Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Kit Power and Tony Jones
“Britain’s premier horror novelist dazzles with an outstanding
anthology of career spanning short stories”
Some books are so good they require two reviews, and Adam Nevill's Some Will not Sleep, is one such book. To give this book the justice it deserves, Ginger Nuts of Horror stalwarts Kit Power and Tony Jones, take this masterful collection by horns two bring you two points of view on this important book.
Adam Nevill has effectively become a must-buy author at this point, for me - he is, simply put, an exceptional horror novelist, with a line in atmosphere and tension building that very few can match. So it was with keen anticipation that I picked up a copy of his new short story collection at this year’s FCon. I’ll also admit to some curiosity as to how Adam’s considerable talents would transfer to the short story format.
The collection opens with Where Angels Come In, and I was immediately pulled into the narrative. There are absolutely classic horror story tropes in play here - the house at the top of the hill that is surrounded by dark rumors, and the awful fascination it exerts over the youth of the local town. The kids are brilliantly drawn, and the power dynamic between the three utterly plausible. Nevill has a rare ability to imbue his fiction spaces with a sense of wrongness, of dread, and the narrative builds swiftly and surely to a gripping finale.
The Original Occupant is written in a voice that for me evoked Conan Doyle - entirely appropriate for a tale of upper middle class men and the midlife crisis that leads one of them to decide to spend a season in a cabin at the very edge of the wilderness. Again, familiar, even cosy, horror tropes are deployed to brilliant effect, creating a story whose initially comforting voice quickly carries you into a place of ancient and primal terror.
And then there’s Mother’s Milk. Nevill’s normally articulate, literate style is stripped right back, as our childlike narrator relates his story of addiction to the titular substance, and the grotesque family surroundings he finds himself in. This is a pure fever dream of a tale, claustrophobic, sweaty, and paranoid. There’s also a queasy, even nauseating quality that builds as the narrative unfolds. Bleak and brilliant.
Yellow Teeth brings us back into a more contemporary setting, and what on the surface feels like a more mundane situation - an old university friend who unexpectedly turns up on the doorstep, and then refuses to leave. Again, Nevill displays his enviable talent for taking a starting point well within the bounds of plausibility, then subtly turning the screw and upping the tension, blurring the line between the plausible and the unlikely, constantly propelling the reader past the threshold of comfort and into an increasingly nightmarish circumstance. The feelings of physical disgust are particularly well drawn in this tale, and I especially enjoyed the notions of how bad, even dangerous ideas can become infectious, exert their own terrible pull.
Pig Thing places us back with child narrators, hiding in a room from a monster. This one was all about the premise and the characters, for me; the kids are just beautifully drawn here, complete and rounded, innocent without being idealised. A lot of the terror for the reader comes from a slightly deeper understanding of the depth of the situation than the protagonists can quite understand - this is simply masterful storytelling.
We’re taken to the old West for ‘What Hath God Wrought?’, with what at first appears to be a classic tale of vengeance, but soon assumes a much darker aspect. I just adored the language in this story, the voice as though the tale were being told by a contemporary of the events portrayed, the effect of which was to breathe atmosphere into every line. This story really evokes the hardness of that life and time, the unforgiving nature of the landscape, and the dominance and constant presence of violence. There’s also a superb villain, and some pointed commentary on ‘cult’ religions, though all in service of a relentless, driving narrative and explosive conclusion.
In a collection of uniformly high quality and terrifying tales, ‘Doll Hands’ still stood out, for me. This is simply, I think, a near-perfect short horror story. Every single aspect of it is superlative - the narrative voice (a recurring strength throughout the collection, and something that impressed me with the sheer range on display), the setting, the supporting cast, the situation… All the elements work in perfect sympathy to create a tale that is pure grimy terror - relentless, stomach turning, and bleak. Utterly incredible.
‘To Forget and be Forgotten’ is a brilliantly atmospheric piece. The quest of the narrator for a life with no ripples leads him to the overnight shift in a remote hotel. Again, Nevill skillfully ups the tension, with explicable phenomenon gradually giving way to more and more unsettling occurrences, and a closing half dozen pages that are heart stopping.
