Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

NOWHERE HALL By Cate Gardner (2011)
Publisher: Spectral Press
Review written by Nickolas Cook

From the very first paragraph you can tell two things about this author, Cate Gardner: firstly, that she has a grasp of language, and knows its inherent power in the hands of a true craftsperson; and secondly, she’s taking no prisoners.

Her protagonist, Ron, immediately engenders sympathy, but she continues from almost the beginning of the story to heap both physical and emotional pain, a delusional uncertainty and mental turmoil upon him, with seeming glee.

But it’s not glee.

It is because she cares, that she puts him through the feelings and sensations that one would think a real human in such an unsure mental state must feel.

Ron’s environment, at first sight seems stable enough, but soon, like his own mental state, degenerates into chaos and ruin.

Remember what I said about a true craftsperson?

Newsflash, readers (especially those of you who fancy yourselves future scribes of any literature)!! Using environment to mirror the protagonist’s mental/emotional/physical state is one of the basic tricks of writing something with pathos, something of depth, because it takes on a weight when the animate and inanimate meet in the narrative.

Soon, as Ron wanders deeper into his ruined hotel (and we begin wonder if perhaps this is one of the mind?), he meets The Umbrella Man, a strange entity which seems to know the predetermined path by which Ron is bound to walk, and even the sights which he will soon observe. And while wandering these decayed, dusty, cobwebbed halls, the very environment continues to attack him in subtle ways (dust in his eyes, a spider crawling across his flesh), as subtle as the clues he is given as he moves from room to room.

Who is speaking to him? What are they trying to tell him?

All in all, NOWHERE HALL feels very much like a surreal nightmare, maybe one we’ve all shared at some time in the past, knowing the place, knowing you must find or do something, but having no idea how to do so.

Ron’s final fate is no less surreal, and, ultimately, no less terrifying for the implications of the narrative’s final sentence. After all, what are doorways? One may enter; one may leave.

I highly recommend not only giving Cate Gardener a try. And this new release from one of the most exciting, and truly literary, of the small press horror publishers to come out of the UK is a damned good place to start. Not only will you give yourself the treat of reading a carefully crafted piece of surreal nightmare horror, but you’ll help bring notice to a press that I think may be one of the great hopes this entire genre has right now.

If this release is any indication of what we can expect from Spectral Press in future, this genre may yet have a chance; we “horror authors” may not all go flying headlong in the proverbial basket to that always familiar, and always hated, dreaded literary ghetto Hell.

Thanks to Simon Marshall-Jones for the opportunity to read something of substance in a genre which has progressively become an embarrassment to those of us who still believe in the beauty of word and the true power of craftsmanship in horror fiction.

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--Nickolas Cook