Publisher: Harvill Secker
Cover Design: Julia Connolly and Alamy
Book Depository: Hardback
Content Warnings: Horror themes; pregnancy; misogyny; sexual violence
Kirsty Logan delivers a sucker punch straight to the core of her audience with this meandering, often horrifying short story collection that explores our deepest, darkest fears. Blurring the boundaries between fairytales, body horror and feminist fiction, Logan creates a genre in which Things We Say in the Dark sits alone – unique without veering off into obscurity. The fictional author of the book includes excerpts about their experience of writing the book whilst in Iceland in order to provide some reassurance from the nightmares that await the reader in each chapter. However, the lines between these interjections and the stories they precede soon become blurred, leaving the reader with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of their stomach. If the author of the stories does not have any antidote to the horrors within then what hope do we have?
Logan uses three separate headings – ‘The House’, ‘The Child’ and ‘The Past’ – to take every possible fear we may possess related to each topic and translate them to the page. Using the same structure for each section gives us a feeling of familiarity, lulling us into a false sense of security, leaving us to slowly reveal for ourselves that nowhere is safe. Body is a consistent theme throughout the book, and the various ways it is stretched, broken and used are explored with nightmarish intricacy.
There were no stories included that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate in some capacity, which is unusual for a collection. ‘Girls are Always Hungry When All the Men are Bite-size’ is a feminist delight, exploring the way women are forced to make themselves smaller in order to accommodate men and their expectations. “Whatever she is hiding, I shall find it, and I shall take it from her” is endemic to our patriarchy, and reminds me of the titular story in Carmen Maria Machado’s ‘Her Body and Other Parties’, in which the female character’s only request to her husband is that he not touch her ribbon, but he cannot abide, leading to horrific consequences. The quote “but I am a girl and no one hears me when I speak” highlights every woman’s fear in the family home, the workplace, with friends and lovers. We are reminded that we have not always had a voice and are sometimes still ignored regardless of the importance of what we have to say.
Another of my favourite stories in the collection is ‘The World’s More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand’, which explores human desire for cruelty and female voicelessness. The fact that the girl’s thoughts are confined to the footnotes highlights how women are taught to be unnoticeable from a young age. Imagine seeing something you know is wrong, but being told that it is not happening – this is a common fear amongst women with the societal attitudes towards rape being the way they are.
Logan experiments with structure in order to increase the effectivity of her stories, as seen in the aforementioned story. This playfulness with structure can also be seen in ‘Sleep Long, Sleep Tight, it is Best to Wake Up Late’, which consists of a questionnaire asking the subject, who is an insomniac, a series of increasingly uncomfortable questions about their inability to sleep. The questions included are reflective of the way rape victims are cross examined during the trials of their rapists – including victim blaming and the suggestion that it has somehow been brought upon themselves. Using society’s flawed logic, there are certain conditions that need to be met in order for rape to be considered rape and the psychological trauma that is caused is somehow not enough.
The strength of this collection is unmatched in contemporary literature and Logan surpasses the creativity of the typical horror legends, bringing a breath of fresh air to the genre that her predecessors would be in awe of. Step aside, Stephen King, it’s high time we had a queen for our horror throne. Unlike King, Logan gives women a realistic voice, voicing their fears, and providing a scathing comment on society.
Things We Say in the Dark is the first book I’ve read by Kirsty Logan, and I’m eagerly anticipating reading the rest of her bibliography as soon as reasonably possible. She is, without a doubt, one of the most skilled authors I’ve read from in recent years, and I cannot wait to explore more of what she has to offer. If you haven’t yet read this collection, I’d implore you to seek it out, especially if you are a connoisseur of the horror genre.