I’ve been reading a lot of horror lately, most of it short stories. I don’t know what it is about horror that appeals to me. Movies don’t have the same impact – sometimes they give me nightmares, but books are different, more distilled somehow, and also leaving room for interpretation. I’ve read some of Adam Nevill’s writing before – House of Small Shadows, Some Will not Sleep, Before you Sleep, each book wonderful and horrific in its own way. “Hasty for the Dark” is no exception. This is a collection of nine horror stories, some of which I found truly heartbreaking while others left a more subdued impression. I also enjoyed reading about the inspiration for each story in the section at the back called Story Notes. If you’re one of those people who want to know where the ideas come from (like I am) don’t skip this part.
On All London Underground Lines
A commuter’s worst nightmare becomes real when he realizes he’s going to be late for work and there’s nothing he can do. No matter which option he tries, his way is blocked at every turn. All through reading this I got a trapped-in-a-tomb feeling, as if the main character was the only one truly alive in a crowd of people zombified by routine and work. Even the simplest question, like a woman asking him the way to the Piccadilly Line, only serves to underline the disconnect between the people and how you can be truly alone and not understood even when you’re stepping on someone’s toes at every turn. I can see the despair, the futility, the anguish, I can sympathize with the character and at the end of the story I was just glad I never had that experience.
The Angels of London
Frank moves into a derelict building above a closed bar. Alone and trying to survive in a demanding city, he soon feels like he’s beginning to vanish from the world. He gets no mail. He has no friends, no social life. And soon enough he may not even be able to make the rent of his tiny room.
A depressing, abysmal feeling hits the reader right from the start. Spilled garbage, a derelict building, a creepy landlord, weird neighbors, they all contribute to the feeling of being trapped. Just like in the previous story, it feels like the main character has gotten himself into a tight spot and can’t get out. But there might just be a way out. Unfortunately, it involves doing something awful, but Frank, by that time worn down to his survival instincts, might just do it. I found the ending satisfying and sad. I had hoped Frank would be able to move to a better place but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Always in Our Hearts
Ray Larch drives a taxi for a living. He’s stressed, overworked, and constantly fears accidents. Just reading about his thoughts on that made me anxious and thankful I don’t drive a car.
“We drive because we forget, he decided. We forget pain, we forget fear, we forget the hot-cold paralysis of near misses, we forget consequences. We forget our vulnerability: the very fragility of our bodies.”
Thank God for forgetting.
Unfortunately for Ray, someone did not forget what he did one day while driving his taxi. And as he goes to pick up one strange passenger after another, his destiny slowly becomes obvious and inescapable.
I liked this story. Part of me pitied Frank but the other, more justice-inclined part also felt satisfaction for the penalty he got. A very satisfying ending.
Eumenides (The Benevolent Ladies)
From his first day at work, Jason becomes obsessed with Electra. She’s young, attractive and aloof, and every time Jason sees her he becomes even more infatuated. When he finally summons the courage to ask her out she accepts easily, casually, leaving Jason both nervous and happy. But the best part is yet to come, as Electra suggests they go for their first date at a derelict zoo. Here the fun begins.
Well, this is a horror story and by fun I don’t mean happiness and laughter, but quite the opposite. There will be tears, and screams, and strange sounds, and inexplicable sexual behavior, and everything ties together so well I could not help but cheer by the end. I don’t really know who I was cheering for: the hunter or the hunted. Nor is it very clear to me what the creature in the story truly was and its connection with Electra. Perhaps Electra was a follower, giving in into a disturbing ritual, perhaps she was a lure for unsuspecting and trusty people. Perhaps it is a tale of revenge. Who knows?
The Days of Our Lives
A really twisted tale about a couple and the way they live and show their affection for each other. It’s not what one would call a “normal” relationship. Murder, threats and vicious behavior are part of the daily routine. Roles blur – who’s the victim and who’s the abuser? It’s fascinating, repulsive, pitiable, and at the end of the day, yet another dark story meant to reveal the hell inside the human heart.
A ship is adrift in a storm. There are people inside but none alive. How did they die? Why did they die? Who killed them?
This was my favorite story in the whole collection. The description filled me with wonder, revulsion and fear. The details are amazing, every word driven home and rich with meaning. As I was reading I was dreading finding out what happened, yet wanted to know. This push and pull, the constant war between fear and curiosity, the instinct to cover my eyes and at the same time peek through my fingers, this is what I love the most about Adam Nevill’s stories. The answer is there, within the story, and yet it feels deliciously incomplete, like a tale told in riddles. As a reader, I find there’s nothing more satisfying than a story you feel is perfect yet it leaves you wanting more.
Call the Name
Cleo is slowly losing her mind. Her mother and grandmother before her, they both did. That’s how they died, and Cleo feels herself walking the same path. She has no choice. But I could not help but wonder if Cleo wasn’t sane after all, just carrying a great secret, one that would claim her life in the end. Now in a nursing home, Cleo feels the world unraveling. She’s still lucid enough to talk and write coherently, but these periods of time are followed by infinitely darker ones as the truth of what is coming, of what humans will have to face because of their irresponsible behavior on this planet, is getting closer.
I liked the idea behind the story, but I will not say more on that as I don’t want to spoil it. The only issue I had with the story was its incredibly descriptive narrative, scientific in parts. I have the urge to skip these portions in stories but I didn’t this time because while I didn’t like it that much, I can appreciate the feeling of truth it brings to the story. This feels like an incredibly detailed and well researched piece.
White Light, White Heat
Have you ever felt like a robot, working long hours in a tiny cubicle, surrounded by people yet forbidden to reach out to any of them?
The unnamed character works for a company he despises, just so he can pay the rent for a room he shares with a drunk. Jobs are scarce, money is tight and good food is a luxury. Everybody in the company lives in fear of the white envelope, for that means they’re fired. There is no hope, no joy and seemingly no escape. The only way he can face another soulless day is by gazing into the box housing The Reliquary of Light. By doing so, he can reach a state of happiness and contentment that can sustain his soul for another day. But what happens when his worst fear is realized and his only solace is taken away?
“A silent furnace of anxiety and dissatisfaction dressed in a white shirt. That was me, sitting before a computer monitor with my face reflected in the screen, same every day, year after year after year. My features were made ghoulish by the glow of the monitor that I longed to smash my head into.
I was one of many. Call us Legion.”
My God, what a cruel, heartless story this is! It made me want to scream in frustration and pity and anger. Its dystopian quality, the apparent futility of life itself, there’s not going lower than that on the horror scale. This is modern horror in the literal sense of the word, for what can be more crushing than knowing your chance of survival drops drastically the day you’re out of a job?
Little Black Lamb
An elderly couple begins to experience memories that don’t belong to them. This alters their life in significant ways, some interesting and some downright evil.
I was a little confused by the end and could only guess at the horror unfolding on the page. I wanted things to be clearer, yet I can appreciate the mystery. As usual, I am torn.
It has become obvious to me that these stories are not straightforward, not all of them anyway. If you want the answers spelled out for you, this might be a bit of a challenge, but if you love a mystery set in an amazing, descriptive setting, then this book is perfect.
Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
My rating 4/5 stars
Read in October – November 2017