Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
Welcome back to Secret Library in which authors present three books they love but that don’t get enough attention.
Today we welcome Matt Wesolowski as part of the blog tour for Six Stories, his first novel. Matt is an author from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. He won the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. We’re convinced that Matt is going to be big.
Here are his choices:
Del-Del by Victor Kelleher
‘Go outside and play with the other children!’ my mum said.
I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do less.
We were on holiday in the French countryside and I was around 11-12. Blazing sunshine, picturesque landscape, an array of local children to play with, yet all I wanted to do was lie in my room where it was cool and people would not bother me to read this amazing young adult novel about demon possession.
Demon possession, as far as I know, has existed only in the realm of adult and occult literature. Nevertheless, Victor Kelleher’s short novel loses none of its horror as it caters effortlessly for a younger market. Del-Del is set in Sydney, written from the point of view of Beth, older sister to Sam, whose behaviour starts changing after the death of their other sibling. The book follows the pattern of classic demon possession stories, the invasive personality that has taken over Sam causing a furore of terror and chaos through this grieving family.
The clever thing about Del-Del is how multi-layered it is – this is not a schlock horror story but deals with a great deal more; bereavement and the way we cope with our grief, I would say, is the prevalent theme throughout – there’s a possibility that the possession of Sam could be an extended metaphor is smart on the part of the author and the fact that it was published in 1991, ahead of its time.
This book not only profoundly frightened me, it moved me too; putting it down in the dying afternoon of that French holiday, I knew I wanted to be a writer, that I wanted to try and frighten readers the way this one frightened me.
Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite
As far as vampire novels go, this one is my absolute favourite. Lost Souls is the definitive teenage goth almanac.
Missing Mile, North Carolina, the goths smoke clove cigarettes, listen to the Cure, swig absinthe whilst Molochai, Twig, and Zillah cruise the streets, sipping green chartreuse looking for blood.
These vampires don’t sparkle. These vampires destroy, they shag, they kill and they leave. These vampires are empty, soulless and eternally hungry.
Interwoven with lyrics from Nine Inch Nails and Tom Waits a runaway youngster named ‘Nothing’ gets caught up with these damned creatures and they begin a road trip through New Orleans. These hollow monsters and this lost boy form a strange bond, both finding something within each other that reflects themselves.
The overriding thing that stayed with me about Lost Souls, what makes it such a wonderful book is the underlying themes which are not, as many vampire novels are, about unrequited romance, but about being lost, about a hunger that you cannot fulfil. It is about finsind yourself and finding your ‘family’ in this world.
This all might sound a little teenage for you, but give this to a niece of nephew, a son or daughter and let its spell take them on the same dance it did for me.
The Dead School by Patrick McCabe
I love a book that can leave a scar, that can resonate so deeply, so monumentally that you resonate with that pain long after putting it down. I used to read The Dead School once a year but as I get older, I’m finding that harder. Maybe I’ve reopened that wound too many times.
The Dead School, like most of McCabe’s work is set in small-town Ireland; it is a dual story about two teachers – Raphael Bell is the headmaster of a boys’ boarding school, old-skool in his approach, staunch to uphold traditional values.
Malachy Dudeon joins Bells’ school as a young teacher and when a boy drowns on a school trip, both men’s lives begin unravelling to a tumultuous and interlinked conclusion.
McCabe was a wonderful and inimitable ability to carve a voice directly into the brain where it sticks and does not relent. His work has been referred to as ‘Bog Gothic’, a label I’m not sure does it justice. The colloquialisms of the narrative make it unmistakable Irish, rather like a deranged Roddy Doyle but so, so much more than that. The way that this dual story pulls the reader back and forth is the triumph of this novel, tipping your sympathies and empathy this way and that like the pull of some storm.
I wish more of McCabe’s work got attention, but maybe it’s the blackness of the bog, the bleakness of his storytelling, the idiosyncrasies of his narrative that keep it just under the surface, peering out through the reeds. My favourite writer hands-down.
Thanks to Matt for sharing these choices. You can buy Six Stories here, and don’t forget to check out the other participants in the blog tour. And come back next Thursday to find out who’s in…the secret library!