If you liked… A Natural History of Hell

I was recently recommended an interesting collection of short stories by Jeffrey Ford, A Natural History of Hell.  I’ve also been asked about short story collections over the winter break, so I thought I’d recommend a few.

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A Natural History of Hell – Jeffrey Ford
Release Date: 19/07/2016
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Pages: 256pp RRP: £13.02 (Paperback)

With a title like A Natural History of Hell, it was going to be hard to ignore this book. And I’m glad that I didn’t. This is a collection that can at times prove to be genuinely unsettling, with Ford taking the reader to some sinister places.

Moving between and mixing different genres, Ford’s tales include elements of the absurd that prove to be though provoking – such as ‘The Blameless’, where exorcisms are part of the suburban cultural landscape, or ‘Blood Drive’, set in an alternative America where a theocratic state has encouraged high school students to carry guns – to the darkly fantastical – in particular ‘The Angel Seems’, which features a town under the ‘protection’ of a malevolent angelic being. At times equal parts hilarious and chilling, A Natural History of Hell is a great example of horror in short stories.

In terms of similar works, I can recommend the following…

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Shivers Inbetween – Nika Harper
Release Date: 26/10/2014
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Pages: 76pp RRP: £5.59 (Paperback)
Kindle format available here (£4.10)

Nika Harper has written two excellent short story collections, Shivers Inbetween and Echoes of Old Souls – I’ll be focusing on the former here, but you should give both of them a read. A lover of Halloween, Harper is able to channel that subtle sense of dread that makes for good horror. Whether it’s the breakthrough made by a scientist examining insects, or kids recording their own horror film, she’s crafted little stories that stay with you long after reading. The impressive range of her writing is on full display here, and I recommend picking this (along with Echoes of Old Souls). I’m quietly hoping for an audiobook version of her works in the future!

It should also be noted that Harper has an excellent YouTube channel. Her series ‘Wordplay‘ is well worth a visit for anyone looking to try out creative writing – a lot of excellent looks at concepts ranging from dialogue structure to iambic pentameter.

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The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marra
Release Date: 04/08/2016
Publisher: Hogarth
Pages: 336pp RRP: £5.59 (Hardback)
Kindle format available here (£8.99)

I found this collection on a trip to New York last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. A fascinating linked set of short stories set in Russia (and eventually Outer Space), Marra’s unique blend of dry wit and tragedy, coupled with a structure based on old mixtapes, provides a fascinating look at a country through the generations (such as moving from the works of a 1930s Stalinist censor, to the fierce love shared by two brothers) – in particular, how small gestures and moments of art can have long-lasting effects. To say anything beyond this would be to ruin the impact of Marra’s collection.

Whilst it feels closer to a loose novel in terms of formatting, there are elements of horror in how Marra writes tragedy that are devastatingly well crafted, and will stay with reader for some time. I’m happy to see it get a UK release, though I have soft spot for its US cover art.

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