Door and other twisted tales - by Catherine McCarthy
This collection of shorts from Catherine McCarthy came to me after reading its successor – Mists and Megaliths, so It’s important to understand that I read these in the wrong order – this collection is a gathering together of shorts written before “Mists” was even a thought in Catherine’s head. All of the stories here are great – the theme tying the collection together – that of “portals”, works wonderfully – there are elements here of otherworld-ness, of the paranormal, of the supernatural – all just waiting to break out from behind something which we can occasionally see, or remains hidden.
Now, obviously, I love Catherine’s work. More specifically, I love Catherine’s voice and description – it surprises me not one jot that Catherine derives so much inspiration from rambling the rugged and beautiful Welsh coastlines where she lives. Her descriptions of setting and the mood she injects into her stories have to be a direct result of her passion to explore and her appreciation of what she sees – you are truly with the characters in her book as they discover heavy metal doors in underground bunkers that pulse with heat, or in mine shafts where a portal stretches in front of the character, plains of obsidian and ruin lying in front of you. The tone and mood of a second world war bunker and the language the characters speak – it’s detail. That richness in the storytelling draws the reader in, to be bluntly battered by the creeping horror Catherine then springs on the unwary.
Catherine can be likened pretty much to a trapdoor spider. You aren't going to see what gets you.
Each of the stories here is well executed – but I also got a feeling of interruption here in a lot of the stories. The stories leave an element unseen – something not explained, or left hanging.
Door, for example, is based around the premise of a bunker where dials have to be kept in the green, day in, day out. The why of that is left to the reader’s imagination, and we do not see the actual outcome of the MC as he lets the dials swing into the red – just the aftermath. I drew my own conclusions of course – I’m a nerd – I need closure – but it’s interpretation. And a scene that is vital to an understanding of that interpretation was left unseen. The mystery of the piece is prolonged at the cost of interpretation. It’s almost Lovecraftian – there are things we aren’t supposed to understand.
Another example of this is Ash, where the reasoning of the antagonist’s actions is again left to interpretation, or Mine, where the actual action scene of the short happens off-camera – we are told the result of those actions, but it’s hearsay.
The effect is mesmerizing.
You leave each short unsettled. There’s no closure here (well, apart from, say, Charity, which throws in some humor), and it gives the whole collection a creepy, almost “unresolved” feel to it all – None of the “monsters” here will be caught – no mystery solved, no perpetrator brought to justice. The evil, the bad, the creepy – it’s all going to go on long after we have left those worlds. "Good" isn’t going to win. At best, it might survive. But this collection leaves no real survivors – all of the people that we encounter here will be tainted, or torn, or removed from responsibility, their voices unheard.
I think this collection shows the origins of the brilliance of Catherine’s voice, and the detail here is a fledgling of that to be found in her later books, which provide more closure. Here, this collection is unsettling. You can almost feel it creeping out into reality and tainting your lazy Sunday afternoon.
Did I like it? Yes. Am I fulfilled by it? Hell no. My nerd's brain wants answers, the next scenes, closure. Each glimpse, each submersion was a novel too short. There are worlds here that need expanding. Stories resolved. This is a collection that isn’t going to happily-warm-glow satisfy. It’s going to leave you feeling like the guy from Platoon as the helicopter flies off and the soldiers swarm his position. It’s that moment when Ripley shivers as the alien’s inner jaw set retracts from beside her ear for no reason. You have no idea what just happened or why, and it is going to send you crazy wanting to see what happens next, as your mind struggles to catch up.
This is an easy 4 ⭐ ‘s out of 5. I continue to be impressed by Catherine’s scope of storytelling. Next up, Hope Cottage!
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