‘The Mongrel’ by Sean O’Connor – Review

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“She got out and shook out the damp apron, folded it up, then stuffed it under her arm. The oversized chef jacket was buttoned up tight to her neck, as cosy as she could make it. Readying herself, she stared up the middle of the road in the direction Phil had left. 

The baby kicked, and she took a few deep breaths, rubbing her bump until it calmed. She refused to let the hunger trouble her any further this morning. Fate had given her, Erin Greene, a mission – she had somewhere to go and needed to focus on the task in hand. She popped more snow into her mouth, prepared herself mentally for the long struggle ahead and, with a deep breath, took her first step onto the freezing, snow-covered road, heading for salvation.”

 

Erin Greene is a woman caught between the men in her life. With a baby on the way she’s struggling to find the balance between her over-protective father and her over-bearing boyfriend. She knows something has to give for her family to feel like a family again, and maybe, just maybe, this romantic drive to the Wicklow mountains to watch the sun set, could mark the turning point for her and Phil. Of course there’s a storm rolling in and the cars been on the blink, but together they can get through it. But it’s getting cold and the lonely Wicklow wilderness, might not be so lonely after all…

 

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Ignore my nails and look at my cool ‘Women in Horror’ badge instead.

 

For ‘The Mongrel‘ I was lucky enough to go to the book launch of the novella and score some free wine with my purchase. Introduced by the authors Jonathon Barry, writer of ‘The Devils Hoof‘, and Matt Hayward who I have reviewed before for his short story collection ‘Brain Dead Blues‘ which you can see here. I can’t honestly say how inspiring it was to be sitting in a local book shop and seeing other Irish horror authors up there talking about their work, if you need motivation to get your own writing done, go to book launches! You are supporting the community you want to join and also – FREE WINE! I feel very lucky to have been in contact with other Irish horror writers like Seán O’Connor, Matt Hayward, and also the YA writer Tina Callaghan – the first review I wrote on this blog was for her YA horror ‘Dark Wood Dark Water‘ which you can see here, just saying. The horror community in Ireland is getting bigger and I can’t wait to see what else shows up on the scene from these writers and more. The future is exciting for horror!

 

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My name is not capitalized because he had no idea what I was saying.

 

Seán O’Connor was the man of the hour though and he was lovely to meet, he signed my copy of ‘The Mongrel‘ and I lied and said I would have a review up in a week or so… it’s been about three months I think. A fine debut novella, I can only hope that Seán keeps writing, and keeps setting his stories in and around Ireland and our mythology. I love a good Irish horror story and we have so much more darkness to give the genre. I look forward to his next read.

 

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Very minor spoilers ahead – to paraphrase Stephen King, you can’t ruin a book with spoilers because the joy is in the journey. The twists will remain hidden. 

 

Things I Liked – 

Something I will always root for is a great female protagonist and if I end a book with no mention of bra size or how beautiful yet unknowing a woman is, that tends to be a good sign. Erin Greene as a character shows depth and humanity, as a protagonist it’s both easy to follow and easy to want to follow her harrowing journey of isolation and transformation. O’Connor manages to keep the prose tense and surprising though the core of the story is a trope we’ve all read before – a journey through a storm in a dodgy vehicle, it can never end well.

 

Things I Didn’t Like – 

So, the two spoilers that aren’t spoilers are that Erin gives birth and there are wolves in the Wicklow mountains. These come up pretty quickly so they shouldn’t ruin the story for anyone. Armed with a few swigs of whiskey Erin manages to give birth by herself and not only that, it isn’t a straightforward birth either (that’s all I’m saying about that horror). My problem with the birth scene was that it felt quite devoid of pain. I’ve never given birth myself but I’ve been at them and I’m pretty sure there isn’t much else to feel while it’s happening but pain, especially when things go wrong. I’m not saying there should have been a blow by blow of every ache and internal stab but it felt strange that the pain was barely mentioned and especially since the birth is nowhere near the end of her misfortunes – she has to get up and run afterwards. I would also like to get rid of the trope of swigging alcohol before dealing with pain, it doesn’t work that quickly and from experience I know you need more than a shot to make any difference.

A problem with novellas and short stories is that sometimes you can feel like you just don’t have enough space for the story, and with something like ‘The Mongrel‘, a story with plenty of twists and conspiracies thrown in, much of this was not explained to my satisfaction.  Particularly towards the end I found myself wondering about certain characters and motivations, there were certain throwaway lines that I would have liked to have been explained more, or even less weight given to the back story.

That being said, I was still able to enjoy ‘The Mongrel‘ on the strength of Erin’s character and her will to survive.

 

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About the Author – 

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Seán O’Connor is an Irish author born in Dublin. Always a lover of horror and dark fiction, his debut horror novella ‘The Mongrel‘ was published by Matador Press in October 2018, and he currently lives in North Dublin with his fiance and son working on his next tale of darkness.

You can follow Seán on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and his via his website seanoconnor.org

To get your hands on The Mongrel or give it a well deserved review of your own, follow these links. Remember! A review is a good as a quid –

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads

 

Have you read ‘The Mongrel’? Do you know of any other great horror reads, particularly Irish horror? Let me know down below!

