Saturday, 17 September 2011

Guest Review: Jason Baki reviews Nowhere Hall by Cate Gardner

Jason Baki has been a great friend of mine since I first started blogging and we attended Eastercon 2010 together. He has had a little break from blogging and now returns refreshed - including a lovely little review for me!

We Want To Live...

In the bathroom, wallflower mannequins stretch their fingers towards Ron. He can't ask them to dance. He's already waltzing with the other ghosts.

Someone stole the world while Ron contemplated death. They packed it in a briefcase and dumped him in the halls of the ruined hotel--The Vestibule. A nowhere place."

There have always been great female horror writers but in recent times there a number of new and very strong voices making themselves heard in the field of dark fantastical literature: Caitlin R Kiernan, Sarah Monette, Ekaterina Sedia, and Kaaron Warren are just a few examples, and I think we can definitely add Cate Gardner to that list too. I had not read Gardner before this, but I'll certainly not be forgetting her in a hurry now that I've read Nowhere Hall. From the outset this short chapbook highlights an extraordinary ability on the part of Gardner to instil a sense of dream like lugubriousness.

Ron Spence has had enough with life, feeling overlooked by the world, and fed up with his lot, he decides to end it all. Poised to step out in to oncoming traffic he backs out only at the last minute, or so it seems. What follows from this opening section of the story, is a marvellously written piece of dark surrealism.

After apparently failing to take his own life, Ron finds himself drawn towards a seemingly abandoned hotel - the Vestibule. He also finds an elephant handled umbrella with a tag which says "we want to live" on it. Taking the umbrella he enters the hotel, and discovers that far from being unoccupied, it is filled with the presence of ghosts and alive with a kind of shifting consciousness of its own. In this strange place, inanimate objects come to life and dance with the painful memories of Ron's own past. How much of it is real? And what it means for Ron's current state of being is largely up for conjecture. At the end I had my own suspicions about what had occurred, but I imagine others reading may draw different conclusions. Gardner has written this story in a deliberately obscure manner, but not, I should stress, in a way that is difficult to read or which leaves the reader dissatisfied. Rather, the obscure nature, and unsettling melancholic tone is part of its appeal.

I really enjoyed this chapbook and I continue to be impressed with the standard of releases from Spectral Press. If you like darkly surreal stories underpinned by strong emotion and visceral prose, then you absolutely have to check out this wonderful piece of writing by Cate Gardner. I'll certainly be eagerly awaiting her future work.

Nowhere Hall
By Cate Garder
Published in the UK by Spectral Press

For more on Cate Gardner visit her webpage here.

Thanks so much, Jason!

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