Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Read: 7 September, 2018

Something isn’t right at the new Orsk (a knock-off IKEA style store). When the morning shift comes in to find what appears to be poop on a Brooka sofa, three employees decide to come back after the store closes to find out what’s really going on.

This is a high concept horror story, and the publishes have really gone all in with the illustrations. I really enjoyed the way that each chapter begins by highlighting a particular furniture item, complete with IKEA-ese description. Except that these pieces of furniture get creepier and creepier, starting with an ordinary sofa and ending with actual torture devices. It was a neat touch.

I also really enjoyed all the retail-speak. You know, the way you can’t just say “small item”, you have to say “impulse”. Listening to retail workers talk shop is a surreal experience – not only does everything have a special name, there are whole special phrases (like the Orwellian banner proclaiming the value of hard work that pops up a few times in the story).

That’s where this story really shines. I loved the IKEA-ness of it (of referring to all items by their branded name, like consistently calling the sofa a “Brooka” instead of just a sofa), and the retail-ness of it.

Because that stuff is creepy. That’s what horror is made of.

I really enjoyed the horror story aspects, too, when they focused on that theme. When Amy and Matt get lost in their own store because the sections appear to be moving around on them? Terrifying.

But then there’s this whole other book in here, a trite story about some evil prison warden who got off on torturing prisoners so now he, and his captives, are haunting the building that was built over the ruins of his former prison. OoooOOOoooo. Even the half-hearted “big box stores are just like prisons!” message at the end feels cheap and heavy-handed.

Every time the narrative focused on Amy getting out of the latest torture device or being grossed out by swamp smells, I felt so bored. It doesn’t connect thematically – the by-the-numbers haunted house is a totally different story, and it just doesn’t fit with the existential creepiness of retail. Even the characters all seem to have stepped out of your average January release horror movie.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, but not something that I would recommend to friends. Hendrix came up with a great idea, but didn’t follow through.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Read: 15 May, 2013

Anya is a Russian immigrant. She’s also an awkward teenager trying desperately to fit in with her fellow high school students. One day, while out for a walk and completely caught up in her troubles, Anya accidentally falls into a well and meets a ghost – a ghost who seems really desperate to hang around.

Like most good stories, there’s a lot more going on than the basic premise would indicate, and Brosgol navigates her different themes very well. There’s the ghost story, of course, which follows a somewhat predictable pattern (and I found the ending a little weak), but there’s also the immigrant experience story and the divide between parents who are still very much steeped in their culture and kids who have, for the most part, blended into their adopted one. Since my husband is an “off the boat” Russian immigrant, it was particularly interesting to see so much of his experience reflected in Anya’s Ghost.

Most of the graphic novels I’ve been reading lately have opted for a more “realistic” art style, but Anya’s Ghost is more cartoonish. I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit more, and it certainly fit the story very well (in a way that it wouldn’t have fit, say, The Walking Dead).

I really enjoyed this one, and it’s refreshing to read a graphic novel that isn’t part of a series! I highly recommend it.

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Read: 13 December, 2012

When the widow Mrs Alice Drablow dies, Arthur Kipps is sent to her home – Eel Marsh House – to sort through her papers for anything of legal relevance. But before he even reaches the house, he encounters the woman in black, and everything is changed.

I watched the 1989 film with Adrian Rawlins a few years ago and very much enjoyed it. It’s a psychological horror that focuses more on the creepy atmosphere than showing gross stuff or having things that go “boo!” So when I found out recently that there was a book, I decided that I just had to give it a read!

And I am so glad I did!

The book is everything I loved about the movie, dialed up. Right from the start, the atmosphere is so creepy that I had several moments in my reading when I was too scared to put the book down and get out of bed. Hill uses very subtle things (a noise, a woman just standing at a window, a thick fog, an open door), but weaves them together in a terrifying (and relentless) way.

My main complaint with a lot of horror is that it seems to confused “frightening” with “gross.” This is never more clear than in most of the torture porn/horror flicks that Hollywood keeps churning out. I like to be frightened, I find it thrilling! But I do not like to be grossed out. The Woman in Black is the first horror I’ve seen in a long while – in any medium – that sets grossness aside completely. And that makes me so very very happy.

As all my Facebook and book club friends will attest, I have been absolutely raving about this book. It’s super short – just 150 page in my copy – and a very easy read, so there’s no excuse not to give it a go.

P.S.: The final line (“They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.”) is so absolutely perfect that it deserves it’s own separate mention.

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Kwaidan by Lefcadio Hearn

Read: 27 October, 2008

This is a small, thin book with seventeen short stories (some barely more than a page or two, others a little longer) and three “insect studies.” Most of the stories are old supernatural tales, but the author writes from his own experiences sometimes (one short story and two of the insect studies, if memory serves).

It’s a short read and an interesting one. Far from an in-depth look at the Japanese supernatural, these are rather short vignettes that provide a beginner’s taste. Overall, I found them interesting and thought-provoking.

The insect studies are very different. The Butterfly chapter does still discuss Japanese (and Chinese) mythology, but these are mostly put aside for the chapters on Ants and Mosquitoes. For this reason, these studies may be disappointing for readers who are interested solely in mythology and don’t have a taste for idle musings. For my own part, I found them just as interesting as the stories of strange things found in most of the book.

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