Five Stories High was published by Solaris Books in December 2016.
Information about Jonathan Oliver:
Jonathan Oliver is the multi-award winning editor of The End of The Line, Magic, House of Fear, End of the Road and Dangerous Games. He’s also written a couple of novels and a bunch of short stories. He lives in Abingdon with his family and their cat.
Information about Five Stories High:
Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas each set in the same house Irongrove Lodge. This five storey Georgian mansion, once a grand detached property, has now been split into five apartments.
This is a building with history, the very bricks and grounds imbued with the pasts of those who have walked these corridors, lived in these rooms.
Five extraordinary writers open the doors, revealing ghosts both past and present in a collection that promises to be as intriguing as it is terrifying.
Featuring novellas by Sarah Lotz, JK Parker, Nina Allan, Robert Shearman and Tade Thompson.
A REVIEW OF FIVE STORIES HIGH (EDITED BY JONATHAN OLIVER)
Five Stories High (edited by Jonathan Oliver) is an excellent literary horror story anthology. It's a themed anthology containing five novellas set in the same house, Irongrove Lodge, where all kinds of strange and unexpected things happen to people who live there or merely come for a brief visit.
In this anthology, all of the authors - Nina Allan, J.K. Parker, Tade Thompson, Robert Shearman and Sarah Lotz - do their best to captivate and thrill readers with atmospheric, original and extremely well written stories that have a strong focus on creepiness and unsettling atmosphere. They aim to entertain and terrify their readers and they succeed in it, because when you pick up this book and begin to read it, you'll be hooked by the stories.
If you come to this anthology expecting to find cheap thrills, I'm sorry to disappoint you by saying that you won't find anything like that here. Instead, you'll find plenty of quality and lots of old-fashioned creepiness. This is an anthology that has an emphasis on atmospheric storytelling and literary prose. It stands out among other similar kind of anthologies by having much more depth and substance than them.
I consider Five Stories High to be one of the absolute highlights of the past year. It's a fascinatingly old-fashioned yet modern horror story anthology with fascinating stories which prove that when you have enough imagination you can write stories about weird and haunted houses in a memorable and original way. The stories, although classic in nature, have a sharp modern edge to them.
This anthology contains the following stories:
- Maggots by Nina Allan
- Priest's Hole by K.J. Parker
- Gnaw by Tade Thompson
- The Best Story I Can Manage Under the Circumstances by Robert Shearman
- Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz
Each of these stories can be read as a standalone story, but the linking texts (Notes on Irongrove Lodge by the editor Jonathan Oliver) connect them. They provide a strong backbone to the stories and emphasise the overall strange atmosphere.
Although the authors have distinct voices of their own, their voices fit well together. Their different writing styles bring freshness to this anthology.
Here's more information and my thoughts about the stories:
Maggots by Nina Allan:
- Ah, what a pleasure it was to read this story! I loved the author's engaging writing style and her way of writing about the happenings, because everything about this story felt spellbinding and it had a fascinatingly unsettling atmosphere. I was impressed by the nuanced characterisation, because the protagonist had an interesting life and a bit different kind of problems.
- In this story, Will is a bit frightened and unnerved by his noticing of how his Aunty Claire has suddenly become a different person. Aunty Claire appears to be normal, but there's something about her that is not quite right. Soon Will finds out that he may suffer from a physiological disorder, which affects his way of thinking about Aunty Claire, but he doesn't fully believe in it. As time goes by he begins to research things and soon he hears about Greystone Lodge...
- The author writes excellently about Will's relationship with his Aunty Claire. It was interesting to read about how Will noticed that her Aunty Claire had changed after she went missing for a while during a trip to York and was not the same person anymore. This had a huge effect on Will's life, because he began to think of all kinds of things and found out about a well-kept secret.
- A beautifully written story with a chilling touch of cosmic horror and strangeness.
Priest's Hole by K.J. Parker:
- This is a story about a genuine and professional shapeshifter who can change his blood group, DNA and appearance. There are certain limits to his abilities, but he can do almost anything. He has an agent who gets him jobs and sends him details of each job. One day he agrees to do a well-paying alibi job, but it goes terribly wrong, because a man tries to kill him...
- I liked the author's way of writing about the shapeshifter and his life, because he wrote captivatingly about several things ranging from the shapeshifter's private life to his work. It was also interesting to read about the agent and how she behaved.
- This story has a satisfyingly slow pace, because the author doesn't rush with things and lets things develop at their own pace.
- An excellent and very atmospheric story with a touch of noir and urban fantasy.
