The Trial by Franz Kafka

Title: The Trial
Author: Franz Kafka
Publisher: Various

I’m sure that those not haven’t read much horror are surprised by this Spotlight. Kafka has influenced much of the literary world. But to say that a story of his is a horror story, I’m sure there are few trying to hold back the “blasphemous.” And I’m not that surprised. I bet there are even those that would say “The Metamorphosis” is more horror than The Trial. And then I would remind those people that for a very long time, horror was as much about psychological horror as it was supernatural, which seems to have more of a dominating stance these days.

Atmospheric horror is a tradition that has been around for a long time, but it could be said it got a boost from H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. Even now, writers look to him to figure out how to create a world that permeates the fears they want to invoke. Doing this forms a setting for a story where you never know what is around the next corner, or in the shadows, or behind the closed door. It is the most effective methods of Horror, which is why The Trial has found its way here. Kafka, a decade or so before Lovecraft, created a tale that was quintessential atmospheric horror.

Through out this story, Josef K. is haunted by the mysterious Court and Law. First thought of as actual entities, Court and Law soon become ever present forces in K.’s life. Their minions show up where ever they want. They can completely alter the life of those they wish. And fighting them seems to be a Sisyphean task. In some ways, it is more effective than most uses of atmospheric horror. As many draw from Lovecraft, his atmospheric horror is more of a cosmic horror (i.e. The malevolence is so grande and beyond comprehension that it more about the unknown that is terrifying) where Kafka’s horror is completely within our understanding. The idea that the you can be accused of crime, never being told what that crime is, not seeing the evidence of that crime to defend yourself, is one that has happened through out history. You can’t read this book and not feel the same suffocation K. Feels as the power of the Court bear down on him, because we have all had moment or will have a moment just like that.

The Trial is just the first example of how horror exists outside the Horror genre. Proof that even if you don’t read Horror book, you most likely have read Horror stories.

Horror Reading Level: Beginner

Women In Horror Month: Shades of Blood and Shadow

Title: Shades of Blood and Shadow
Author: Angeline Hawkes
Publisher: Dark Regions Press

When it comes to horror, the breadth of subject matter is limited only to the imagination of the writer. But, even with that large spectrum to choose from, there are subjects that tend to be missed or glossed over for the most part. One of them is history. There are some out there that write historical horror, but the ratio of them to everyone else is very low. Shades of Blood and Shadow is one of those few. Stories steeped in historical context or settings fills most of this collection. Hawkes has a great way of either writing stories within historical settings or creating the stories that are her truth that started the myths and folk lore we know. “Fallen” was a great example as a story about one of the fallen angels that rebelled against God with Lucifer. “The Relic: Father Santiago’s Bones” takes place during the Spanish Inquisition.

While most of these stories are supernatural, it doesn’t take away for the killing fact of some of the horrors that humanity has caused. “The Tour Guide” shows the fact that the scientifically advanced culture of the Mayans still had a barbarous side. “All Becomes As Wormwood” looks at the possibilities in the ruins of Chernobyl. Both historical insights to the fact that even with all our advancements, enlightenment, and knowledge, humans can still cause horrors. Sometimes we mean to. Others are completely accidental. But many times it is because we are too sure of ourselves. That pride in ourselves, our thoughts and beliefs, are usually the main culprit in the most terrifying moments of our past and present.

Horror Reading Level:

Samhain: Beginner
The Relic: Father Santiago’s Bones: Fan
All Becomes As Wormwood: Intermediate
The Heir: Fan
Opportunity: Intermediate
The Highwayman of Epping Forest: Fan
Last Breath: Intermediate
Incident Beside the Striped Tent: What the Fruit Seller Saw: Fan
The Piper of Glamis Hill: Intermediate
El Reptil Rey: Intermediate
The Tour Guide: Fan
The Woe Tale of Fiona MacLean: Beginner
Fallen: Intermediate

Average Rating: Intermediate

Women In Horror Month: The Language of Dying

Title: The Language of Dying
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: PS Publishing

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough is a clean, eloquent fiction piece told through the eyes of of a middle child who is taking care of her father dying of lung cancer. But, and this is a very significant but, to each reader it can be a different kind of tale.

For those that have had to deal with the lose of a love own to any kind or wasting illness, be it cancer or something else, it is tale of affirmation that the complex emotions you feel through the whole process of watching a love die. Pinborough’s honesty and realism in the emotions of not only the Point of View character, but her four siblings as well are the driving force of the story. Pinborough proves that it great writing and great talent creates that kind of honesty in a story.

For those unacquainted with death, it can be an almost Borgesian horror tale. Pinborough’s style has matured in this novella. And I say matured for a specific reason, and it is not to be condescending or patronizing. As I writer I have seen the growth of my own writing over the years. But for many writers, it takes a long time to get out of the process of learning, adding, and refining your style though a multitude of tales and only in later half of your writing career to find not just the voice of your writing but the voice of where all your stories come from, the voice of your Muse. Pinborough has achieved, at the very least, the first stage of writing her Muse’s voice. A part of that voice is always going to be a little bit frightening in her tales. Like all that start in horror, she sees the darkness not as purely evil, but a universal constant.

For those that have a desire for freedom for the lives they are in and have lived for so many years, it is a tale where dreams and fantasies can come true. That endings, while not emblazoned with “Happily ever after,” can still be happy endings where dreams do come true. Some dreams just take longer to be realized because one must live through nightmares first.

Three very distinct tales, all be told at the same time. It is real. It is wise. And, it is magical to read and experience.

Horror Reader Level: Beginner

Dark Harvest

Title: Dark Harvest
Author: Norman Partridge
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 169

One of the main tropes of horror fiction is Halloween. There is a lot to explore in just that one holiday that countless books and stories have already been written and there are still more to be offered. It is also a trope that, if done well, can set a writer apart from all other horror writers. Dark Harvest is that kind of book.

Starting right off in second person point-of-view, you are instantly unsettled. It is a artful choice considering the story Partridge paints with his succinct and immersive writing style. A story were sons are told to hunt down a a town sacrificial lamb every year in the hopes of freedom from the isolation in the cornfields and to make their families’ lives comfortable till they die. These boys are half starved and pushed by family, friends, and even themselves to win and are let loose in a fervor. Uncomfortibility is key to this story and that is what the second person point-of-view can invoke in the ready and pull the reader deeper into the story.

Partridge also does a great job at finding ways of mixing the history of Halloween and the current view of Halloween into a new idea that makes the day more eerie once you finish this book. When a writer can make candy seem innocent, yet malicious at the same time, you begin to understand the power of horror fiction and what it’s crafters can do.

While the bulk idea of the story is violent one, and while there are some gruesome moments, it is never takes away from the  unraveling hard-boil mystery that is the true momentum. Couple it with excellent control of information and rich characters, you have find even the most violent moments powerful in the discovery in the characters sense of self and strength when the world seems to be closing in ready to swallow them whole.

At only 169 pages, it is one of the shorter novels you are going to find printed in recent years. But even being short, it has as much, if not more, richness and detail as a regular length novel. Nothing is rushed, not a word wasted. It is pure, great, horror writing.

While rated Intermediate, I would still consider this a great book for those beginning or early in their exposure to Horror fiction. Everything that Horror is is done exceptionally in this book.

Horror Reading Level: Intermediate