What is it we find so irresistible about dark and twisted fiction?
I’ve wondered sometimes whether it’s just me: often when I relay to my husband the plot of one of my favourite books, or try to convince him to watch a film that’s caught my eye, he can’t quite understand why I would want to immerse myself in such torment.
It’s not so much horror I like, and certainly not gore, but rather the depths and depravity of human emotion at its worst.
Since I first read it when I was about seventeen, my favourite book has been Ian McEwan’s ‘A Child in Time’ – a harrowing account of the impact losing a child has on her parents. He is still the person I come back to as my favourite author, the person whose body of work I most aspire to, and it is the strong element of macabre I think that lures me in most effectively.
More generally I find myself drawn to tales of loss, of death, of suffering and abandonment. Stories which explore the evil that humanity is capable of, and expose parts of the soul that you would never wish to encounter in real life. And I find them fascinating rather than depressing. There is definitely something cathartic about them – a place to play out my deepest fears which I can put to bed again simply by closing the book.
My most recent novel definitely strays into this territory. An examination of the horrible ways people can treat each other, with an antagonist who brings together some of the worst traits I have come across in my experiences and those of others. It was a little harder to switch off from that – there were days (and nights) when his consciousness seeped into my own and left me feeling distinctly unsettled. But still I found myself compelled to tell his story.
The short stories that I have written are even more twisted. I’m sort of playing around with the idea of putting together a collection, and in trying to identify the common thread which binds them together there is no escaping the darkness at their core. Obsession, murder, man-eating hermit crabs, psychosis, self-amputation: putting them all side by side is making me wonder a little exactly what it is that’s going on in my head!
But it seems that I am not alone in feeling the pull of the dark side. When I alluded recently to a short story I was working that was possibly too dark to share I wasn’t intentionally building up intrigue, but it seems that just that thought was enough to make people want to read it. It’s still sat on my hard drive, waiting for an appropriate outing, but it’s kind of good to know that I’m not the only one who likes to immerse myself in these shadowy worlds.
I’ve been working on another story this week, one inspired by the awesome story of a woman in Exminster placing a Gumtree ad for someone to help her test her home-made time machine. I was struggling for a hook at first, and of course when it did begin to emerge it was from those shadows.
I guess there is just a part of me that is fascinated by the more sinister workings of the human mind, and how they play out in interactions with other people. The seeds of those workings must be lying somewhere in the recesses of my mind, but by germinating them in the realm of fiction I am satisfying that desire for darkness whilst being able to focus my real life on altogether more pleasant pursuits.
And I suppose that is one of the many reasons why fiction is so important! Who knows what would happen to the world if our imaginations did not have that safe place to explore their darkest fears…