‘The Ancestors’ takes us back to children, and this time, the secret life of kids and their toys. A lot of the tension in this one comes from the child narrator's ability to accept as normal things we know as adults to be completely wrong. The story really digs into that unknowable gap between children and their parents, that secret internal life of a kids imagination, in a way that creates huge tension. Chilling conclusion, too.
‘The Age Of Entitlement’ takes us back to the horror of relationships and betrayal. The setting is just glorious - the world we know, but crumbling at the edges, already post (or during) some slow motion cataclysm, two tourists determined to see the ruins for themselves - ‘a quiet apocalypse’, as the author describes it in the closing notes. There’s a churning fury running just under the surface of this story, which breaks open magnificently in the second half. A brilliant tale that also has a thing or two to say.
Florrie is a very different beast. A genuinely moving tale that explores how much a person’s home becomes representative of who they are. As someone that recently had to clear out the house of an elderly relative, this hit home particularly hard for me. A powerful rumination on aging and the passing of time. Haunting and affecting, this sombre, reflective story closes out the collection in fine style.
Overall, this is an absolutely first rate collection of stories, exhibiting all the hallmarks of Nevill’s storytelling talents - a genius for atmosphere, compelling sense of place, and a master of creating a creeping sense of dread. What this showcases that was new to me was a sheer breadth of authentic narrative voices, from the old West, to Japan, to the we-need-a-new-term-to-describe-it of Mother’s Milk. It’s rather like a collection of singles and B-Sides from a band whose concept albums you adore - same great storytelling, but across a wider palate and range of styles than you might have expected, leading to some delightfully unexpected visions and hellscapes.
Just a quick word on the physical book itself - I picked up the limited edition hardback at FCon, and I’d be remiss not to mention the superb quality of this book. It’s simply an exquisite item, and everything from the the inside cover art, slip case and even the feel of the paper stock scream quality. It’s a presentation that is worthy of the exceptional content, and should your budget stretch, I can fully recommend the hardback edition.
“Britain’s premier horror novelist dazzles with an outstanding
anthology of career spanning short stories”
If you have any more than a passing interest in horror literature you will already be aware that Adam Nevill’s first collection of short stories ‘Some Will Not Sleep’ has been picking up universal acclaim from the world of horror, bloggers and early readers. After reading it I’m happy to say that this collection more than meets the hype, with eleven wonderfully crafted stories creeping into many different corners of the genre this author knows better than the back of his hand. These short works represent a cross section of creations from two decades in writing horror. Some being influenced by the curveballs life throws at us, others crap jobs, horrible flats, and spells living abroad. My review is based on both the kindle version and the trade paperback, but many readers have already purchased the limited edition hardback from Adam’s website. It has a run of 400 copies with over 50% already sold, and if you follow Adam on Facebook you’ll know the hardback has gone down wonderfully well with the fans, coupled with the limited edition t-shirt with the black-metal ‘Ritual’ design. This doubles up as his company logo, as he has released the hardback version on his own book label and has even been posting them personally from the sunny south coast!
If you are feeling particularly stingy you can still pick up ‘Before You Sleep: Three Horrors’ for free on Kindle in both the UK and the USA. Since this horrible little treat appeared a couple of months back it has been riding high and has topped various Kindle charts and includes three of the eleven stories featured in ‘Before You Sleep’. However, I’d strongly recommend you part with your hard earned £3.99 and buy the full version if you’re on KIndle. The freebie stories are particularly strong ones and will give you a good flavour of what Adam Nevill is all about should you not have read him before. ‘Where Angels Come In’ is full of impending doom as a schoolboy dare into a haunted house goes too far, with the tension ratcheting up step by horrible step. ‘Florrie’ is a clever ghost story which reverses some of the traditional ghost story elements making a poor sucker feel unsettled when he ventures outside. Finally, ‘The Ancestor’ is Nevill’s sly nod to J-Horror and the insidious little things that come out at night to play with children.
The author has obviously spent considerable time selecting his chosen eleven and as a result there is little padding or weak stories. As with everything, there were some stories that I liked more than others, but even those which weren’t amongst my favourites such as ‘What God Hath Wrought?’ a tale of revenge and very dodgy old religion in America of 1848 was intriguing, original and never dull. I couldn’t remember Nevill writing anything else set so far in the past and I’m all for writers exploring new areas, time periods and storylines beyond the comfort zone.