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

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Vintage Review – ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson – Horror, Humour, & Lesbians

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In case you’ve been living in an underground cave that doesn’t even have basic amenities like WiFi or even just in rural Ireland, you’ve heard of the newest rendition of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘, now blowing up Netflix. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who has also done Hush, Oculus and Gerald’s Game to name a few of my favourites, this is the latest attempt at bringing Jackson’s story of dread and unease to the visual stage, but it is not the first. In 1963 Robert Wise directed ‘The Haunting’, and in 1999, under the same name, Jan de Bont released his version. Both of these movies stick to the basic premise of the original novel with some minor changes, while the new Netflix original series has created it’s own fresh narrative. So why has the story of Hill House survived for almost 60 years? And why is it routinely recognised by the likes of Stephen King and many others as the greatest haunted house story ever written?

Basic Premise – 

The story of Hill House begins with Dr. Montague, a psychologist who rents the infamous Hill House in the hopes of documenting scientific evidence of the supernatural. To do this, he invites a group of people he believes have had some kind of interaction with the supernatural to stay in the house for the summer and take notes on everything that happens there. Unfortunately, only two show up to the house, Eleanor Vance and Theodora, just Theodora. Luke Sanderson, the light fingered nephew of the owner is sent to stay with them too though he has no connections anything out of the ordinary. From the very first moment they all feel that there is something off with the house, maybe its the fact that it was purposefully built to be off kilter and confusing, or the dark history of Hugh Crain and his family that were to inhabit the building, but whatever it is, this feeling permeates the group until odd things, undeniable and unambiguous things start to happen.

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Jackson’s Writing – 

One of the reasons that Jackson’s writing has stood the test of time for so long, is the delicacy and intricacy with which she writes. Every line is deliberate, every character full and complete. You can see this in Jackson’s other work as well but when dealing with the monstrosity that is Hill House, you feel the building take on a character of its own, and you understand completely the apprehension the characters feel just being there. It’s been said before, but Jackson’s story could have been written off a pulp novel and forgotten if not for her treatment of the words. She draws you in from the very first line, that first paragraph quoted so often that always sends chills down my spine. From that first couple of lines you know something is fucked up here, and you have to read more. 

The scares in the book aren’t bloody or gorey, they aren’t over the top or ambiguous. They are conscious and intentional, they are knockings on the wall and cold spots that everyone can feel, things that no one can deny being there. There is no what if about Hill House, it’s darkness is already there, seen even in the daylight, and everyone fears the coming of the night – especially the Dudleys.

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Lesbians were forbidden to be seen in colour until the 90’s. They’re still embracing technicolor to this day.

Theodora the Kickass Lesbian – 

My first introduction to Hill House was the 1999 movie ‘The Haunting’, where Theodora is a fashionable fun sister and friend to the sheltered and nervous Nell. Maybe I was naive, but I never got the lesbian feeling from Theo in that adaptation, but then again I was born without gaydar so who knows. But when I started reading the novel, having don no research whatsoever, I was genuinely surprised to immediately think ‘Hey! She’s a lesbian!’ It was obvious in the text and even more obvious in the 1963 movie version. But even thought the novel was written in the fifties, the treatment of Theo as a lesbian, (sexuality is not discussed in the text, but there may as well have been a neon sign following Theo around), is surprisingly positive? If that’s the right word to use?

Theo is often seen as a mirror to Eleanor, even given that she doesn’t have a second name like every other character. She is open and expressive where Nell is closed off and repressed, she has her own place where she lives with a woman, where as Nell feels homeless and lost. Theo accepts that she has some psychic abilities whereas Nell denies that the stones that fell on her roof as a child had anything to do with her. The two become close even sharing a bed, Nell begging Theo to come and live with her when she is forced out of the house for her own good. If lesbianism as a theme is to be taken seriously, from my reading it felt as though Nell wanted to be with Theo, but Theo knew they couldn’t, and Nell went mad from that small touch of freedom and home that she felt in Hill House, allowing it to consume her.

In the 1963 movie Theo is played as more forward with her advances towards Nell, and when emotions run high Nell accuses her of being ‘unnatural’, but in the new Netflix show Theodora is out and proud, as she should be in this day and age. The theme of sexual repression and repression in general is something that gives Hill House it’s power not just over Nell, but to continue as a specter of dread and fear for the past sixty years. It’s the power to not just kill you or possess you, but to turn your own mind and your own fears against you.

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This is what smiling looks like right?

Humour in Hill House – 

One of the reasons I love the novel so much and will read it again and again, is the humour shown between the characters. In my opinion one of the most important things in horror, especially a story that relies on dread and tension, needs something to offset this. It can be the saving grace to a terrible movie, and serve as a break for the reader/viewers nerves so that the story can keep on scaring. I’ve found a few of Jackson’s stories have made me laugh out loud, not least of which is ‘My Life With R.H. Macy‘, I was cackling at that for hours.

The humour in Hill House serves two functions though – to ease the tension for the reader, and to allow the characters to escape the really horror they are in. Even sitting in the house for breakfast makes them feel like they are somewhere unnatural, but pretending they are fictional characters, sisters on a picnic, they can imagine themselves somewhere other than Hill House, proving, if nothing else, that ‘No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality.

There’s little humour in the 1963 movie or the current Netflix series, however they both still work well. If you haven’t seen the new Netflix show I can’t recommend it enough, I will being going back to watch it myself just to try and find all the hidden background ghosts. I have a feeling this story will continue to permeate through the coming decades and get a few more adaptations. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, let’s just hope no one really ruins it.

What did you think of the newest adaptation? Did you see Theo as gay when you read Jackson’s novel? Would you like to see more humour in horror? Comment down below and let me know!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!