Demi-semi regular readers may be aware that, though I profess to exploring a wide range of obscure literature, there are certain murky territories into which I rarely allow my ancient feet to wander. Just as I have always preferred cream to crime, and chicken-farming lit to chick-lit, so the ‘horror genre’ is another of those holes in the ground into which I will not deign to crawl.
It’s not that I’m not, in my way, an annual subscriber to the dark side. After all, many would consider me a world expert on suicide-related novels – not to mention the fact that a fair few of the folk tales I study (see here, for instance) bare the horrendous spots of the scare-mongerer. Despite this, blessed is the patient fool who waits around in bookstores in the hope of seeing me pick up a tale of ‘horror and suspense’. Blessed and rare: for of all the things I do in bookstores (and I’m not averse, I will say, to the odd stroll through the teenage and toddler sections) this counts amongst the the least likely sights you shall ever see. Perhaps the best way to put it is that I deal with horror quite happily when faced with it – but I do not go so far as to seek it out.
Yesterday, however, I am proud to said that I read straight through, twice, a story that (so the spine informs me) falls firmly into the horror bracket. It was a gift (aka peace offering) from Peggy Grounter – and came with her cautious recommendation (indeed, a greasy thumbprint on p.58 – and again on p. 119 – suggests she read the same copy).
Black Hair, it is called, and it is written by a man going by the name of Viktor Kesserman (previous works include Quiet Pastures, An Empty Sky and Whither the Sourpuss Treads With Lonely Toes). The story itself contains more suspense, I would say, than horror, which is to say that there is a disturbing lack of decapitations and clowns. The enemy is, in fact, a very quiet one, consisting as it does of faintly threatening strands of hair (though these could be said to form, in the minds of our protagonist, a character of far greater ferocity).
A Swedish, thoroughly blond-haired couple, live alone amongst the tall rolling hills. They own no pets; they hide no secret lovers. So why is it that long black hairs keep appearing in their broth? Where are they coming from? Will the battle to discover the truth break their marriage apart?
Employing simple means, Kesserman does well to keep his readers tied into the plot, channeling the spirit of Ionesco to produce the kind of story for which the word ‘disquieting’ was invented. This is, in short, the sort of tale that tiptoes like a ballerina beneath one’s epidermis; silently worming its way into one’s mind, to the extent that one shivers for hours when your eyes fall upon a single strand of hair: black, blond, or, in my case, grey.