringes. It has had previous performances in London, Brighton, Bath, Reading, Oxford and Milton Keynes. And now it’s moved up to bonnie Scotland, like a particularly weird-but-pleasant tingle.

This year’s Edinburgh Free Fringe venue is the Bohemian playground of the Counting House, home of 2013’s marvellous Austentatious. And similar to Austentatious’ downright bonkers improv Austen plays, during the various times I have seen Is he a bit, it has changed, adapted and matured.

Character comedies might be anything but few and far between at the Fringe, and needless to say, I cannot claim to have seen more but a fraction, but this was definitely one of the shows worth coming up for. It’s hard to describe this one: perhaps a wild cocktail of The League of Gentlemen meets Coronation Street on acid, spiced with a pinch of Stephen Fry.

Is he a bit Simon Jay (the character not to be confused with his “puppeteer”, the performer Simon Jay) is the tale of a man of curious biological condition – presented by a floppy claw hand sewn into a jacket draped over a chair, at his own autopsy by Dr Richard Wise, who begins to unravel the mystery of Simon Jay like a morbid Derek Acorah.

Simon Jay’s life spools backwards, revealing his story through the many characters that knew him, loved, hated or love-hated him.  There is his embittered soon-to-be ex-wife Belle, his mouthy chain-smoking tough-love jailbird mother, like a car crash from an EastEnders geriatric gang war, cockney geezer Pete from the Pub (my personal favourite) riddled by his grief for his alien-probed wife Mavis and conspiracy paranoia that caused him to take a gun to his wardrobe, pathological liar creator-of-facts Lee Buxton from the Job Centre, his employer Barry from the sewers, a copper, a priest, a deranged-randy creature called Uncle Terry that somehow strangely rings familiar to most, his tragically deceased sister and even an endearingly stammering Prince Bertie having to deal with a family crisis.

All in all there are 22 characters beautifully distinguished by acting, voices and accents, which culminate in a bizarre, frantic wedding scene in which Simon (the actor) switches between them with a fluid ease, a frantic-comic energy and the humble help of a scarf, which left the audience laughing helplessly. Some might mistake the moments of stabbing satire for crude humour, but it made this here viewer cackle.

Delightful also were the cleverly improvised responses to the noise from the venues next door, providing extra giggles for the audience when it could have easily thrown the performance. Mr Jay knows his role(s) inside out, and he easily charms the pants off his audience.

Is he a bit Simon Jay? is a type of comedy bordering on the surreal that could equally bemuse and bewilder as cause wild hysterics, with an amount of cultural references that tickle older viewers but might easily be lost on the young. Mind, its brief references to sexual deviancy makes it a 14+, anyway. Still, there is plenty of hilarity in it to make it thoroughly enjoyable for a variety of audiences... given that they are willing to let themselves into an experience entirely different from the myriad of bog-standard stand-up the Fringe offers.  Upon first watching it, it evoked a similar reaction in me as my first encounter with The Mighty Boosh did. But the initial “What the fuck am I watching” barrier needs to be broken for full enjoyment and the bonkers embraced in a bear hug, and once achieved, it becomes a thorough delight. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Friends, Depression and Futility

I am writing this as a particularly awful episode of depression is petering out. Slowly. My guts are still in a knot, my limbs like lead, I have lost a kilo in less than two days, but my mind at least isn’t in as much of a fog of agony and despair anymore. For now. I can't promise this won't be confusing and contradictory and downright messy and insane because my mind isn't working very well at the moment.

I’m really only feeling safe on here, partly because I am less likely to be heard, partly because probably the people who read it are only people who care. But I could be wrong even about that. That’s a fun fact about depression. It makes you question the most fundamental securities of yourself. Which I have never had much to speak of, anyways.
It’s not that these securities return. It’s just when the depression recedes – more a dirty oil slick than a wave of water, viscously retreating, rather leaving traces, than washing off clean – these insecurities are less painful, less prominent. I am a little bit more able to fool myself convincingly, I am a tad more able to live with the uncertainty, or ignore it. Pretend I’m fine to not scare or bore people off with my tedious mood swings. They come out of the blue; I can be fine one minute, and the next minute I’m on the floor, screaming, because someone has torn the shades off my eyes and I finally see things as they are.

