BOOK REVIEW: Disturbing the Beast by Various Authors Edited by Nici West

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Well, what do we have here then?

An anthology…by women! How preposterous…it shouldn’t be allowed!

That my friends is why Boudicca Press exist and why they are so very special.

They’ve blasted out of the gate and are tearing up the track with this delightfully put together anthology, featuring, you guessed it, a full female cast!

The anthology is full of delightful tales, some I preferred more than others, but it’s an anthology so that’s to be expected. And that is what I love about anthologies, and the short story form – the ones I didn’t quite fancy, could be another readers favourite, so you’ll have to dig in and find out. The anthology itself has another positive – it is full of weird fiction (that is a huge positive in my book, as it’s a genre I feel most happy wasting my time in), and also contains some flash fiction (another huge positive!).

The only thing I didn’t really get with this anthology was a common theme. Yes, the anthology was a collection of women writing weird fiction…isn’t that enough I hear you cry? But, I do like an anthology to have an overarching thread, a topic, something woven between or through the stories that pulls them all together. You can call me a pedant if you would like…it’s just a personal taste.

The opening story by Kirsty Logan, is a firecracker and ensures that if you picked this anthology up on a whim, you’ll be hooked until the last page. It also helps set up the reader for what will be one crazy ride into the world of weird fiction. The opening story ‘Girls are Always Hungry When All The Men are Bite-Size‘ centres around a seance – and Logan in writing deploys an interesting tool, flitting between the different POV’s of her characters (Eleanor, Luke and her Mother). It gives us the same situation but told from various vantage points, which also helps to drip feed the reader vital information, whilst also building tension throughout story. The prose of the piece has an innocence about it, which was refreshing (why say six words when one will do) and the back and forth between Eleanor and Luke was a joy to behold. Kirsty Logan’s offering is a most beguiling beast.

Dolly by Jane Alexander – This my friends is what weird fiction is all about – taking the ordinary, the things we know, the things we’ve all seen in our lives, the facts and figures and then blending them together. Dropping in a huge slice of the strange, and creating a potion of storytelling eerie brilliance. Alexander balances perfectly the elements of grief and the weird to create a tale which is most unsettling and hard hitting. We have a story of a mother who is driven the the edge. Dolly reminded me of Pet Sematary both in tone and the detailed examination of a parents  desperation when faced with the sudden loss of a child. The way Alexander has spliced the story together with information of scientific advancements of our times is a sheer brilliance, and propels this story into another category of weird altogether (Sci-Fi Weird…is that a thing? If it’s not it is now) – it adds gravitas to the story that is playing out before your very eyes and ensures weirdness reigns supreme – Bravo! An insanely creepy offering to the cannon of weird fiction, a tale that is told in an eerie and hard hitting fashion, one not to be missed.

Burning Girl by Rosie Garland – Garland writes a hypnotic and arrestingly brilliant tale of a burning girl, a girl who can’t contain her gift no matter how hard she tries. It’s part of her, part of her growing and her coming of age…she just needs to learn to tame the raging fire within. Garland subtly laces her prose with elements of the weird (a burning girl is that not enough I hear you ponder) excelling again in taking the ordinary and mixing it up with her main protagonists gift. A sizzling spoon when being fed mashed carrots, a bubbling bath when her fire begins to manifest – and as she gets older ‘The hungry magma between her thighs‘ – a line that I absolutely love! This is a great piece of flash fiction. It has a common theme that recurs throughout, grounding the piece in the familiar (or what we’ve grown to know as the familiar), which in turn builds to a wonderfully brutal finale, which is dealt with masterfully in the closing lines. Garland’s prose is delectably constructed and poetic, and it’s these skills added to the unique story which highlights just how great this story is and what a great writer Garland is. Beautifully weird…just how I like it!

Wrapped by Aliya Whiteley – One of the longest pieces of fiction in Disturbing the Beast, and from the outset, is in my opinion, one of the standout pieces from the anthology. Written in a diary format by our protagonist, Ursula Carleton, an Egyptologist who has made the discovery of a lifetime, the lost tomb of Khefatra. It’s such an enchanting piece of storytelling. You can’t help but stand back and appreciate the intricacies at work. In the construction of such an original story, and the boldness (we expect nothing less from Whiteley) to break convention and opt to write in the diary format. The language, tone and observations are astute and executed brilliantly. Whiteley brought to mind the best of the Mummy films (trust me there was something good hidden away in those dire films) and Indiana Jones – in their grave robbing, globe trotting adventures. I don’t want to give too much away, as it’s a brooding tale, which one needs to read to enjoy fully. But Whiteley seasons the piece with elements of the weird, creating a delectable read, which you’ll consume in no time at all and it will repeat on you long after reading. There is also the underlying theme of sexism and the place of women in society (the time is 1919) and the roles in which women were dictated and forced to play…which Whiteley weaves tactfully and honestly into her story and in doing so adds yet another layer to an already terrific piece of fiction!

There are a shed-load more stories in the collection which are a great read, but those above were my personal favourites from Disturbing the Beast. I just hope we get another chance to disturb it again!

So, what can I say to leave you with about the Anthology? I feel William Shakespeare sums it up perfectly…

…though she be but little, she is fierce!

Disturbing the Beast is published by Boudicca Press click here to learn more about this new press.

Buy a copy and help them make another one!

Authors

Jane Alexander, Rosie Garland, Carolyn Jess-Cook, Sam Mills, Kirsty Logan, Cheryl Powell, C.A. Steed, Aliya Whiteley and Lorraine Wilson.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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