7 Novellas for 7 Days of Holiday

During my summer holiday in Mykonos, Greece, I read and reviewed seven horror novellas.

“Carmilla” by Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu

This Gothic novella, written 26 years before “Dracula”, influenced Stoker’s masterpiece in many ways, one of the most notable being the deus ex machina, alias Baron Vonderburg, saving the day, just like Professor Abraham Van Helsing does in “Dracula”. I particularly appreciated the rich classical narrative and the delicacy as well as the audacity — the novella was published in 1872! — used to depict the homosexuality so subtly binding the protagonist and the vampire Carmilla, Millarca, Mircalla, you name it. And, by the way, is Dracula a vampire at all? Given the novel is told in an epistolary format, every character expressing personal views, I like to think of it as the story of a poor Romanian nobleman, persecuted by a gang of crazy Englishmen, led by a Dutch mythomaniac. Carmilla, instead, is definitely a vampire, a very charming and lovely one.

“Dear Laura” by Gemma Amor

Obsession. If I were to use only one word to describe “Dear Laura”, it would be obsession. Mr X rapes Laura’s boyfriend the day after their first kiss. Since then, every year, on her birthday, Laura receives a letter from Mr X demanding more and more from her. The root cause why Laura satisfies even the sickest requests, although she knows her first love is already dead, seems to be guilt. Mr X is evidently obsessed with Laura and he enjoys this sordid relationship; and Laura, over the years, develops some form of ‘long-distance Stockholm syndrome’ that prevents her from setting herself free. And obsession is also the word I would use to describe my relationship with this novella, in a good sense, of course: I read it without being able to put it down. Gemma Amor clearly knows what anxiety is and she knows how to effectively render it in words. Gemma is also the author of the deeply unsettling cover illustration.

“Halloween Fiend” by C. V. Hunt

This novella is narrated in first person by an average Joe living in a peculiar town named Strang — just add an “e” at the end of the name and start working on your expectations. The town is haunted by a fiend, referred to as Halloween, demanding an animal sacrifice each night from each resident, and a human sacrifice once a year. Every resident accepts their faith, no one questions the status quo and no one does anything to stop the curse and. On a second tier, I like to read this novella as the metaphor of a life we do not choose, we do not like, and still we do nothing about it. Barry, the protagonist and narrator, has a special relationship with Halloween, but I cannot tell you anymore about it without spoilers. Watch out: the brief closing sentence of the novella is a game changer; do not read it in advance or you will ruin everything! Just let the author lead you through this twisted and weird tale and enjoy it!

“Rites Of Extinction” by Matt Serafini

I loved “Rites Of Extinction”! This novella is a blood-soaked, mind-bending, sex-driven, shit-spattered trip in the sick mind of Rebecca, a former police officer, now private investigator, on the hunt for her daughter’s murderer. The erudite narrative, by using the present tense, engages the readers to the point that this book is pretty hard to put down. Matt Serafini creates his own small theogony of “Great Old Ones”, including an XXX-rated version of the “Necronomicon”. The huge difference with H. P. Lovecraft is the fact that every detail here is described in a way that does not leave anything to the readers’ imagination: the author is impressively powerful when it comes to rendering blood, fear, flesh, pain and the like. From another perspective, though, he extraordinarily succeeds in keeping the readers on their toes, and allows them to “believe it or not”: is this really happening or is this just the product of the disturbed mind of a grieving mother, suffering from migraine with aura, losing it day after day? If you love books filled with blood, mystery, perversion (in a never exceeding amount), sickness, violence, and weirdness, you will be definitely fulfilled by this novella!

“To Be Devoured” by Sara Tantlinger

Andi is a deeply disturbed woman. She is obsessed with vultures: she longs to become one of them. And she is obsessed with the decaying flesh of dying animals: she longs to taste it. Narrated in first-person, “To Be Devoured” allows the reader to see the fictional universe created by Sara Tantlinger from the viewpoint of the narrator’s mind’s eye — can a troubled woman such as Andi be a reliable narrator, though? Regardless, the physicality of any kind of act is depicted by the author with extraordinary incisiveness: Andi making love to her girlfriend Luna, Andi masturbating while licking Luna’s used tampon, Andi devouring a piglet alive, and more so in a crescendo of events as Andi progresses along her downward spiral; and the deeper she goes, the more bloody disgusting, gory, and repulsive the narration becomes — all for the best, don’t get me wrong! My favorite quote: «it all circles above me in the dark forest of my mind where I have planted more graveyards than trees»

“The Fearing, Book One: Fire & Rain” by John F. D. Taff

Three stories intertwine in the first instalment of John F. D. Taff’s four-novella series, each chapter dedicated in turn to one of the stories. Once you open it, “The Fearing, Book One: Fire & Rain” is hard to put down. Each page unveils a bit of a series of catastrophic and enigmatic events happening across the USA. It is still early to make assumptions, but it seems to me that the characters’ worst fears become real: snakes, flying monkeys (courtesy of “The Wizard Of Oz”), blood-thirsty butterflies. A man incarnating the apotheosis of anxiety and paranoia suddenly takes control of his life and apparently of the disasters afflicting the world. The pieces of the puzzle add up to the mystery and keep the reader intrigued enough to avoid frustration, and yet frustrated enough to keep the pages turning fast. I will not indulge in writing anything else for now: I cannot wait to dive into book two!

“The Fearing, Book Two: Water & Wind” by John F. D. Taff

The second book of John F. D. Taff’s four-novella series begins with chapter eleven, just like a sequel should do when the previous instalment ended with chapter ten. A new character is introduced, Reverend Mark Hubert, whose story interlaces with the three narrated in the first book, to which the author returns, in turn, chapter after chapter. Mark has to face catastrophic and enigmatic events similar to those the protagonists of the other stories had and still have to face. Each group of survivors independently reaches the conclusion that, whatever is happening to the world, their worst fears are becoming real, and this time they are dealing with — in random order — devils, hail on fire, fire itself, a meteorite, the Ku Klux Klan, a possessed child, wasps and all kinds of insects, creeping plants and reptiles, cannibals and more. The most mysterious character still remains Adam who seems to be following a plan and is somehow achieving prescience, if not omniscience. “The Fearing, Book Two: Water & Wind” is as involving as book one and induces in the reader a state of anxiety that only reading the next instalments could hopefully soothe. After the unexpected twist in the last few pages, I instantly felt he urge to start reading book three.


Fabio Scagliola,