The pacing was one of the overwhelming strengths in these stories. This has obviously been a constant feature in Nevill’s novels and he seems to have a great knack in scaling everything down to the size required for success in the short story format. I’m not normally a huge reader of short stories as I often find them underwhelming, but a down-sized Adam Nevill story does not cheat. Some of my personal favouries kept you hanging until the final paragraph ‘To Forget and Be Forgotten’ a perfect example on a loner landing a dream job working nights as a doorman to an exclusive block of flats where nobody ever seems to be around too much. Until his peaceful nightly harmony is disturbed and the old grannies are much more than they seem. This was as a beautifully crafted 24 pages as you’re likely to read. Some of the stories end with a certain ambiguity which also works well in the short story format, with the author not needing to join every dot in the final sentences. Sometimes your own imagination can be enough.
I also has fun discovering ‘Adam Nevill the man’ which lurked in the shadows of many of the stories. We’re all had the flatmate from hell, maybe none as bad as the dude in ‘Yellow Teeth’ but close. The smell of this guy was described so vividly I was laughing as I read some of the passages to my wife and his ungodly waft was rising from the pages of the book! ‘Pig Thing’ (perhaps the creature on the cover of the book?) takes us back to the author’s childhood home in New Zealand where a creature stalks a family and their three children. These were both really great.
As a long term fan spotting early incarnations of ideas which germinated into novels such as the Swedish set ‘The Original Occupant’ which had a waft of ‘The Ritual’ was an added bonus. Many of the stories worked well as they’re grounded in realistic rational fears, childhood anxieties, isolation and the supernatural on a level which is very easy to believe in and visualise. Equally important is the avoidance of the clichés which often plague the genre, which is a real strength of this author. I recently reviewed another book for The Ginger Nuts of Horror about possessed mirrors which needed virgin blood to clean the glass…. Pass the cliché bucket….
‘Mother’s Milk’ is amongst the oldest story in the book and also one of my favourites. The informative end notes explain how much of a struggle it was to get many of these stories accepted anywhere. Ironic, considering how successful he is now and this was a deliciously horrible story which has a real yuck factor and the nastiest landlord who comes from beyond hell. Just don’t drink the milk… The unsettling ‘Dolls Hands’ was a nasty little hoot which also had a food theme that would also leave a bad taste in the mouth, it moves into the comfort zone of Joseph D’Lacey’s deliciously horrible ‘Meat’, if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean.
This collection of supernatural horror has the craftsmanship of an old master and it’s to savour. Sadly, I’ve seen no media coverage of the book outside of the horror world and this is really disappointing, as this work really deserves a wider audience. It is, however, predictable. A couple of weeks ago I read Susan Hill’s latest collection of ghost stories, which was later reviewed in the Saturday Guardian. This exceptionally bland cliché ridden little book did nothing to merit a major review in a national broadsheet as none of the measly four stories could compare to Adam Nevill on his day off. I’m also tired of the lazy mainstream media continuing to tap the likes of Hill as some sort of ‘guru’ on ghost stories and the ‘go to’ author whenever Halloween or Christmas ghost stories are up for discussion. Sure, she’s a big cheese in the world of literary fiction and has written some fine novels in the past but Adam Nevill is the uncrowned King of UK horror fiction. Any of these eleven stories would have poor old Susan Hill crying for her mummy and Nevill’s novels would have her running for the hills. Should any establishment authors, or those who flirt with the supernatural, want to seriously explore the horror genre with any depth then I also highly recommend Nevill’s other free ebook ‘Cries from the Crypt’. The far reaching range of the author’s knowledge of the horror genre is plain for all to see via his recommendations, interviews, film knowledge, writing tips and everything to do with the ‘why and what’ of horror featured in the ebook. At the time of writing it was still free to download from his website. Grad it now before it’s gone.
Sad but true, but I’m guessing this Ginger Nuts review will circulate in the world of horror but fail to reach many new readers which is what this great book really deserves it. Never say never though, Adam has a few TV/film projects bubbling at the moment, so perhaps something big is just around the corner. Meantime we can all look forward to ‘Under a Watchful Eye’ which is published early 2017.