I have a taste for the morbid, the thrilling, the creepy, the frankly darker-than-dark. I don’t know where it stems from (my siblings would probably say from my utterly satanic nature, but they can talk, I’m pretty sure they can’t come too close to a crucifix without combusting themselves) but I just love myself a very creepy book, from time to time. But a good one, please, and happily so were the two last ones I read – both easily desearving a spot at the top of this gloomy category.
First (in no order, so maybe last, but this is not a post for Biblical quotes): Under the Skin, by Michel Faber.
I know, I shouldn’t. I will very soon not have anything left to read by Faber, and since he has said he won’t write any new fiction after the tragedy of the death of his wife I won’t even have the hope of waiting for the next published book. But I couldn’t help myself and picked Under the skin up.
This is about Isserley, a woman picking up hitch-hikers in lonely Scottish roads, with a very deliberate set of criteria motivating her choice. What happens with the hitch-hikers, and what underlines Isserley’s otherness and pain well, you’ll have to discover by yourself but safe to say it is…not for the faint hearted (not because it is gore, it is precise and understated but still dark) and are in for a trip across moral boundaries, and a reflection on humanity and self. It might put you out of any thoughts of hitch-hiking in dark Scottish roads, but it’s well worth the read.
Secondly,The glister, by John Burnside
In the small town of Innertown, built next to a abandoned chemical plant that has poluted the woods and lands around and gives cancers to the population, teenage boys are disapearing. Nobody knows if they are leaving this cursed place of post-industrial despair (at the verge with a dystopian post abocalyptic landscape, but not quite) or if they are dead. And the local constable, who ought to fight for the truth, has been bought.
Leonard, a teenage boy who has lost his best friend, tries to find the truth while watching his father died, living his teenage life of loveless sex and violent friendships, befriends the town’s loner and a mysterious character called “the moth-man”.
I suppose it helps to be a poet by trade to write so beautifully about chemical waste-lands and gruesome events. But this is indeed beautiful, with a poetic rythm, and manages to be a moving portrait of adolescence, without cynicism, as a last stand before adulthood – because adulthood, in Innertown, is corruption or slow disapearance and death. And there is no way out.
At the end, if you expect a clear demarcation between good and evil, a just punishment, a revelation, you should read something else. Burnside won’t give you absolution or just one answer, instead you are left with a myriad of possibilities, the freedom to choose to interpret those and a haunting vision of those grey, polluted woods and the boys who aren’t there.
So, beware, those are haunting reads. But who minds being possessed when the ghosts have such poetic beauty?
N.B I’m currently walking along the Camino de Santiago in Southern France, with limited internet acess. I may not reply to comments right away but I’ll be delighted to read them and reply whenever I can