The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough
A short but mesmerising read. The story of a woman waiting for her father to die, while her family slowly falls to pieces around her. It’s a story about what happens when all hope runs out, about how precious life is and how easy it is to forget that, and how depression can rob us of that simple realisation. It’s about a woman dissatisfied with her life, and the (possibly supernatural) escape route she has not yet taken. It’s also about family, and the way tragedy simultaneously divides and unites us in strange ways.
It’s a stunning piece of writing. I can’t think of any words that can adequately describe just how amazing it really is. It’s also desperately sad and poignant in a way that made me ache physically. I’d recently lost my grandad to cancer when I read this, and I was left reeling by the way she describes the way this terrible disease robs us of our personhood – I remember thinking Sarah Pinborough must have experienced this first hand, because it all feels so stark and so real. The Language of Dying does not make light reading but as explorations of the depths of human emotion and love go, you won’t find anything more honest or more beautiful.
Water For Drowning by Ray Cluley
I read this in a single evening, which wasn’t my intention – I settled down to read and before I knew it, it was almost 2am and I was a few pages from the end. The novella length is perfect for this kind of story, which charts the brief and intense romance between wannabe rockstar Josh and the strange, ethereal Genna. Josh is brash, arrogant and somewhat unlikeable, so it’s to Cluley’s credit that I found myself immediately fascinated by his odd relationship with Genna, so contrary to everything we think we know about Josh. It offers a smart, subtle sort of horror, this story: you’re effectively observing Genna’s dizzy descent into a profound madness and, like Josh, there’s a terrible sense of powerlessness about the whole affair. And worse still, that small voice in the back of your mind that questions whether or not Genna might not be entirely mad after all. By the time the story veers into its final third it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. A hugely entertaining read, well-paced and brilliantly written. The novella also comes with Cluley’s award-winning short story ‘Shark! Shark!’, which is still one of the cleverest little horror tales out there.
The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R Carey
I feel as if I’ve been spoilt with good reading this month, but this really was the absolute pinnacle. In fact, I would go as far as to say that The Girl With All The Gifts is probably the best book I’ve read all year. Maybe even the last couple of years. It starts off well enough – young children in some kind of government facility being taught seemingly mundane lessons, the sort of thing you’d expect kids to learn at school, only these kids are brought into the classroom strapped to wheelchairs, and eat grubs for sustenance. What starts as strange and intriguing quickly devolves into a desperate tale of survival, conflicting priorities and layers of lies. There are multiple perspectives which add layers to the story, but ultimately this is Melanie’s tale – an intelligent little girl with a hero-worship crush on her teacher, a curious mind, and a parasitic fungal infection which has commandeered her brain like a vehicle and left her with a hunger for human flesh. There are shades of The Last Of Us in here, not just in the invocation of the Cordyceps fungus but in Melanie’s strange surrogate daughter relationship with Miss Justineau. And like The Last Of Us, the ending is as painful as it is hopeful, a perfectly bittersweet coda to a wonderful post-apocalyptic tale.