Filler content with clay

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #35:-

CREATURES OF CLAY and other stories of the macabre

Stephen Sennitt

Diagonal Books pb, 127pp, £7.99

reviewed by Peter Tennant

Diagonal is the new fiction imprint of David Kerekes’ Headpress, and it was through a previous Headpress volume, Ghastly Terror! The Horrible Story of the Horror Comics, a history of graphic horror, that I first encountered author Sennitt. That book impressed me for both its scholarship and the author’s obvious enthusiasm and love of his subject. I was curious to see what Sennitt could do if he put his own talents to fiction, but this is one of those cases where curiosity killed the cat.

There are thirty stories here and one solitary poem, ‘The Drowned Mermaid’, as a sort of coda at the end of the book. Most of the stories are very short, many of only one or two pages length, with provocative titles like ‘The Music Room’, ‘The Cult of the Obscene Deity’, ‘The Secret Place’, ‘Beneath the Black Obelisk’ and ‘The Black Pyramid’, titles that resonate in the minds of Horror aficionados so that reading the Table of Contents one expects a treat, but the stories themselves do not live up to that promise. Mostly they are obliquely descriptive pieces masquerading as flash fiction, and though Sennitt occasionally stumbles across the odd phrase that brings his subject to life in some new and startling way on the whole the experience of reading them is somewhat akin to undertaking a slightly tedious chore, with brevity their only commendation.

The few longer stories have more going for them, but not a lot. For instance ‘The Night Barge’, with its depiction of a man enlisted in some nefarious activity involving the disposal of dead bodies, has echoes of an Aickman like ambiguity (mind you, first draft Aickman and written on a day when he wasn’t feeling very well), but Sennitt lacks the skill to capitalise on this. Having drawn the situation he doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what to do with it. Perhaps Sennitt’s talents lean more to the poetic (‘The Drowned Mermaid’ is consistently fine compared to the other material here). He seems more interested in capturing moments than telling stories.

The book is nicely produced and comes with some excellent illustrations, but as to the fiction, well I can’t think of anything else useful to say except to observe that I clean forgot about most of the stories less than a fortnight after reading them. Hopefully the next volume from Diagonal will offer us something more substantial.

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