This Gloaming Review is going to be a little different. I started the series to draw attention to short stories I had found that I really thought were excellent, and to share them with you all. This review is going to be our first of a novel. A terrible, terrible novel.
I bought The Birthing House on the strength of an article in Cemetery Dance. It made it sound as if The Birthing House was a ‘crossover’ work of fiction, a genre novel with mainstream appeal, a ghost story that would appeal to the supermarket book buyers. If this truly is the horror genre’s best attempt at winning over new readers, it’s probably best that it be hit in the back of the head with a spade, and left to rot in a shallow grave in the woods near the old playing fields.
This is perhaps the worst book I have ever read.
It introduces the girlfriend of the main character with the following sentences:
“Worker, drinker, emoter, lover. During periods of stress she was always moist. Her eyes, nose, mouth and loins watered up with her moods. She had irritable bowel syndrome from the work anxiety and rushed dietary choices.”
The prose never gets any better. It’s obsessed with all sorts of dampness, and its own awkward constructions.
The characters are empty stereotypes, who often behave in indecipherable ways, and the dialogue is so awful it made me laugh out loud at least four or five times.
The book is bereft of anything really chilling or scary, and everything is signposted from miles off (except the bizarre sexual encounters). There was one effective piece of horror writing. It happens on page 185. The rest wasn’t disgusting enough to shock (just enough to make me think I don’t ever want to meet the author), or well-crafted enough to scare (yes, we’ve all seen scary Japanese films with long-haired ladies).
His metaphors were what kept me reading. They were so extraordinary I thought that maybe this was a big, publishing joke. “She was bleeding from just below her equatorial center, maybe Tanzania on the globe of her belly.” I kept reading after the first 60 pages just to see what hilariously inapposite imagery he could come up with next.
The whole novel seems to be driven by a puerile misogyny, posing as honesty, and the story is satisfying in no way whatsoever.
Really, however, I blame his editor. Someone should have noticed that Christopher Ramson’s sentences don’t mean what he thinks they mean, that his main character veers between annoying and confusing, and that the whole thing is a fairly unpleasant exercise.
In short, this is an almost illiterate book in which very little happens, and what does is told badly. No wonder people do not think much of the genre, if this is an example of a ‘crossover work’ from a major publisher.
The two-page article in Cemetery Dance was breathless in its praise – although looking back, the author just seems to have regurgitated press releases and emails from the publisher without having read the book himself The quotation on the back cover from Michael Marshall (of whom I’m a big fan) only makes me think that he cannot have read the book either. It’s as if the whole genre is so desperate to be accepted by the mainstream that they will prostrate themselves in front of any pile of poorly-written genre tosh, in the hope that it will convince a lot of new readers to buy into the genre. This book won’t. Unless the new readers you want are confused misogynists with incredibly poor reading comprehension and forgiving natures.
It’s as if no one noticed that The Little Stranger was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The genre is mainstream. That horror films are mainstream in cinema is now a given, and whatever cul-de-sac horror literature finds itself in is the one its publishers put it in by swaddling it all in shiny black covers, adorned with skulls and snakes and rats and typefaces dripping blood…
Ghost stories are within what most people will happily buy, unless they happen to chance upon this godawful pile of slapdash nonsense. It could put people not only off horror, but off reading itself. It’s that bad. It’s going to be a real struggle coming to trust my eyes again, after they let that book into my brain…
In short, the scariest thing about this horror story is the amount of attention it’s getting. Including this review…