Blurb: Pulped fiction just got a whole lot scarier…
Few books are treasured. Most linger in the dusty purgatory of the bookshelf, the attic, the charity shop, their sallow pages filled with superfluous knowledge. And with stories. Darker than ink, paler than paper, something is rustling through their pages.
Harris delights in collecting the unloved. And in helping people. Or so he says. He wonders if you have anything to donate. To his ‘children’. Used books are his game. Neat is sweet; battered is better. Tears, stains, broken spines – ugly doesn’t matter. Not a jot. And if you’ve left a little of yourself between the pages – a receipt or ticket, a mislaid letter, a scrawled note or number — that’s just perfect. He might call back.
Hangover Square meets Naked Lunch through the lens of a classic M. R. James ghost story. To hell and back again (and again) via Whitby, Scarborough and the Yorkshire Moors. Enjoy your Mobius-trip.
A horror story about second-hand books… how could I resist? And The Pale Ones is a rare find of a story.
Our main character is a first-person, anonymous narrator; literally an ‘Everyman’. We get the story filtered through his perceptions and biases, and it is clear from the start that he is going to be an unreliable narrator. Indeed, in keeping with the plot and the tone, there is definitely something ‘off’ about our main character. Is everyone he meets really as loathsome as he details? Are these some form of ‘other’ masquerading as humans, or has the narrator’s mental dust jacket slipped somewhat off his cover, leaving his observations tainted by the environment and by careless handlers?
Strangely, despite making a semi-living buying and selling old books, the narrator never seems to love books much for themselves, but instead for their value as collectible or saleable items. We soon learn that they may have very different value to others, but still sadly unrelated to the joy of reading. Apparently it is not just one’s soul that may be nourished by another’s words…
We are offered a few varying possibilities, thrown out as hints and questions: could events be the result of mental instability? The devil? The old gods? An alternate reality? A Matrix-style illusion? There are no answers within these pages.
This is a slow-moving short book, in which nothing much happens. And yet it is the very obfuscation of facts; the use of manipulation, misdirection and suggestion, that crackles the pages with an ominous tension. The more subtly the narrative skews, the more the pressure of impending dread builds in the imagination of the reader, until a simple receipt or bus ticket invokes an unsettling subtext. The fear creeps in the blank spaces between the words.
Fans of a slow and subtle horror – hinted at rather than expounded upon – will enjoy this utterly disturbing psychological mystery. Book lovers may want to tread carefully between these pages.
The truth of the matter was that without Karen there, I had let things slip. Even before I’d started to accumulate books, we’d had barely enough space for our personal things: the shoes piled in corners, the mismatched furniture, the exercise equipment – Swiss ball, yoga mat, mountain bike – that had turned the hall into a slalom course. I had discussed endlessly with Karen the possibility of expanding my stock to levels whereby I might derive from it an income reliable enough to hire a storage lock-up. Really, I could have afforded as much already. But there was still something amateurish, and thus pleasurable, about my enthusiasm for the business; I liked to keep the books close. They kept me safe, insulated the walls. And I never felt as though I had enough.
Given that, it was unsurprising that I should fall for Harris’s offer when it came.
– Bartholomew Bennett, The Pale Ones
The Pale Ones is out on Amazon right now!
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