I’ve had this book sitting on my Kindle awhile, waiting for the wintery weather to come, because after a quick peek at the opening story I realised this kind of creepy fiction is best experienced with snow in the air and a raging fire.
If you want gore this isn’t the collection for you. It’s chilling stuff, subtle and full of insidious imagery which will stay with you long after you put the book down. In many ways it’s a collection of fairytales, distinctly modern but with the same themes you find in the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Anderson, and that same mittel-European darkness.
The Watchers could be an ancient Slavic folk story; a woman whose appearance is different to every person who sees her, shifting to become their ideal, so that she doesn’t know what she looks like herself. Until she falls in love and stabilises, only to find that no one woman is good enough for any man. You could read it as a comment on the male gaze and the increasing pornofication of visual culture, but it also a completely timeless ‘curse of beauty’ tale in the mould of Snow White or Daphne and Apollo.
The otherwordliness of The Watchers is present in most stories here and Everington puts just enough on it to unsettle the reader without losing credibility. He writes in a brisk, unfussy manner and his characters feel familiar in just the right way. The collection is very cohesive but a couple of stories really stuck out for me.
The Other Room takes on the classic doppelganger plot, transplanting it to a business hotel with Ballardian overtones, where Waits, our wageslave protagonist, walks into a room which is the mirror of his own, filled with his own belongings and registered to a man he has invented. The mood is claustrophobic and loaded with quiet menace, as Waits is gradually sucked into his double’s world. Everington teases the story out and delivers with a perfect ending.
Where The Other Room is a unsettling The First Time Buyers is downright disturbing. Again Everington has taken on one of the genre’s hoariest old chestnuts, the haunted house mystery, binding it up with the state of the property market to place a single, struggling couple on an abandoned housing estate where they are the only residents in a long and lonely row, unfinished buildings all around them. Then the noises start and a half-glimpsed figure with wrong proportions is seen flitting across the site. It could be a squatter; it isn’t. This story is the reason I’m writing a review at two a.m rather than being in bed. I’m actually too scared to sleep.
The Other Room is an excellent collection, perfect for driving some shafts of darkness through your holiday cheer.