review by Sarah Lotz

Published by Generation Next Publications
PB 258 pages
RRP R150 (Kindle £2.14

My father’s funeral had been that morning, and Kevin thought a night out would be the best way to take my mind off how he’d died. It hadn’t helped. All I could think about was that I hadn’t been able to say good-bye or tell him that I loved him. I couldn’t even get drunk and forget about it. I couldn’t pretend that I was okay and put on a happy face for the sake of Kevin and his friends. As a result we cut the night short, which irritated Kevin’s friends and I was once again the party pooper.

Kevin had been gone for what seemed like a few seconds when everything that I knew and trusted in my life changed forever.

From Issue 14 (Oct 2011)

I SHOULD HAVE LEARNT by now not to judge a book by its author. I’ve bumped into horror author Joan de la Haye on a couple of occasions (the South African SFFH writing scene is still fairly small), and she’s funny, sweet, bubbly and excellent company. But somewhere under that lovely exterior there’s a seriously fucked-up imagination, because her debut novel, Shadows, is about as dark as it gets.

I’m not easily spooked. The last time I had nightmares after reading a novel was when I finished the brilliant Kaaron Warren’s Slights, and Shadows reminded me of this book in some ways. Both authors are unafraid to tackle contentious or shocking subject matter; they fearlessly write from the perspectives of so-called unlikeable characters and both skillfully create scenes of such powerful and disturbing imagery that after reading them I needed a good dose of brain-bleach (pretty much the highest compliment you can pay to a horror author).

Shadows’ protagonist, Sarah, is coping with the fallout of her estranged father’s suicide, while allowing her dick of a boyfriend, Kevin, to walk all over her. Kevin is obsessed with his sister Carol’s lover – the manipulative Denise – and with only the minimum of soul searching, soon embarks on a stomach-churning, incestuous three-way affair with the two women. Sarah is also plagued by a demon/hallucination she names Jack, who torments her with nightmarish, gore-filled apparitions (including a particularly nasty vision of the death of her cat). Most of the characters have a sinister hidden agenda, and there’s not a redeeming characteristic between them – a challenge for an author to pull off without slipping into parody. In fact, the protagonists are all so repellent, that the demonic presence – a yellow-eyed, foul-mouthed fellow who’s in desperate need of a manicure – comes across as the character with the most integrity.

Almost every character in the novel is either a rapist, has colluded in sexual abuse, or is the victim of rape. While this is personally way too much for me to stomach, de la Haye doesn’t fall into the trap of using sexual abuse as a cheap shock tactic. She implies that the evil that we do to each other, almost casually in some cases, is far far worse than anything the imagination can conjure up, and that human nature is far more disturbing and cruel than demonic entities, vampires or bogeymen.

The book would have benefited from the attentions of a good line-editor, but it’s so compelling that the continuity errors are easy to overlook. And while this is not a novel I would pass on to my grandmother, or anyone of a sensitive or nervous disposition, if you like your horror as warped as it gets, you’ll love this genuinely scary page-turner. I’m looking forward to reading what she does next – although I suspect I’ll be reaching for the sominex afterwards.

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