Book Review : HELLSLEIGH by DC Brockwell


HELLSLEIGH AND THE HORRORS OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION

Review by Renata Pavrey

“They say if you listen carefully, you can still hear the screaming. Because once you enter Hellsleigh, it will never let you leave.”

A parapsychologist gets into a scuffle with a local tramp on the roof of a derelict hospital. They both fall down to their deaths, following which the police unearth more bodies from within the abandoned premises. Hellsleigh was formerly a mental asylum, infamous for its century-old history of two psychiatric nurses who went around killing patients. In later years the hospital was engulfed in a fire. And over time it earned its reputation of being haunted. What exactly is the story of Hellsleigh? Why do people associated with it die? And what was a paranormal investigator doing on the roof covered in blood? Hellsleigh is an interesting supernatural thriller that takes the reader on a ride through the history of its namesake hospital, as we attempt to solve the mystery of the deaths.

Through his fictitious hospital, its past and present, author DC Brockwell raises pertinent questions and topics for discussion on the treatment of mental disorders. The back-and-forth narrative in Hellsleigh makes for an engaging reading experience. The novel begins with Dr. Fiske falling from the roof of the hospital, and as the story progresses we move forward as well as backward, to uncover the mysterious events of the introduction – an ending leading to a beginning. We learn how each of the deceased came to be where they were ultimately found, or at least the parts of them that were identified. A team of paranormal investigators undertaking a non-commissioned project, a group of university students partying in a restricted area, a reporter having his research catch up with his reality – the sequence of timelines, events, characters, historical context keep the reader on edge throughout.

Hellsleigh is a wonderfully constructed story. The supernatural elements are eerie and atmospheric, rather than gory and in-your-face. In a horrific as well as terrific storyline, Brockwell makes the reader consider who the real monsters are – the ghosts of the present or the people of the past. 

Like Brockwell, other authors have also addressed mental health issues through their dark fiction. The Focus Program by KT Dady is a sci-fi horror story that begins with the suicide of the protagonist. He is incorporated into the titular organization that aims to eliminate mental disorders by denying their existence on his death. Dady sensitively touches subjects like the ignorance of society and the denial of problems that are not overtly visible. Similarly, We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk is a medical horror novel focused on schizophrenia and an experimental drug that displaces hallucinations from the mind and sets the monsters free into the real world. 

Horror fiction addressing mental health offers a unique reading experience, by questioning society and the medical fraternity about where the actual horrors lie. In the minds of patients? Or in hospitals resorting to constant drugging to keep patients subdued? Or in societal rejection in terms of jobs and housing? October is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, and the month also celebrates Halloween. In an irony of sorts, mental health issues are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed, or ignored and dismissed. The horrors an individual goes through within their own minds and society at large stresses the importance of education and sensitivity in the addressal and treatment of mental health illnesses.

FRIGHT TRAIN : An anthology of spooky tales set around the railways

FRIGHT TRAIN

An anthology of spooky tales set around the railways reviewed by Renata Parvey

Editors: Switch House Gang

“Anyone who has ever been awakened late at night by a distant train whistle knows there is no lonelier sound. It is a mournful howl from a soulless traveler on a night journey to destinations unknown.”

Halloween arrived early this year with a spooky collection of tales based on the railways. Editors Charles R. Rutledge and Tony Tremblay came up with the concept of horror stories set around trains, and were rewarded with an assortment of stories ranging from Victorian-era ghostly yarns to contemporary thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction, ranging from creepy and humorous to atmospheric and downright gory. Fright Train comprises a mixture of contemporary authors with classic writers and a plethora of suspenseful, horror, and chilling stories set on or around train journeys. I particularly liked the concept of train travel and picked up the collection curious to see how each writer interpreted the narrow theme. The anthology is a ticket in itself to travel to unknown lands with shady co-passengers in suspicious cabins. Switch House Gang has reserved a seat for the reader and the ride awaits!

The collection includes classics like Charles Dickens’ The Signalman and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost Special which have spooked us for over a century. And there are also newer stories about ghost trains, train accidents, missing trains, invisible rails, piercing whistles, vampire and zombie passengers, peculiar drivers, specials that give a whole new meaning to ‘special’, and a host of wonderful short stories that keep you on edge as you ride along with the characters. Themes include broken marriages, dead children, grieving parents, retrospecting the past, seeing the future, predicting alternative realities, journeys to and from hell.