Gnaw by Tade Thompson:
- In this story, Harry and Tara move into a new house with their children, Adrienne and Cory. One day when Tara goes to the shopping centre, she notices that her son has written something strange and malignant in a book which he brought with him. A bit later Cory is accused of writing more vile things. This is, however, only the beginning of a chain of strange events...
- It was fascinating to read about what kind of a past Harry had and how it affected his marriage to Tara, because he had spent time in prison for something that he hadn't done. I also enjoyed reading about what the children experienced and how they felt about things.
- The author explores the familiar theme of haunting in a surprisingly entertaining and original way. I found this story to be excellent because of the gradually deepening atmosphere.
- A wonderfully entertaining and well written ghost story that has a feel of classic ghost fiction to it.
The Best Story I Can Manage Under the Circumstances by Robert Shearman:
- This mesmerising story begins with a bizarre fairy tale kind of a chapter and then transforms into something else in the next chapter. I think it's fair to say that this is the strangest story in this anthology, because it changes as it begins to unfold, but doesn't lose its freshness and originality.
- In my opinion, the author has managed to reach a satisfying level of strangeness here and has created something unique, because it's been a while since I've read this kind of horror fiction. I enjoyed everything about this story, because I found it excellent.
- I won't write about what happens in this story in fear of revealing too many spoilers, but I'll mention that what happens between the boy and the man who tells him stories is truly interesting and also a bit unsettling. These scenes were simply brilliant.
- A fascinatingly written strange story that will be of interest to everyone who loves weird tales.
Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz:
- The previous story had quite an interesting structure, but this story has an even more unusual structure due to the author's way of telling the story through various monologues. The author has come up with a story that consists of several sections in which different people tell what has happened and how they feel about it.
- Skin Deep is a story about events leading up to a crime and its aftermath. It feels a bit like a blend of strange fiction, noir fiction and mystery fiction, because the author delivers her readers a strong vision of a relationship between an older woman and a younger man (Malika and Robin) and tells what happens to them.
- I enjoyed reading about the relationship between Malika and Robin, because the author wrote well about how it began to change when they moved into the flat and Robin wanted to renovate it.
- A well written account of a shocking crime.
Maggots by Nina Allan has all the signs of intelligent storytelling that I expect to find in literary speculative fiction. It's a satisfying and thought-provoking slice of real life that has gone a bit awry. I think it's only fair to say that Maggots is the strongest story in this anthology and one of the author's best stories, because she explores such themes as identity and isolation in a realistic yet uncanny way. I was positively surprised to find elements of eldritch cosmic horror in this story, because the author has a her own kind of powerful vision of cosmic horror. (By the way, if you're a newcomer to Nina Allan's stories, this story is an excellent entry point to her fiction.)
The Best Story I Can Manage Under the Circumstances by Robert Shearman is also a story that I find deeply satisfying and rewarding. It has everything one could ever hope to find in a strange story and more. Gnaw by Tade Thompson made a huge impression on me, because the author's vision of a ghost story felt original. Priest's Hole by K.J. Parker and Skin Deep by Sarah Lotz are also fantastic stories, because they're something a bit different.
Each of the stories has an excellent atmosphere, because the authors seem adept at creating a creeping atmosphere and maintaining it throughout their stories. Because I've always loved good old-fashioned horror fiction and ghost stories that have plenty of creepiness, I found these stories compelling - there was just the right amount of classic creepy feel to them.
Irongrove Lodge is a perfect setting for these unsettling stories, because it's an old five storey Georgian mansion, which has been split into five apartments. This kind of old mansions intrigue me in horror fiction, because they allow authors to explore history, past happenings, hauntings, manifestations, mental health and fear in an atmospheric way. In this anthology, the authors reveal interesting things about Irongrove Lodge and its past, because they tell what kind of a place it is to the characters and how they feel about what they experience there. Each of the characters has their own specific feel about Irongrove Lodge - they may see weird things, they may get a feeling that there's something slightly wrong about it or it changes them.
The stories in this anthology are akin to classic weird tales that rely on terrifying readers with creepiness instead of action. If you're like me and enjoy reading stories which develop gradually and in which authors slowly build up atmosphere towards the end you'll find this anthology thoroughly enjoyable. When I read these stories, I noticed that they contained echoes of such authors as Robert Aickman, Joel Lane and M.R. James.
Before I write the final words of this review, I'll mention that this anthology left me wanting more. I was so taken by the stories that I would've liked to read more about Irongrove Lodge and what happens to people there.
Five Stories High is a dark, excellent and atmospheric horror story anthology that fully satisfies the needs of readers who are interested in literary horror stories and enjoy slow-burning quiet horror that creeps up on them. I'm sure that many horror readers will find a lot to love in this anthology, because it contains quality stories that differ from mainstream horror stories.