Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

January 4, 2012

Review – Slights by Kaaron Warren

Filed under: reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 11:26 pm

This is my first entry in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. I might have finished it a bit on the early side (Boxing Day 2011), so the legitimacy of its inclusion in an exercise to read a specific category of works within a specific timeframe could, I suppose, be held up on a technicality. I prefer to run with the spirit of the affair and will throw myself upon the mercy of the court and the judgment of my peers with nought but the claim “I got a bit carried away” as my sole defense.

The novel is Slights: a dark-as-the-pits-of-Stalin’s-soul psychological/supernatural horror memoir from Australian (and sometime Canberra local) author Kaaron Warren. I picked it up from the library, where there was a display of several of her titles. I am nothing if not impulsive, so I put down whichever fat Stephen King tome I had intended to catch up on (might have been Bag of Bones or Under the Dome, the latter of which I’m going to have trouble taking seriously after The Simpsons Movie) and grabbed this one and Walking the Tree by the same author.

I’ll start with this: even for a book narrated from the serial killer’s point of view, the creepiness factor of Slights still manages to find its way far over the top. The unsettling starts as a niggle, like an ache mildly growling somewhere behind your eyes;  page by page the suspense-tease grows into a full-strength migraine. What’s interesting is that the nature of narrator Stevie (aka Stephanie Searle) is never in question: she’s a lying, self-absorbed sociopath dedicated to casting herself in the best possible light, and her descent into serial murder and self-harm is unsurprising.

And yet while Stevie’s grotesque behaviour – manipulations, deceptions and sometimes vicious retaliations for offences both real and imagined – is the central narrative device, the story expands outwards in unexpected directions. During several near-death experiences, Stevie has a brush with an especially horrifying afterlife, haunted by the victims of her casual dissociative cruelty. But even this strange supernatural element ultimately becomes less disturbing than the corruption and secrets that Stevie unwittingly unearths about her past, her family and her neighbours. It all adds up to a chilling portrait of a social fabric almost as shredded and tainted as Stevie herself.

On occasions Stevie is almost a sympathetic protagonist, thanks in the most part to a well-observed narrative voice that highlights her childish wonder, an intense curiosity and her great capacity for wilful self-deception, while never letting you forget how dangerous she is. You can feel for her, sometimes, when you’re not actively repulsed by her grotesque impulses.

As a novel, Slights is a bit like that too; thoughtful and reflective, layered with metaphor but also with lies and sleight of hand. The horror is grounded in disturbing revelations more than overt violence, though there are a handful of hard-to-stomach scenes. At times it defies all expectation by being sad instead of nasty – I could never quite distance myself from some of Stevie’s woes. Slights is also funny – once or twice I found it laugh out loud hilarious. What I can’t quite be certain of is whether that wasn’t an overreaction to the relief of getting through some gruelling scene. It’s an intense story, disguised as a breezy tale of surburban life, albeit one set in a suburb with a suspiciously high rate of disappearances.

I liked it a lot. For fans of psychological horror and dark fantasy, I’d call it a must-read.

1 Comment »

  1. […] novel. Mistification (published by Angry Robot) is her third published novel, following on from Slights and Walking the Tree, both of which I enjoyed. So with that in mind – and having subsequently […]

    Pingback by Review – Mistification by Kaaron Warren « Lexifabricographer — June 18, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

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