Like most people at this time of year, I not only reflect on what I’ve done professionally and personally across the last twelve months, but I also list highlights from among my respective interests – books, films, TV and music – and hope that these selections might be of some interest to the readers of my horrors.
Anyway, here are my cultural highlights and recommendations from 2017’s reading and viewing:
Best TV series:
Channel Zero: No End House – I think Nic Antosca (writer of Hannibal series 3, Channel Zero: Candle Cove, and the novel, Midnight Picnic) has one of the best horror brains on the planet right now. This six part SyFy series is terrific creepy pasta morphing into cosmic horror.
Best Films seen in 2017:
Diplomatically excluding the film that I was directly involved with, my favourite film was the sublime Mountain from Robert McFarlane and Jennifer Peedom. A collision of visual, literary and musical forces that create sensations of beauty and terror, or the sublime, in a documentary film about mountains, narrated by Willem Dafoe. The film gave me a true sense of awe from within a cinema seat. I even found myself on the edge of vertigo panic in one or two scenes.
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother takes second place in my films of the year. A strange and mythic epic.
Beyond those two films I also enjoyed Life, It Comes At night, A Dark Song, The Ghoul, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Split, The Visit, The Devil, and Savageland. Not all of these are new films, but they’re films that I saw for the first time this year, including the classics: Cannibal Holocaust, Night of the Eagle, Mildred Pearce, and Exterminating Angel.
In my reading, I’ve predominantly worked my way through shelves heaving with unread books. This is a kind of amnesty that I have to periodically enforce (the last one was in 2011) to prevent my home becoming overwhelmed by unread books. In some cases the books I read had been gathering dust for many years. But I’ve managed to read just over 90 of them so far this year, and my book of the year is actually a children’s book that I read to my daughter, and one that my dad read to me when I was her age: The Little Grey Men by BB. An epic story of the last gnomes in England, who go upstream in search of their missing brother. I’d been waiting for my daughter to become old enough to appreciate it (she’s seven now), and it’s a masterpiece of enchantment and wonder, including some of the best lyrical writing about the British landscape, flora and fauna that I’ve come across in fiction. To my mind it is also an adventure story to rival The Hobbit. The language is sublime, but it’s not a book for children alone; as with the great works of fantasy associated with younger readers, mature readers may also find the books transporting.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl – one of the best horror novels I’ve read in recent years, and published during The Gone Girl craze. How the author sustains a sense of enigma and dread in this long and endlessly inventive novel is enviable. It was recommended to me by a friend who found the subject matter similar to my own Last Days. Pessl was also able to use secondary material, like photographs and letters, in a way that I was not able to, but had wanted to in Last Days. But a “must read” for horror fans.
Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton – British classic about an alcoholic, possibly suffering from schizophrenia, set on the eve of WW2. If anyone likes Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, I think this book will be of great interest. The writing is exquisite, as is the depth of psychological insight.
The Twelve Children of Paris by Tim Willocks – the second Tannhauser novel, and this story concerns itself with the knight’s awful vengeance during the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. It’s probably the most violent and bloodthirsty novel I’ve yet read, but the way Willocks brings history to life is near peerless.
The Girls by Emma Cline – insightful and brilliant depiction of an adolescent girl’s seduction by a counter-culture cult, modelled on Charles Manson’s Family.
Dimiter by William Peter Blatty – absorbing paranormal thriller by the master of the infernal.
The Year’s Best Horror Vol 9 ed’ Ellen Datlow – in a time of endless multi-author horror anthologies, in which only two or three stories usually ring my bell per volume, this was the best anthology that I’ve read in years, in terms of its quality and variety. Excellent addition to an excellent series.
The Architect by Brendan Connell – a novella filled with grotesque marvels, and wonderfully satirical, that reminded me of Marquez. One of the best and most scathing literary portrayals of a narcissist that I’ve read.
Titus Groan & Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake – two fantasy Gothic classics I’ve been meaning to read for about three decades. I kicked myself for not reading them sooner. About as good as fiction gets.
This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith – a novel of intense romantic obsession and mental instability.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – a fascinating study of mankind’s cognitive and cultural evolution.
The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane – non-fiction appreciation of the last few wild places in the British Isles.
The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane – non-fiction, celebrating the ancient paths of Britain.
Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane – a history of man’s actual and imaginative interaction with mountains.
My album of the year was Mareridt by Myrkur. Scandinavian Black metal blended with choral and folk music, and created by an extraordinary Danish artist.
I hope some of you find something of interest to pursue here.
Wishing you a prosperous and healthy new year.