Best Reads: July through November 2021 – Part 3 Best Horror Fiction

These three books represent a very broad range of ‘Horror Fiction’. ‘The Saturday Night Ghost Club‘ looks at how we use tales of the occult to help us create a narrative of our own lives that is bearable. ‘My Heart Is A Chainsaw‘ looks at how we can turn slasher movies into a system of magical thinking that we use to interpret everything around us. ‘Sunglasses After Dark‘ is pure Vampire Punk Splatter Horror done with style.

All the ghosts in ‘The Saturday Night Ghost Club ‘are real. They are the memories that haunt us. They are also ghosts of things that the children in the story have yet to experience for themselves: evil and tragedy and sorrow that can’t be let go of and which refuses to release us.

It’s a boy’s coming of age story that is also the story of his discovery of the traumatic past of his likable but odd uncle and how it links to his uncle’s fractured present.

It’s a story that is low on horror but high on empathy and grief and hope.

Craig Davidson is a wonderful storyteller. I slipped into his tale with ease and let it carry me along. Even as the current of his narrative took hold, I could also see that he was helping me to consider the nature of narrative itself: what it is, why we need it, how we create it alone and together and how it links to memory. The two things, story and a reflection on storytelling, fit together seamlessly, with no awkward drop into lecture mode and no jarring authorial voice-over. 

Stephen Graham Jones has become one of my favourite authors. The horror in the stories that he writes always comes from us. The supernatural elements in the story gain their power from who we are, what we’ve done, what’s been done to us and what we wish for. So reading one of his horror stories is never just a journey into the to be feared dark, it’s a vivisection of the human heart.

‘My Heart Is A Chainsaw’ is like that. On the surface, it’s a stylish, often witty, sometimes bloody, reworking of all the conventions and expectations that we absorbed from the classic Seventies and Eighties slasher movies, told through the eyes of a teenage girl with an obsession with the genre and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies that has become her filter for viewing the world.

If that was all it was, the book would be a fine example of Final Girl Retro Chic, but, although it took me a while, I slowly realised two questions I ought to have been asking from the beginning: ‘Why does this bright but isolate young woman find the solace of certainty in evaluating her world using a framework soaked in the blood and drenched in the fear of teenage girls?’ and ‘What if she’s not wrong about the signs that something terrible is coming?’,

The answers to those two questions plus Stephen Graham Jones’ empathy for our young heroine who never sees herself as a heroine, turned this book into something human and moving and truly frightening.

‘Sunglasses After Dark’ is the first book in a vampire series. Published in 1989, it was one of the books that kicked off the Urban Fantasy genre. It was a debut novel that was so ground-breaking that it won the Bram Stoker award. 

Although ‘Sunglasses After Dark’ is thirty-two-year-old it strutted onto to stage of my imagination with all the bravado of the young tough and talented and demanded my attention, looking me in the eyes and saying with confidence that felt like a threat, My name is Sonja Blue and you’ve never met anyone like me’.

I gulped the novel down in two days. It was fresh and clever and filled with casual, graphic violence and transactional sex that felt raw and real rather than contrived and exploitative. Sonja Blue lives in a world splattered with blood, much of it her own work. Sonja Blue lives in a heartless, vicious, violent world so completely lacking in glamour or romance that it makes other vampire books seem like Disney World.

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