This post is about Adam L.G. Nevill’s collections of short stories Some Will Not Sleep and Hasty for the Dark. If you aren’t already familiar with his work, he wrote the novel that The Ritual is based on.
Some Will Not Sleep is comprised of previously published work that he wrote between 1995-2011. Hasty For the Dark contains stories from 2009-2015. These dates represent years of creation, not publication years. I read them in hardbacks that I bought from his publishing company, Ritual Limited. He gave me one of them for free only because there was an ordering glitch. They are beautiful books, and I really liked being able to buy a book written, designed, and published by the author himself. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before.
I love Nevill’s writing and am slowly working my way through his entire body of work.
In a reflective section at the end of Hasty for the Dark, as he discusses his story, ‘The Days of Our Lives,’ Nevill writes,
The tale was also informed by the research that I had undertaken for my novel No One Gets Out Alive. In that story I explored the domestic horrors of Great Britain, the ordinary horrors that arise from ordinary items and ordinary people. Eschewing the traditional spectres, tropes, the Gothic and the haunted historical settings, I wanted to try and refine and distil what I found to be grotesque, depressingly mundane and unintentionally macabre about my own country, but domestically. The story would involve regular people in unremarkable settings who experienced extraordinary things. This short story was a continuation of that aesthetic intention. (223)
Later, he remarks more broadly on this aesthetic intention:
With Brady and Hindley, the Wests and others, we have a society that occasionally seems to produce a particular form of grotesque and loathsome human behaviour, which is committed in domestic situations and orchestrated by couples or even entire families. So the juxtaposition of the ordinary and depravity was the descriptive motif and theme of that novel, as well as this short story. A theme and idea that I find strangely affecting but horrifying. If there were fewer vampires, werewolves and their ilk in British horror, and more of these domestic horrors, I don’t think the field would suffer. A writer doesn’t have to look far to find material either. (224)
One of the defining traits of Nevill’s work, for me at this point, is exactly this concept of the domestic macabre.* But he’s not talking about something like the horror version of “cozy mysteries.” There’s no Jessica Fletcher here. (Actually…now I’d kind of like to see what he would do with a Jessica Fletcher in one of his stories.) Back to the point: there’s no charm here, or attempt to make gentle the terrible things that happen. Nevill takes a tiny strand of experience from Real Life and then spins it into a full-blown tapestry that includes all of the overlooked or forgotten fears, dread, and terror that surround it.
In this context, the problem with “vampires, werewolves and their ilk” is that we are already familiar with them and that familiarity is comforting. No matter how scary the vampire is, we already know how to kill it. And that’s reassuring, isn’t it? We already know about garlic and wooden stakes and silver bullets. And while new twists on old favorites are fun and scary and great, there’s more and weirder to be had out there, and Nevill knows where to find it. Big heads with doll hands, white envelopes, neighbors with ponds for living rooms. Milk.
If you can resist forcing a premature understanding of what’s going on, then this reading experience will open up doors to all kinds of new horror for you. Part of the joy of these stories is precisely the fact that you’ll have to spend some time feeling around in the dark by yourself. And sometimes you’ll put your hand in something wet and sticky.
Below, I’ll put jpegs of the inside jacket covers of both books so you’ll have a more specific idea of the story topics. I don’t want to tell you more than he does because it really would spoil the fun.
If you decide to give these collections a go, go slowly. Nevill likes thick description (huge thumbs up for that), so if you try to zip along and finish up before you brush your teeth and go to bed, you won’t be happy. Don’t forget that they were written years apart and for different publications, so there is no continuity between them. Finishing one does not prepare you for the next. Take your time and look up any words you don’t know. (Yes, there will be some.) Don’t gloss over the Story Notes sections. Writers especially, perhaps, will be interested in them, but because he talks about the stories themselves and how he conceived of them, anyone can find something of interest there.
And as you’re wandering in the darkness, trying to make sense out of the strange and unusual signposts, when you set your hand in something wet and sticky…leave it there.
Inside front cover: Some Will Not Sleep
Inside front cover: Hasty for the Dark (I took this picture so many times, but it keeps coming out blurry. Sorry for that!)
*I emphasize this aspect in this post, but not all of these pieces are of this type. He does, however, articulate a specific affection for and interest in it.