And I can see how frustrating it must be for others to constantly have to reassure me, to not get through to me, to have to deal with the same shit over and over again.  I’m not the only one in my circle of friends with depression; I know what it’s like to feel helpless and paralysed because all you want is to give them advice, a tool, something to make those feelings go away, but nothing seems to work, there is nothing you can do to fix it. You can’t grasp why they feel a certain way, why they have those awful thoughts about themselves, because you love them and all you see is a wonderful human being... surely it should be obvious to them, too? It is unbearable to watch them suffer, and you feel angry at yourself for being unable to help and, foolishly, angry at them for giving you such a futile task. And then guilty for feeling angry. But that still doesn’t mean you don’t want to help them;  that still doesn’t mean you wish they hadn’t asked you for help.
And knowing about what it's like from the carer's perspective, I should know better when I’m down. But once I am there, I don’t feel like I’m lovable enough to be worth the trouble.

It is odd; somehow you’re not equipped for the job when you know nothing about depression, but when you do, when you suffer from it, which enables you to empathise, you’re weak and prone to get dragged into it, like two drowning people trying to save each other.

Last night it was almost too much. After crying for hours, my mind went cold, somehow, calm and sober (hah) and I went through my options. I considered for a moment to hand myself in, get myself “sectioned”, as they say. But the long term implications of that were too terrifying. What it would mean for my future, my ability to take care of myself even after I was “released”. My employability. Going “inside” would take away the last bits of life that I still enjoyed. Going in would mean losing my liberty, my rights to decide for myself. Is there anything worse? Even at my worst the only comfort I have is that I have the liberty to decide what’s best for myself, despite what the law says. How much liberty do you have strapped to a hospital bed? How much worse is it to still feel the same way, but unable to do anything about it, and even if it is just that final step?

A couple of years ago, when work stress brought me to the brink of a breakdown, I went to see my GP for help. I tried to describe to her what I felt, but I had phrased it badly; instead of saying that I have powerful intrusive thoughts of wanting to kill myself, thoughts that felt like entities that were covering my “true” mind like a blanket, suffocating, arresting, but still controllable and separate from me, I called them “voices”. I didn’t mean audible hallucinations, but boy, did my doc perk up. “You hear voices?” she asked, worried, and I quickly corrected that. Bless her, she was lovely and supportive, but in the end, she is a doctor with duties. And she told me that if she thought I was a danger to myself, she’d have to report it. I still feel a hot surge of adrenaline, of true terror, just remembering this.

So I ditched the idea of getting myself sectioned pretty quickly.

Instead,  I made plans to end it. I tried to figure out where the best spot would be to hang myself effectively from without suffocating slowly. When you’re in a particularly deep pocket of depression, you almost think about suicide methods as a sort of reward – which one would “feel” best, if that makes sense. I don’t know where it comes from, whether it stems from self-loathing, and wanting to inflict pain upon oneself. It’s not that I would want the most painful one. It’s not “want”, like you’d choose a peach off a supermarket shelf. It’s an urge. An ache. I ached for the most...forceful, final one. The one you would do the same way you’d angrily kick a wall, to tell whoever to fuck off. As if death itself isn’t forceful and final enough, the method needs to release the anger, too. Or be an extra kick in the face of the person you hate so much - you. So it’s always been hanging or guns to me (availability not considered). But then you need to balance it against which one would leave the smallest “aftermath”.
I wondered, after reading books about crime scene cleaning, what would be the cleanest and most effective way, least troublesome for T. to  clean up, or whether I should do it in the house or go off somewhere else. You know, if you sit in the bath and slit your wrists, it all sort of just drains away. Easy. I’d have to pack up my shit first, though.
And then I thought about how T. would have to tell my Dad. And how he would have to find a German speaker to write that email for him, or make that phone call.
And this is where it normally stops, my not wanting to put Dad through it. But this time I was cold, and I wanted to be scared about that, but the only thing that scared me was that I wasn't. Is that a sentence? Does that make sense?
And I would feel bad now, but I am still not in my right mind to truly regret it.

Last night I just wanted the slightest sign that somehow I was still loved enough to stick around. I know that sounds pathetic and like a massive pity party. But the thing with depression is that, once in its grip, you cannot feel or absorb love. You cannot imagine why anyone would love you; even if they do, it’s not real to you. Other people almost become an illusion. It’s not meant to demean them, it’s just how it is. And yet you need them to kick you awake, to become louder and more real than that hurricane of gloom in your head. When you’re overcome by that dark wave, your knowledge, your memories, your emotional assertiveness have as much weight and substance as spiderwebs. It takes NOTHING to shred them. This is why people keep crying for help even though they “should know better”, even though they have been reassured a million times before.

