Thursday, 29 September 2011

Book Review : Drowned Sorrow by Vanessa Morgan

Megan Blackwood has lost her son in a terrible accident. Now she has come to Moonlight Creek with her teenage daughter Jenna, hoping that a change of scenery might help to put her life back together.
But something odd is happening in Moonlight Creek. Something that has given water a life of its own so that it can now move, think... and kill.
When Megan realizes that her daughter's life is in danger, it might already be too late.

Its always a pleasure discovering a new author of Horror fiction. It often feels like I'm running low on new books to read. Theres only so many time's I can re-read my Brian Keene or Edward Lee collections, (okay okay, that's not actually true, but you get my point!), so to discover an up and coming writer who really has the chops to go all the way is both inspiring and joyful. Even more so when you discover that said writer has an original voice, and has much to say with it.

Vanessa Morgan's first novel, DROWNED SORROW, is a bold and self-confident step into the world of the supernatural that wears it influences proudly, without ever feeling like an imitation or a retread. The author has been compared favorably to Stephen King in the past, and while this stands true, I feel its a little lazy. Morgans writing style falls firmly into the more minimal, in the sense that she is a concise writer. She has an understanding of the written words power to evoke imagery without the need for pages and pages of description. Its something I admire greatly in particular writers. Those who understand that they're audience is the conduit for the visions they inspire, and respect the intelligence of their readers enough to give only whats required to paint the scene, allowing us to fill in the details as we see fit.

In DROWNED SORROW, we're quickly transported into a nightmarish, altogether dreamlike situation in which we feel fully entwined almost immediately. The novel opens with a scene pulled right from any parents nightmares, and sets up its main character quickly and completely before the main crux of the tale takes off. While not immediately likable, (for reasons that will be altogether obvious), the protagonist is believably human, and makes for a fascinating protagonist as we enter the accursed town in which the story takes place.

After the initial setup, Morgan takes no time in dropping us into a Lovecraftian nightmare where logic loses solidity and every motive and movement of the townsfolk is questionable and possibly nefarious. Its a town you'll enjoy spending time in. Moonlight Creek is a brilliantly eerie place to explore over a weekend, and its to Morgans credit that she uses atmosphere, tension and an overbearing sense of dread to convey the horrors that lie therein, without ever resorting to gore, overt violence or sex. These things are great in Horror, but not in this style of Horror. DROWNED SORROW, while feeling fresh and modern, is very much a love letter to the classic writers of dark fiction. I mentioned Lovecraft, but there is much more going on here. Its a classic ghost story in many ways, yet is infused with wide ranging influences from, (yes), Stephen King to James Herbert and even to Asian Horror cinema. It all blends smoothly and seamlessly with Morgans own vision of what Horror really is, and makes for a damned unnerving read.

The Horror's that hide in the dark shadows and unknown depths of Moonlight Creek are in many ways externalisations of the main characters trauma. Its all happening, but its very easy to see a parallel between the supernatural elements of the tale, and the relationship between Mother and Daughter that drives the narrative. Morgan is using the accursed township to say something about relationships. I wont give anything away, but as we all know, if you hold onto something too tight, it may well slip through your fingers, sometimes literally. The town is also awash in rain, clearly a symbol of cleansing, but the question of what this cleansing truly entails is left up to the viewer. The novel is full of such symbolism which elevates it from simply being a ghost story to being something of a study of grief, the family unit, and how we deal with both. Its thought provoking, intelligent stuff, and makes for a fascinating read.

The novel is short, and never lags in pace. Each scene from the tough opening till the final moments when the towns secrets are revealed, is tense, atmospheric and often very disturbing. Despite the lack of violence, there are scenes of real horror here. Those of you with a fear of drowning may wanna leave this Dojo immediately, but should you stay you'll be rewarded for your courage. Morgans love for Horror shines through in every page, and her attention to macabre imagery is surprisingly acute in her debut. As a lover of classic Horror and of a good ghost story, this novel had me at 'hello'. 

Like all art, it ain't perfect. It could do with being a little longer and having certain character motivation fleshed out to a greater degree, and sometimes the characters emotional behavior could perhaps be more accurately defined to increase believability, but its a confident debut, and a tightly wound supernatural thriller which does far more right than it does wrong.The pitfalls of a first time writer are certainly present, but they aren't nearly enough to drag down the work.

DROWNED SORROW is an old school spook story with modern flourishes. Its fast paced, has engaging characters, a wonderfully creepy setting you wont want to leave, and moments of genuine horror. It may be a little rough around the edges, but with an imagination as strong as she has, and an effortless way with descriptive prose that is instantly accessible, the future looks very bright for Vanessa Morgan. As she hones her vision and her connection with her characters grows to match her clear affinity for atmosphere and place, she'll achieve fine things. Her first novel is a surprisingly powerful read, and a damned good, eerie time. Recommended.

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