Filler content with dead language

So I opened up the file I have on my computer for Black Static #10 and inside I found the reviews from #12.

I have no idea how that could have happened.

Anyway, here’s a review that appeared in #12, or at least I hope it did, and maybe worded exactly the same as it is here:-

As Graham Joyce notes in his Introduction, novella The Language of Dying (PS Publishing hardback/jacketed hardback, 94pp, £12/£25) shows author Sarah Pinborough moving away from traditional horror tropes, after cutting her creative teeth with a series of novels for Leisure, while staying true to her roots in that genre.

Reminiscent in some ways of one of King’s best and most emotive short stories, ‘The Woman in the Room’, the novella takes loss as its main theme, with the impending death of a loved family member from cancer as focal point for a variety of concerns. The clan gathers to make their individual peace with the dying patriarch, but each has problems of their own. Penny is obsessed with appearances to the point of OCD; Paul is a dreamer, who fails at all he does and cannot deal with the imminent death; twins Simon and Davey are addicted to drugs and booze, each mentally fragile in their own way. Thrown together these people are unable to function, and glad of any excuse to leave before the inevitable, and the narrator of the story, a never named middle child, does her best to drive them away, intentionally or not. She has troubles of her own: memories of their mother’s desertion and her own unhappy marriage, the loss of a child, her attachment to the dying father and how badly that is affecting her.

Pinborough writes intelligently and sensitively about the painful business of dying, capturing both the horror of what is happening and infusing the narrative with a degree of acceptance, so each line of dialogue, each gesture the characters make, is laden with significance beyond what actually appears on the page. The language referred to in the novella’s title is the terminology of fatal illness, all the phrases that become forever tainted, partly through their association with morbidity, but also because they allow us to distance ourselves from what is actually happening, in our minds becoming a badge of cowardice, regardless of how unfair that judgement may be. The past and present merge and events overlap as the narrator gives in to memory, both the good and the bad, and all centred on the dying man, with the recognition that soon those memories will be all that remain.

The fantastic element comes from visions she has had of a unicorn at times of crisis in her life, not the white horse of legend, but a black and ferocious beast, and her expectation of seeing it again at the moment of death. Is the unicorn, like the banshee of Irish legend, an avatar of death or does it, like the Scandinavian Valkyrie, come to collect slain heroes from life’s battlefield? For the narrator it seems emblematic of loss, a safety valve of sorts, but also representative of her feelings of guilt, the sense that she is in part responsible for some of the things that have happened, guided by a selfishness, a belief in the fairy story ending above all else.

There is a richness of emotion here, seen in the way the narrative tugs at the heart strings, making the situation seem both unique and universal, and in the depth Pinborough gives the characters, this broken family with its burden of sorrow. Highly recommended.

NB: On 5 December 2013 Jo Fletcher Books release a new edition of this novella, in hardback and for Kindle. It would make a great Christmas present.

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