Which is why I feel so bad when I finally come out of it and see what I did to others. When they grow back into solid beings, and I see myself as a fool to not have taken or appreciated their affection, or ever even doubted it.

When the wave hits, my first instinct is to go on social media and cry for help. Because my friends are there. The problem is, everyone else is, too. And something like this will inevitably come across as attention-seeking. And then I am disgusted with myself for even thinking of going there. 

Of course you may argue, I could just call a friend. And I know many have offered. But again, as soon as I do that, isolate one particular person, I am giving them a burden they may not want, or it might be a bad time for it, but it’s not exactly something they can or would want to ignore. It’s like I am obliging them... and I am terrified they will resent me for it. Or become distant. Or leave. But I hate being like that. I HATE being needy. I know how it drives people away, frustrates, annoys, and it’s that hate that fuels the depression and self-loathing even more.
Putting it on here feels like I’m putting it out there without “recruiting” someone to help me. It’s all on a voluntary basis. People can pretend they have never seen it. And that's ok. And even if they've seen it, they can stay anonymous. I don't want anyone to feel obliged to help or love me. I'd rather have nothing; it would be an insult.

Then there is the other problem of “crying wolf”.
Now here’s another home truth about depression. No matter how often you cry out, and feel better the next morning, it is never is “crying wolf”. Depression isn’t a solid state of existence, it comes in waves. And coming out of each wave without having drowned is just another time you have survived. And just because it passes doesn’t mean it feels less acute the next time around. And each time it happens, it feels all over again like it will never end. It does because it feels like you have seen things as they really are. And no matter whether you manage to get a grip on the despair, that reality won’t change, so it makes no difference. What creates the agony is not the emotion itself, it’s that you’re convinced you see unalterable reality, something outside yourself you can’t change, no matter how you feel about it. Depression ceases to be a feeling, rather, it becomes a reality. I may feel better the next day, but I know that’s just because I managed to delude myself. And when I'm truly better, I forget that I delude myself. Which is nice. I don't mind that.

Yes, I may come out the other end. And whether I delude myself into happiness or non-depressiveness, I’d rather have the illusion of happiness, and I hang on to it as long as I can. But every time I come out the other end ALONE, the less I will be armed the next time around.

Another thing with depression is that, even though you might become more and more familiar with its pattern and should theoretically be “armed and ready”,  it wears down your resistance at the same rate. It’s like rust that weakens your mental structure and stability.

There is something about crying out when you’re in the deepest pit. The closest I can come to that is that film, The Ring, when they think they have broken the curse, only to realise that it will continue. Because all that girl wants is to be heard. She doesn’t want to inflict pain. She just wants to be understood. She wants to be FULLY understood. Because in utter joy and utter agony, you’re totally alone, and it’s that what’s so terrifying about it.
 And writing this, I come to a realisation. That’s what I wanted. That’s why I write this. That’s why I cry out even though I know it is pointless, I can never communicate what’s going on inside me fully, until someone understands how I feel, but again, that’s exactly what I DON'T want.

When I’m down in the hole, I just want to be taken seriously. I am not a drama queen, or an attention seeker, or a wuss, or having a self-pity party. I don’t CHOOSE to go down there. I don’t LIKE being this way. I’m in genuine pain that I cannot relieve myself.

Maybe this urge is just an echo of the time when I was told over and over again to just pull myself together, when being upset or distressed in the face of violence and abuse I was told to not be a drama queen. When being crippled with depression, I was just considered a Zicke. When being terrified of going back to school because of the amount of bullying I got from students and teachers, I was just told to not make a big deal of it. Like it was my fault to be upset. It’s my default reaction now, to worry that I will be brushed off and not considered worth the time and help. Intellectually I know I am... but the rest of me doesn't.
Of course I want to stop reacting this way. But I don’t know how. It's like trying to stop your hand from flinching from a hot surface.

I can only ask, forgive me for sometimes being needy or difficult.
Yet it makes me angry because I shouldn't have to apologise for that.

I have no final sentence, or clean paragraph, to tie the loose ends of this post. I'm just throwing it out there. Dealing with depression is an open-ended battle, with no answers, with eternal repetition of the same shit, that it seems futile for all involved. Anyone know any answers, I'm all ears.