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Baker's Dozen

Some Will Not Sleep: Adam Nevill's Favourite Horror Short Stories
Sean Kitching , October 30th, 2016 07:40

To mark the Halloween release of his own first collection of short stories, Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors, horror novelist and genre aficionado, Adam Nevill, selects a Baker’s Dozen of his favourite short stories from contemporary writers in the field of modern horror. As with Nevill’s 2015 filmic Baker’s Dozen, fans of the genre are going to find an abundance of suggestions to work through on this list. (Written by Adam Nevill, as relayed to Sean Kitching)


Reggie Oliver — ‘Flowers of the Sea’
As different in style and voice to pretty much any writer around, but, alongside Ramsey Campbell, Oliver is probably the best bridge between the classic British ghost story, or weird tale, and the modern period, that we have in our midst. In my reading, and to my taste, the Reggie Oliver collection, Flowers of the Sea, Thirteen Stories and Two Novellas, is one of my favourite single-author collections out of what I have read in the entire field.

The title story is the moving and disturbing story of a writer and his wife at the end of her life; a distinguished painter who succumbs to dementia: "her awful journey into confusion and death". Such is their long bond, the couple share a subtle form of telepathy which results in the husband gaining brief impressions of his wife's inner descent and loss of memory and mind - 'I felt I was falling in the dark towards something.' The visualisation of this shared fall becomes a descent through a vast darkness towards pale flora. Plummets twinned with feelings of absolute hopelessness. The visions become increasingly ghastly in synchronicity with the inexorable momentum of the painter's illness; an entrapment deeper with the infinite abyss, one barely lit but festooned with the ghastly anthropomorphic flora, in which the body is consumed and "the mind too was being mauled: little trails of thought were being mangled into futility".

When the visions continue after his wife's death, there are suggestions of an after-death continuance of suffering for his wife, that I found almost too horrifying to acknowledge; I briefly imagined this post-mortem state and quickly suppressed what it was that I had imagined.

The demise of the artist's fine mind is also captured in her final works; it's a kind of record of her illness expressed through art, until she is able to perfectly render decay itself. A mirror to her decline also takes hold in a volume from the Victorian era, of pressed, dead flowers, that the painter cherishes as she nears the end; flowers in various states of decay and transformation being the overarching theme and metaphor in a poignant story. But what might be a second volume of pressed "flora" is discovered by the writer as he mourns. Or is it the very same book that his wife owned, but also transformed into something more hideous? This edition or version stimulates a powerful sense of revulsion in the writer, an aversion greater than his response to his wife's final works of art. This second, and far more grotesque book of flowers contains a page featuring a specimen that is so ghastly, it produces an end to the story that carries a particular note. One that, for me, reaches a peak of absolute bleakness and horror. A note I've rarely heard in the field before.

An important story from a significant writer.

Recommendation: Flowers of the Sea, Thirteen Stories and Two Novellas (Tartarus Press)