BOOK REVIEW: The New Uncanny Edited by Sarah Eyre & Ra Page

Right, straight off the bat – this collection is insanely fucking good!

Now I have got that off my chest…to showcase the type of brilliance you will be getting here lets take a small interlude of Ra Page’s introduction to The New Uncanny.

In his famous essay of 1919 – the reason we’re all here – Freud listed eight officially uncanny tropes, that is to say eight irrational causes of fear deployed in literature: (i) inanimate objects mistaken as animate (dolls, waxworks, automata, severed limbs, etc.) (ii) animate beings behaving as if inanimate or mechanical (trances, epileptic fits etc.), (iii) being blinded, (iv) the double (twins, doppelgängers, etc.), (v) coincidences or repetitions, (vi) being burned alive, (vii) some all-controlling evil genius, (viii) confusion between reality and imagination (waking dreams, etc.).

So Ra Page takes us on a little introduction into all things uncanny and with the collection slyly hinting at what we can expect from Comma Press’ New Uncanny – with a list that Page has so eloquently spoken about, you may have guessed it, all rules are off and the writers involved in this collection have outdone themselves with tales that are so creepy, eerie, evocative and incredibly haunting you will literally have trouble switching off at night, not the light but your imagination. I at one point read a quite brilliant story, scary as hell and moved me in ways I’ve not been moved before, so not being able to sleep I ridiculously thought ‘I’ll read the next one to help take my mind off that one…‘ big mistake, I seemed to set off a chain reaction that just wouldn’t let up!

This collection is so good that it has quite literally jumped into my top books I’ve ever read, each short story is wonderfully crafted and masterfully executed, each is unique and showcases the brilliance of each writer. It has been a long while since I’ve read an anthology (and here at STORGY we read a lot of anthologies and collections) and could recount to you each and every story just from the title – that is the heart stopping power that resides in the New Uncanny. Some anthologies however great they are, always have a weak link in there somewhere, it may be down to the readers preference of course – but sometimes you find a story that is a bit of a place holder, a bit of a filler – trust me with The New Uncanny it is all killer no filler!

Let’s not forget that this isn’t a new collection, it’s been around since 2008 and was reissued this year – how it has taken me so long to discover this anthology I will never know…but I will also never forget discovering it!

Sara Maitland – Seeing Double – for me was one of the best stories in the collection, it is
dark and brooding, multi faceted and multi layered and Maitland builds the tension within the piece with a masters touch all the way through to the conclusion of the piece. I was so gripped by the story that as soon as I’d finished it I needed to put the book in the freezer (like Joey out of Friends) well I didn’t put it in the actual freezer, but I did have to step away from the book for a little while. One reason was I was just blown away by the writing, it was phenomenal. Two I had to get over the story. And three I just needed to tell someone about it (so I bent my wife’s ear for a good hour about how amazing it was). With this story I also did something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before…I found Sara Maitland’s agent and sent her an email to pass on for me which detailed my praise for the story and how amazing she was as a writer (who doesn’t like to hear that!).

‘The mother had taken the child in her arms and smiled, though wearily; but she had made no apparent attempt to count its toes, fingers, eyes and mouths, and after a moment the midwife had turned away to her immediate duties. When she turned back the mother was dead; her face was frozen in a strange rictus, which might have been the consequence of a sudden sharp pain or might have been terror. The midwife, a woman of sturdy good sense and addicted to neither gin nor gossip, deftly massaged the mother’s face back into a more seemly expression and closed her large blue eyes forever.’

Adam Marek – Tamagotchi – This is another of the stand out stories for me. It was a little different from the rest and had oodles of black comedy sewn into its storytelling. We know Adam Marek well here at STORGY and have followed his career with great interest, so we were delighted to see his name listed in the list of contributors for The New Uncanny and we were not disappointed. His story had me in stitches but also there were some subtle dark undertones intersperse in the prose which make the reader uncomfortable (challenging prejudices etc.) and for me that is the gem of a story – making the reader laugh along with you, but they know they shouldn’t be, and to be also be horrified in equal measure. This story is the most lighthearted if you can call it that, but it packs a punch that will last long after you stop reading!

MY SON’S Tamagotchi HAD AIDS. The virtual pet was rendered on a little LCD screen with no more than 30 pixels, but the sickness was obvious. It had that AIDS look, you know? It was thinner than it had been. Some of its pixels were faded, and the pupils of its huge eyes were smaller, giving it an empty stare.

There are so many stories in this collection that I could talk about but I will have to stop, not because I dont want to talk about them, it’s just I believe that this collection is so good, that I urge you all to go out and buy it – there is also the short story by Matthew Holness called ‘Possum‘ which has also been made into a film recently – trust me it is going to terrify you if the source material is anything to go by – I’ve included the trailer below for you…

If you like your fiction challenging, disturbing and eerie look no further than this masterful collection of some of the greatest short story writers working today.

The New Uncanny is published by Comma Press and is available here.

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– Authors –

A.S. Byatt, Ramsey Campbell, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Ian Duhig, Matthew Holness, Etgar Keret, Hanif Kureishi, Alison MacLeod, Sara Maitland, Adam Marek, Christopher Priest, Jane Rogers, Nicholas Royle & Gerard Woodward

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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