Aliya Whiteley's The Beauty was published by Unsung Stories in September 2014.
Information about Aliya Whiteley:
Aliya Whiteley was born in Devon in 1974, and currently lives in Sussex with her husband, daughter and dog. She writes novels, short stories and non-fiction and has been published in places such as The Guardian, Interzone, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Black Static, Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as Fox Spirit's European Monsters and Lonely Planet's Better than Fiction I and II. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice, and won the Drabblecast People's Choice Award in 2007.
Her recent novella for Unsung Stories, The Beauty, was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award and a Sabotage Award, and appeared on the Honors List for the James Tiptree Jr Award. She blogs at: aliyawhiteley.wordpress.com and she tweets most days as @AliyaWhiteley.
Information about The Beauty:
A book for the brave, The Beauty is a post-apocalyptic tale straight out of the New Weird. This slim title tells of a dark future. Readers should be advised this title contains mature themes.
Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.
The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?
Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?
Discover the Beauty.
A REVIEW OF ALIYA WHITELEY'S THE BEAUTY
Aliya Whiteley's The Beauty is one of the best and most fascinating novellas I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Considering the vast amount of speculative fiction being written nowadays, it's wonderful to read beautifully written and original novellas like this that truly stand out from the dull and grey mass and fully capture the reader's imagination with strange happenings.
The Beauty is a strangely captivating and unsettling novella filled with melancholy darkness and wistfulness. It's possible that this novella may be quite a disturbing reading experience to those who are not used to reading thought-provoking speculative fiction and literary dark fiction, but I'm sure that it will permanently impress everyone who reads it, because it's boldy different from other speculative fiction stories. It will amaze, enchant and shock readers in equal measure.
The Beauty contains many New Weird and dark fantasy elements. These elements form a powerful and vibrant combination that pulses with stunning originality. Depending on the reader, this novella can either be classified as New Weird or literary strange fiction.
Here's a bit of information about the story:
- The story is divided into four parts.
- The events take place years after all the women have died. Only men have survived (they seem to be unaffected by the fungus plague that has killed the women).
- A young man called Nathan, who lives in a remote and isolated commune, has witnessed signs of change and regeneration in the graveyard where the women are buried. Mushrooms form outlines of the women who have been buried beneath the soil. One day Nathan meets a strange yellow, spongy and limbed thing in the woods. This strange creature has the shape of a woman...
This is all I'll write about the story, because it wouldn't be fair to give away too many details about its amazing and unsettling wonders, because the author has plenty of surprises in store for her readers.
Nate is a fascinating protagonist who tells stories each night to his fellow men. His stories keep alive the memories of what has happened and reveal how things have changed since the women passed away. They also shape the lives of the men by giving voice and meaning to the strange occurrences.
Aliya Whiteley's vision of a post-apocalyptic world has quiet and unsettling power that grows into enticing heights of strangeness as the events begin to unfold. The frictions, dynamics and leadership issues between the different men are handled vividly.
It was interesting for me to read about how the men had to deal with an unexpected deconstruction of gender roles, because they faced certain events that shook their lives. I liked the way the author wrote about this, because she created a sophisticatedly unsettling atmosphere and let the story unfold at its own speed.
The Beauty is a well-constructed story about change. When the creatures, the Beauty, enter the men's lives, everything begins to change. Some of the changes are unsettlingly strange and cause the men to think about their lives, community and survival. Besides being a story about change, it's also a story about weird metamorphosis and parasitic fungi.
One of the most important reasons why I find this novella fascinating is that it has an intriguing sense of myth and strangeness to it. This is not often found in modern literary strange fiction. It also have a feel of William Golding's Lord of the Flies to it, but the author steers the story towards New Weird.
Aliya Whiteley is an exceptionally gifted speculative fiction author whose writing abilities I admire. Her subtle prose is beautiful and eloquent. She has the ability to create thought-provoking, mesmerising and distubing images in the reader's mind by writing boldly about challenging and mature themes. Her story is a brilliant combination of wondrous and disturbing elements.
Based on this novella, I can say that Aliya Whitley is an author who deserves to be read and praised. I intend to read her next novella, The Arrival of Missives (Unsung Stories, 2016), as soon as possible.
The Beauty is a stunning feast of originality and will impress readers who appreciate beautiful prose, sophisticated storytelling, new weird elements and literary strange fiction. It's speculative fiction at its utmost best and most imaginative. I recommend it to fans of the darker and weirder side of speculative fiction, because its dark beauty beckons to be explored by speculative fiction readers. I can guarantee that once you've read this novella, you won't easily forget it.