May 27, 2024

Book Recommendations May 2024

We are Otherland - and we're frolicking through the countryside!

"... She let her thoughts drift beyond today and tomorrow, into the distant future, when Jamie was established with his writing and she had given up her job, into the golden house-in-the-country future."

As beautiful as this sentence may seem, it comes from the pen of the "Empress of Horror" Shirley Jackson, in a story called "The Demon Lover". It is obvious that this cannot end well. Now that the thermometer is slowly crawling into the red zone and the heatwaves in the city are potentially becoming unbearable due to all the concrete, many Berliners are packing a picnic basket at the weekend and heading out into the countryside. Rumor has it that at least ninety percent of them develop the thought that a house by the lake might be a nicer alternative to the shoeboxes we cram into in the city....but is that really a good idea? As a former village child, I can only raise a warning finger here, because it has been clear to everyone since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that hillbillies might sometimes be up to no good.
Country life is hard....and dangerous. Do you remember the strange sect in Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives? That's because they lure their unsuspecting victims with golden promises of country life. In Rumaan Alam's thrilling science fiction In the Middle of the Night, a pleasant vacation in a rented country house suddenly takes a dark twist when the owners turn up. And it's not for nothing that The Wicker Man has been a cult classic since the 70s, as it directly shaped an entire genre: "folk horror". This deals solely with the horror that awaits you in the countryside. It includes everything from pagan rituals and plants with a demonic life of their own to Satan himself, who wreaks havoc in the forest. Outstanding genre gems here are Brom's Slewfoot, Ted Klein's The Ceremonies and, last but not least, the fantastic anthology Damnable Tales, featuring pleasantly creepy illustrations. Haunted houses are not usually located in the middle of the city, but are hidden from everyone's view way off the beaten path. Two prominent examples are Shirley Jackson's Hill House and The Spite House by Johnny Compton. The trinity of mansions in McDowell's The Elementals includes some nasty inhabitants and to reach the country house in Kill Creek by Scott Thomas you almost have to get the Land Rover out.. And dangerous country life doesn't only fascinate horror authors! In Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, the adult narrator returns to his childhood home and suddenly remembers a story that couldn't be more fantastic. Highly recommended, I love this book! And if Neil Gaiman is mentioned, Terry Pratchett must of course be mentioned in the same breath! In The Fifth Elephant someone is drawn to the countryside and hey, the whole of Überwald counts as dangerous country life, doesn't it?
Perhaps, dear reader, you will pack not only the rubber mattress but also a GPS device, astronaut food for two weeks, a damn good book and nunchucks for the weekend... after all, you never know what to expect ;)
P.s. If you discover any strange signs and/or skull formations in the forest that can't be accidental, head back to the rusty gate as quickly as possible and close it firmly behind you.

Sincerly yours, Esther on behalf of the Otherland