It’s hard to pick a favorite because every story is outstanding in its own way and deserves its own review. They’re so different from each other, while simultaneously adhering to the narrow theme. The haunting tale of motherhood in Amanda DeWees’ A Traveler Between Eternities, as an unborn child takes a train ride; the dystopian rail route of Stephen Mark Rainey’s Country of the Snake; Errick Nunnally’s gore-fest Lust for Life that keeps you guessing till the end who the real killer is; past demons catching up with the present in James Moore’s The Midnight Train; the pandemic world of Scott Goudsward’s Plague Train; the haunted joyride of Elizabeth Massie’s Tunnel Vision; Jeff Strand’s Devil-powered Death Train of Doom that questions parental behavior and its influence on the actions of children; Tony Tremblay’s Pépère’s Halloween Train that focuses on the grandparent-grandchild relationship; Charles Rutledge’s twist on Dracula in The Habit of Long Years; Lee Murray’s cultural fest of Maori traditions and seers, spirit-guides and goddesses assisting a search-and-rescue in Weeping Waters; Mercedes Yardley’s The Rhythm of Grief that navigates the rail crossings between the living and the dead; Bracken MacLeod’s Weightless Before She Falls that distinguishes real monsters from imaginary ones, Christopher Golden’s All Aboard and its eerie 3:18 special. The contemporary writers even make up thirteen in number, to go with the horror theme of the book!

A special mention needs to be made of Lee Murray and Christopher Golden whose stories follow Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle respectively. Fright Train is a spectacular collection in itself, and to be placed next to classic writers is a formidable task. Murray and Golden are absolutely stellar with their standout creations, Weeping Waters and All Aboard. The sounds of the fantail and the shrill whistle of the 3:18 stay with you long after finishing the book.

Some quotes:

-The 3:18 was a ghost in and of itself, ridden by phantoms.

-The night air seemed to ripple, to have texture, just a hint of substance.

-Resentment and blame hung in the air like static building before a thunderstorm.

-An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings – and all lost on a straight line of railway! Does a train vanish in broad daylight?

-The fog lay like a thick mist so that people appeared to be dissolving at the ankles.

-The sharp scream of the whistle slashed his eardrums.

-The desert sun pummeled his face like a hot iron fist.

-Does his intention define his evil nature, even if his actions harm nobody?

-You are trapped in the quandary of welcoming the tourist potential of Stoker’s work, but still wishing to change the national image of Romania.

-Pihanga’s tears rolled down the mountainside and onto the plateau.

-There were too many vampires on the train. Inspector Godina rolled his eyes at the motley assortment of Halloween revelers.

-That was the trouble with his gift – it was a feast or a famine – either everything spoke to you, or nothing at all.

-The slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine.

-The stars themselves were weeping, hurling themselves from the heavens.

-They fill their ears and minds and souls with noise, because it’s easier than listening to the quiet.

-This is a train for the dead, and you’re still very much alive.

-He wasn’t a cosmic spiderclown in the sewers. He was a real monster.

The old-world charm of the cover is extremely striking too – it reminds me of those classic spooky movies that showed so much in so little. Atmospheric horror at its best! A good time to revisit Horror Express (1972).

My rating: 5/5 

WOMEN WRITING HORROR: A Listicle of Women to Read

WOMEN WRITING HORROR by Renata Pavrey

Horror is my favorite genre in fiction and I read across all of its sub-genres including true crime, psychological horror, comedy horror, from novels to short story collections, dark poetry and anthologies. A random search for horror books throws up the usual fare from Stephen King, Joe Hill, Josh Malerman, Kealan Patrick Burke. While I have loved books by all these writers, women authors in the genre don’t show up as easily, with the exception of Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley for their classic works. I thought back to all the books I’ve read and the ones in my to-read list and came up with this listicle of horror stories from women writers. These include translated books as well as original language ones, novellas, novels, collections, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction by writers, translators, editors, and publishers who create terror through words. From historical fiction, science fiction, young adult, satire, to mythology, folklore, speculative fiction, re-telling of true events, and dark verses – take your pick. Since February is coming up, I compiled a list of twenty-eight women in horror – one book recommendation for each day of the month.

