While it’s by no means a lengthy book, I’ve never consumed a piece of written horror this fast since (the admittedly also not lengthy) I am Legend. And I am Legend is my favourite piece of horror writing ever.
I’m not overstating myself when I say that Ray Cluley has created something that has almost every bit the captivating, visceral voice of Richard Matheson’s masterpiece. Likewise it gives an imaginative, realistic, dark and disturbing reinvention of a classic monster we thought we knew all too well.
Cluley hooks us in from the first page with his sleazy protagonist Josh. He’s vulgar, superficial in seemingly every regard and obsessed with sex. As the lead in a jobbing-it pub band, he’s entirely believable. He’s the kind of character you think you know even if you’ve never known someone like them. He’s a person you never knew you already had a notion of and it’s a expert stroke of the author.
The narrative is mostly a sick romance, with Josh, who deliberately removes himself from and scorns the notion of ‘love’, unable to compute his actions towards Genna. Genna is another fantastic character due to her fascinating central traits; her obsession with mermaids, and her extreme, impetuous attempts to turn herself into one. Through Genna Cluley is able to create some bizarre, disturbing and at one moment genuinely moving beats. Like This Is Horror’s last chapbook, The Elvis Room, there’s an exploration of the practicality of the supernatural, but approached from a very different, grungier, angle.
Despite this being a very ‘real’ book, we’re also treated to some fantastic additions to mermaid lore. I very much hope these will be integrated into the wider mermaid mythology in the same way Romero’s “headshots only” rule is now fully part of zombie fiction.
Water for Drowing is an absolutely vital read for mythical-realism fans, harking back to pre-Disney tales of old, inserting some of grief, pain, and darkness back into the mermaid’s murky waters.
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Water for Drowning will be published this summer. You can pre-order a copy here.