THE GRIEVING STONES by Gary McMahon
Review by Gary Fry
I had the privilege of reading this novella in manuscript form, cos the author and I are old pals and often take a look at each other's stuff before flinging it out at the world. Anyway, let's not suggest that this will make me less objective here. If I can tell him what I think of his floppy new fringe, I can tell him about his fiction, too.
But I find myself with nothing but good things to say here. At the time of reading, I recall telling the old bastard that it was one of the best things he'd written. And so it is.
The novella begins in typical McMahon territory, with a woman (Alice) healing from previous duress and seeking a new direction in life. She joins a counselling group which retreats to what at first appears to be a standard Bad Place, chockfull of weird property shenanigans (sterling use of a dummy, in particular) and all its ancient, legend-infused surrounding environment (the wonderfully named Staple Sisters and their witchy status).
McMahon builds his atmosphere gradually, hinting at dark histories enacted in the area, and then unfolding events in the latter-day period so that they chime with those in days of yore. So far, so formulaic. I certainly don't mean this is a pejorative sense; hell, The Shining is unsurprising in its approach. It's what authors do with these standard structural components which truly marks out the authentics from the wannabes.
Indeed, this is when McMahon comes into his own, bringing to his elegantly paced and carefully constructed novella a real sense of psychological complexity and offbeat developments. That is to say, Alice's descent into some kind of dark condition, both physical and mental, is a genuine head trip, a powerfully written account of a frightening state of being, and one which summons recollections of classics of our genre -- e.g. 'The Yellow Wallpaper' -- as well as modern candidates for similar future status (Adam Nevill's The House of Small Shadows very much among them).
All in all, it's another strong, memorable piece of fiction from our grim and mordant Mackem. And it's one he can be properly proud of. This is without question superior horror.
You can grab a copy of the limited hardcover here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grieving-Stones-Gary-McMahon/dp/1910283134/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til?tag=strangetales-21&linkCode=w00&linkId=&creativeASIN=1910283134