  1. Agustina Maria Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

A virus has eradicated animals, and humanity turns to cannibalism for its source of meat as humans are domesticated, mass produced, and slaughtered. Translated from the Spanish, a nauseating and provocative satire that blends science fiction with horror.

       2. Ally Blue – Down

An underwater, paranormal suspense fest surrounding the discovery of a rock-like sphere that causes humans to mutate and turn into horror versions of themselves.

       3. Alma Katsu – The Deep

Historical fiction horror set around the events of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. The maritime disaster and World War I are caught in sinister happenings in this supernatural thriller.

       4. Cassandra Khaw – Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef

A novella about the dual life of a sorcerer and soldier, combining horror and comedy with Malaysian and Chinese mythology.

       5. Christina Henry – The Ghost Tree

YA horror about missing people and terrifying visions of monsters dragging remains. Ghostly trees, creepy children, witches and curses – almost like watching a horror movie.

       6. Christina Sng – Dreamscapes

Horror, fantasy, and science fiction come together in this poetry collection that addresses the darkness within. Verses that serve to unsettle and terrify, proving how poetry can be more impactful than prose.

       7. Elizabeth Kostova – The Historian

A historical fiction Dracula story moving across time and place with shifting narrator perspectives. A debut vampire novel that interweaves history with folklore and makes for a riveting read.

       8. Fernanda Melchor – Hurricane Season

Mythology and terror from Spanish literature, with the English translation maintaining the grim, intense and graphic prose of its original source in this portrait of a Mexican village and its witch.

       9. Francine Toon – Pine

A haunting tale in the Scottish highlands, filled with intrigue and eeriness, alternating between terrifying and heart wrenching, spooky and suspenseful in equal measures.

       10. Gemma Amor – Dear Laura

A novella of lifelong obsession, this dark, twisted tale about penpals stands out for its brilliantly atmospheric writing.

       11.Jennifer Hillier – Wonderland

Psychological thriller, amusement park, serial killer – gruesome and wicked as you set out to solve crimes.

       12. Jennifer McMahon – Winter People

Historical fiction meets fantasy in this chilling story of missing people and secrets galore.

       13. Joyce Carol Oates – The Doll Master

A collection of short stories that borrows its title from an obsession over dolls, and leads into an unsettling world of abominations and mystery.

       14. Kaaron Warren – Into Bones Like Oil

A haunted house novella with an unconventional narrative and storyline, and an interesting take on the ghost story.

        15. Kathe Koja – The Cipher

Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Best Debut Novel, The Funhole does not live up to its name. A black hole that calls out and launches a journey of obsession, darkness, and blinding terror of classic horror in spectacular prose.

        16. Laura Purcell – The Silent Companions

There’s nothing like historical fiction for a dose of gothic horror. An asylum, a haunted mansion, intriguing journals, hidden secrets – a creepy ghost story that grabs the attention from beginning to end.

        17.  Laurel Hightower – Crossroads

An exceptional novella dealing with the horrors of heartbreak and grief, and things coming back from the dead. An emotional and devastating read that shows you just how diverse the horror genre can be.

        18. Lee Murray – Grotesque

A collection of monster stories that range from mythology to legend and science fiction offering a dip into Maori folklore and French history, zombie attacks and adventures. Packed with action and gore, the stories are a delight for monster fans.

        19. Lisa Kröger – Monster, She Wrote

Why read one horror story when you can read about them all? A non-fiction horror book about women who pioneered the genres of horror and speculative fiction; writers who defied convention and crafted some stellar spooky tales. From ghost stories to psychological horror, intriguing trivia and reading recommendations, a book about books not to be missed.

        20. Lucy A. Snyder – Sparks and Shadows

A dark fantasy collection of short stories, poems, and essays. Twisted tales in myriad settings, witty and diverse, horrifying, amusing, and thought provoking.

