It’s time for something creepy, something a little bit spooky; it’s time to wonder at the things that go bump in the night. It’s time, in fact, for the Wyrd & Wonder mini event: Spooktastic Reads 2019.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I am a huge scaredy-cat. Horror movies terrify me and I never go to the cinema to watch one because I need the lights on and to be able to tuck my feet up on my seat and … you can snigger all you want … I need a soft toy or my blanky to cuddle. Horror books are even worse because then your brain is in collusion with the author to scare the wits out of you and you can’t turn your brain off. All that said, body horror is the least disturbing kind for me. Yes, we can be bent and broken in some extraordinarily nasty ways, but that’s just gross, not scary (unless it’s being done to me – then, obviously, it’s frigging horrifying!).
So, I knew The Murders of Molly Southbourne had body horror elements in it and I knew it was a novella, and therefore it seemed like a pretty safe option for Spooktastic Reads. Boy can I be wrong sometimes.
This was one hundred and seventeen pages of creepy-ass, thumb-chewing tension. I was suckered in with the Nikita/Hanna vibe (movies about young women trained to kill with precision and utter detachment? I’m there before they’ve finished putting up the posters), and by then it was too late. Molly’s situation is truly scary as much for it’s inevitable repetition as for it’s being inescapable. How can someone not bleed? We bleed all the time via little bangs and scrapes, or by maybe brushing our teeth too vigorously, as well as via menstruation and nose bleeds and a hundred other ways I can’t think of or imagine. No matter how careful or mindful we are we will all bleed, it’s part of life. But when Molly bleeds a replica of her is born, identical to her in every way no matter her age. And then it tries to kill her.
Sometimes a molly will be confused for a time, or friendly, or talkative, before their murderous impulse kicks in. Sometimes it’s immediate. Either way, Molly has to always be ready and always be better than the mollies that will come for her. While she was a child her parents killed the mollies as they appeared, but they also trained their daughter: taught her how to fight and kill, how to efficiently cut up and dispose of a body, how to deal with her own blood. That her parents were also able to maintain a loving relationship both together and with Molly was a part of the horror for me – they have had to kill perfect replicas of their daughter, whom they love, again and again, from when she was tiny to when she was grown, and then hack her up and bury her. That that doesn’t destroy them is both incredible and kinda creepy.
That it doesn’t destroy Molly (open for debate this) is equally incredible. Yes, she goes through a period of delusion, she self-harms and yes, she contemplates suicide briefly, but she has a great deal of self-discipline and a pragmatism that I really loved. Actually, I liked Molly a lot. She’s a keen reader, she’s smart and direct. She doesn’t do small talk. Her decision not to shave made me laugh. Her reason for not committing suicide says a lot about where she places value. And her calm and efficiency, passed on to her by her parents, make the book that much scarier.
She’s also extremely lonely. And perhaps this is part of The Scary as well. Think about it: in all the scary movies or books you’ve watched/read, how often do more than a couple of people survive? And that lonely figure or two at the end, having survived whatever horror they were pitted against (probably by having to do unspeakable things), what future do you envisage for them? Do you imagine they’ll reintegrate into society, make lots of new friends and lead happy, nightmare-free lives? Because I never do. Part of The Scary is being marked out as different, is having survived something terrible and being unable to talk about it with anyone. Part of The Scary is being the survivor and Molly has been the survivor all her life.
And then there’s all the Thoughts that come with this book:
How are the mollies different to Molly? Why do they have to die? If they are perfect copies, then they surely have the right to life just as she does? Then again, they all think they’re Molly and have the same memories as she does, so … what does that mean?
Do the mollies only want to kill Molly because that’s what her parents have taught her: “If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight”? If she’d been taught to make friends with them, would they have reacted in kind? Or, in other words, did Molly’s parents, in trying to protect their only daughter, actually create this situation in which she is in constant mortal peril?
And what the heck’s going on with Leon and James?? I want to know everything about that.
Finally, I want to talk about Thompson’s writing. I haven’t read anything else by him yet, although Rosewater has been ready and waiting for me on the stack for a couple of months now. Having read this, I am looking forward even more to reading that novel now. Because Thompson writes really clear, precise prose. Like Picasso’s light pen drawings (not seen them? Google them now, they’re pretty awesome) his writing is simple, immediate and incredibly evocative. I mean, he manages to pack more information into one hundred and seventeen pages than some writers do in five hundred. So if you haven’t already read this, you definitely should. It’ll take maybe an hour of your time. I read it on my bus journey home and, no word of a lie, was so engrossed I missed my stop.