European Monsters (eds. Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas). Fox Spirit Press, 2014.
From the very first impressions of this book, from the beautiful Daniele Serra artwork on the cover, it was evident that European Monsters would be a treat of wondrous proportions! As the Introduction discusses, the editors shared a kindred vision of a ‘monster renaissance’, which activated this thoughtful and far-ranging collection. It might be argued that contemporary cultural malaise has given rise to this renaissance, these multiple reimaginings of monsters in film, TV and fiction. They are incredibly various in terms of form, intent and genesis, as this collection explores, with its monsters from the past, present and future. Monsters, of course, are defined by their otherness; they are abhuman, freakish, grotesque, and in some of their most frightening manifestations, they look like us but are not like us. In fact the book is divided into monsters that resemble men, monsters in the form of animals and monsters of the sea. These European Monsters are so various, and exist in so many manifestations, that the only things uniting them are their broad
geographic locales, and, of course, their inherent, callous monstrosity, - as the editors say in the Introduction - ‘The only thing they have in common is that in the best case scenario, they don’t care about you at all.’
There is much to read, relish, and re-read in this edited collection. There’s no weak contribution here, this is a gathering of strong and confident voices in dark fiction. Particularly strong, however, are offerings by James Bennett, Joan de la Haye and Hannah Kate. Bennett’s ‘Broken Bridges’ is a haunting reflection on the cultural loss and cognitive dissonance triggered by emigration. Joan de la Haye’s ‘Black Shuck’ belongs to a peculiarly English tradition of folk horror, that cosmic strangeness that lurks at the heart of pastoral Britian, while Hannah Kate’s ‘NIMBY’ offers a mischievous, agile narrative of werewolves couched in the prim language of a residents’ association meeting. Apart from these, there’s also the ballsy, gutsy, gay noir of ‘Serpent Dawn’, the sensuous evocation of the serpent Melusine in ‘Melanie’, and a bloody take on the mermaid myth in ‘Old Bones.’ And if that’s not enough there are vicious beasts a-plenty within these pages, basilisks, valravns, black dogs and seawolves. Finally, the book is also a strikingly beautiful object with illustrations by five different artists.
European Monsters is thoughtfully assembled, book-ended by two striking pieces that hint at the future role of the monster in society. It opens with ‘Herne’ by J.C. Grimwood, with shades of Machen and Saki, a beautiful, evocative yet disturbing description of London as future-ruin. It ends with Jasper Bark’s ‘Mother Knows Best’, with Echidana, the mother of all monsters. Here Echidana feeds her children on a human monster who is also a monstrous mother, the maternal theme perhaps a warning of other possible monstrous manifestations in utero in the febrile imaginations of the editors.
I await further monstrous collections with interest…
For the moment, next up on the blog is a review of Ren Warom's The Lonely Dark. So many great books, so little time!