        21. Mariana Enriquez – Things We Lost in the Fire

A short story collection of the macabre, mixing magical realism with gothic fiction in this astonishing treat from Spanish literature brought to us in English by translator Megan McDowell.

        22. Mariko Koike – The Graveyard Apartment

Detective fiction and horror writing come together in this translation from Japanese literature of psychological horror set around a graveyard. Deborah Boehm brings this to us in English.

        23. Michelle Paver – Thin Air

A historical fiction ghost story set in the Himalayas. Nature can be brutal enough, but what if it isn’t the only thing you’re battling? Subtle supernatural elements, more psychological rather than physical, can be more horrific at times.

        24. Nalo Hopkinson – Skin Folk

A short story collection of magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction interweaved with horror. Storytelling at its best.

        25. Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream

Some more magical realism from Spanish literature is this surreal nightmare of an otherworldly story. Menacing, unsettling, and thoroughly absorbing in its usage of horror to explore current world issues.

        26. Taeko Kono – Toddler Hunting

An exceptional collection of Japanese short stories that explore the dark side of human nature and antisocial behavior. Lucy North translates to English to bring us a startling and disquieting world.

        27. Yoko Ogawa – Revenge

Another dark treat from Japanese literature in an experimental format of seemingly unrelated short stories coming together to form a larger novel. Bland settings and ordinary people up the ante of terrors lurking in everyday life.

        28. Yrsa Sigurdardottir – I Remember You

Scandinavian Nordic noir of isolation and remoteness; horror based on true events. Translated from the Icelandic, a ghost story that proffers the chills.

~Three bonus books for the women who lead the way as editors and publishers~

  1. Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn – Black Cranes

A collection of short stories by Asian writers, highlighting the dual themes of women in horror and Asian women writers. A smorgasbord of mythology, legend, folklore, science fiction, comedy horror, satire, dark fantasy.

       2. Aiki Flinthart – Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins

A collection of science fiction and fantasy with horror to showcase the remnants of humanity and celebrate a legacy. 

        3. Tricia Reeks – Meerkat Press

The publishing house comes out with some very different but very good books, in equal parts weird, unique, and dark.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Renata Parvey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. Reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

URL:

Asian Horror Month: Book Review/REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

Book Review – REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

(English translation by Stephen Snyder)

Review by Renata Parvey

Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I love how her writing covers a range of genres, all brilliant works in their own way. Revenge is a peculiar book, written in the form of short stories, where each story connects to another – in no particular order – culminating into a larger tale somewhere down the line. More recently, Jane Borges’ Bombay Balchao was another book written in the experimental fiction format – a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories woven together to form a novel. Both Ogawa and Borges are a pure delight to readers with their literary prowess in taking writing – and reading – to a different level.

Coming back to Revenge, it can be termed as a series of dark tales, with sinister elements binding them to one another. The protagonist of one story can be a minor character in another, at times not even named – leaving the reader to decipher who we are reading about, what role they play in each story, are they even connected or does the reader feel so because we assume the stories are strung together. The eerie world created by Ogawa moves across generations, time spans, places – past, present, future, the real world and the supernatural, fact and fantasy all drawn in as well as apart from each other.

An aspiring writer, a murderous landlady, an obsessed bag maker, a singer, a surgeon, a Bengal tiger, a mother, strawberry cake – crossing paths and converging their fates in this dark web of vengefulness. Ogawa can be emotional and unsettling, impassive and heartbreaking, creepy and gentle. Her macabre take on relationships and emotions make this book effectively terrifying. Revenge is not horror in the traditional sense. A passenger train, a bakery, home gardening – the fact that her settings are so bland ups the ante of the terrors that lurk within. Ogawa’s writing can transform a normal scene next door to something downright horrifying – nothing seems out of the ordinary, and you can’t tell when and how the horror crept up on you. The best part is connecting the stories, navigating clues as you wander in this strange world.

Of course, Ogawa’s frequent English translation collaborator Stephen Snyder deserves as much of credit as the writer herself, for marvelously bringing life to her stories. Revenge is a disturbing collection for those who revel in the written word and the beauty she creates with literature.

My rating – 5/5 

Renata Pavrey ~ December 2020

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Renata Parvey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. Reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.