Country road, city street, mountain, creek.
These are stories inspired by the beauty, the danger, the cruelty, emptiness, loneliness and perfection of the Australian landscape.
Published by Twelfth Planet Press.
I purchased this book.
Note: I was on the judging panel of the 2012 Aurealis Awards which awarded the story Sky from this collection with Best Horror Short Story.
Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren is the sixth collection in the Twelve Planets.
If there’s an Australian Gothic, Kaaron Warren is certainly at the centre of it, and is perhaps, one of the mistresses of it. The collection Through Splintered Walls, features three short stories, Mountain, Creek and Road, and one novella, Sky. The collection as well as all of the individual stories, have been nominated for, and won, for various awards.
Mountain is a story about a haunted mountain, known as Temptation Tor, and perhaps more importantly, about a woman whose life intersects with those of the ghosts, and of the mountain itself. This is a deceptively quiet story (where quiet involves a fair amount of the horrific – this is Kaaron Warren, after all), but nonetheless a powerful and emotive one. I will admit to practically cheering at one point (read the story and you’ll know which point).
Creek is a story that is steeped heavily in the Australian land (both literally as well as figuratively). This is an excellent example of Warren’s mastery of the deeply disturbing, giving us a land filled with “quaking women”, the women who have been drowned in the creeks of Australia, and who claw their way back up onto land to search for those who they have lost. This story got deeply under my skin, and may make you think twice before you approach a creek next time.
Road contains a quiet kind of horror, as Mountain does, but there’s a kind of warmth here as well in this story about an old couple who live near a road which suffers frequent fatal car accidents, and lay out wreaths for the dead of those accidents. There’s something visceral about this story, making it all too easy to believe that this is a real place, and these are real people.
For me, the highlight of the collection is Sky. This multi-award-winning novella revolves around the town of Sky, home to a cat food factory and a lot of strange people with strange ways. Like a lot of Warren’s work, this story feels very grounded in reality, with all of the characters feeling like real people (even when they’re doing truly horrific things, which makes those acts even more horrific). The protagonist, Zed, is not a likeable character at all, and yet Warren manages to make him as fascinating as the town of Sky itself. It should be noted that this story includes rape, for those who wish to avoid that topic.
Kaaron Warren is easily one of Australia’s best horror writers, and this collection brilliantly displays her skills. If you don’t consider yourself a reader of horror, Warren is a good writer to begin with, since you won’t find any exploitative kinds of horror in her work, but instead a gentler (and perhaps more insidious) kind of horror which encapsulates the deep strangenesses that can exist in the kinds of open spaces that exist in Australia.