Sunday, 25 September 2011
The Shelter by James Everington - Review
When I was growing up, I lived opposite a field with horses in it. In the dragging, oppressive heat of late summer, in the minutes before a thunderstorm, they'd charge around the field like mad things, breathing hard, eyes wild. They knew the storm was coming.
The first half of The Shelter has that kind of feel. Everington is excellent at evoking a mounting sense of unease, turning to dread, that close, oppressive feeling when everything is still and ordinary, but the whole world is filled with the sense that something huge and terrible is just about to happen. The Shelter is set in late summer, in the heat and boredom of the long school holiday that I can remember from my own childhood, adventures in woods punctuated by occasional casual, random violence of older kids. A group of teenagers at that confused, angry transition between childhood and an adulthood not yet understood, set out across the fields and woods to explore an old air-raid shelter. The tension builds and builds, and then terror ensues, and that's the second success of this impressive novella.
Horror fiction often disappoints me, as the suspense and dread rises, but then you see the monster, and...is that it? The terror in The Shelter is mostly unseen, and mostly revealed through the actions of others, and as a result is far more unsettling and interesting. Just enough is explained, and more importantly for me, just enough is not, and all of this happens within a confident and controlled narrative and natural, convincing dialogue.
One of the best things about the growth of the ebook market is that it's far easier for writers to make available stories that might previously have been deemed 'uncommercial' in length, and this is a perfect example. The Shelter can be read in one sitting, which I think is one of the virtues of horror fiction at shorter than novel length, as the atmosphere can be sustained. Don't start it though if you have something to do, as you won't want to stop until you've finished.
Everington's The Other Room was one of the most impressive debut collections that I've read in some time, and The Shelter follows this up and takes it further, and would absolutely not be out of place in any print anthology. Start reading James Everington now, so when he's a star of the genre you can be smug about the fact that you've been reading him from the start.