Book review: Granta 117 - fear factor

There is no doubt that those looking for good writing will be perfectly happy with this edition.

Mahvesh Murad December 11, 2011

I wanted thrills and chills on every page, disturbing images aplenty, things that would go bump in the night and maybe even some references to the granddaddy of cosmic horror, HP Lovecraft. In the end, I wanted more from Granta’s Horror edition than it gave me. Granta 117 is a largely intellectualised treatment of horror — which makes perfect sense given that Granta is a literary magazine. But for true horror aficionados, it will probably fall a little short of expectations.

While each piece may not titillate equally, there isn’t any bad writing to be found. Certain pieces stand out more than others, such as “False Blood”, Will Self’s account of a blood disorder that requires him to be ‘bled’ regularly. As a one-time heroin addict, needles are no friend of Self’s, but he must allow for ritualistic bloodletting for the rest of his life. No more leeches needed now, just doctors and nurses and syringes. His content is interesting as always, and Self is such an aggressive, edgy and intelligent writer that if he rewrote the menu to his local Chinese delivery place, it would still soar.

Another piece that soars is Rajesh Parmeswaran’s “The Infamous Bengal Ming”, a fun, fast rampage of a story with much of the horror lying in incidents that are disturbingly hilarious. It’s written from the perspective of a captive Bengal tiger who means well but is, after all, a tiger. Ming manages to escape from the zoo without meaning to, manages to stumble into a suburban home without meaning to and causes a whole lot more damage than he intends. Until his intentions change, that is.

This edition also includes a haunting, chilling story called “She Murdered Mortal He” by Booker nominee Sarah Hall. A young couple holiday in a strange country but are separated on a beach after an argument. No tentacled monsters rise from the deep but the tone of the story takes a decidedly frightening turn very fast. Hall successfully creates a sense of deep foreboding. The story’s atmosphere is disturbing and taut; everything is at once detached and yet “vicious and warm”.

Stephen King fans will be pleased to see a new story from the grandmaster himself. “The Dune” is about an ageing judge who knows a secret about a tiny island off the coast of Florida (and no, it’s not like Lost). “The Dune” is similar to many of King’s other works — a standard, sting-in-the-tail Roald Dahl variety of story. King has created some of horror and mystery’s most frightening images, be they rabid dogs, evil clowns or giant spiders, and while he still writes, his sting is perhaps a little less sharp. This story may not be enough to satiate fans who are clamouring for his next book, a follow up to The Shining, but this time with vampires.

One of the interesting things about Granta is the parallel work it publishes online in accompaniment to each of their print editions. In this case, some fill in for what readers may find lacking in the Horror edition in print. Chris Womersley’s A Lovely and Terrible Thing is a tight little story about a man who hopes to find a young woman with a special ability and help her. There’s no blood and gore but none is needed when the small images and nuances can create unnerving fear.

Genre’s are becoming harder to define and genre fans harder to satisfy. While a true horror fan may still be left hungry, there is no doubt that those looking for good writing will be perfectly happy with this edition.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2011.


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