In horror fiction, there are varying shades of light and dark, not only within the genre as a whole but also within individual titles. Some books are inherently dark throughout their length, while others balance out the dark with a light and happy ending, and others such as The Grieving Stones from Gary McMahon lurk in shadows between the dark and light. Gary's previous work has, in the main had both feet firmly planted in the dark, he is not an author you should ever turn to if you are looking for a cosy horror story where the hero wins the damsel in distress and beats the bad guy. His books are a dark disquisition on the deepest and most honest facets of the human condition. His books have the power to rip out your heart and crush it on the page. His novel The End is one of only a select few books that have had the power to leave me in tears at the book's conclusion. The Grieving Stones is his latest novella and while it treads familiar McMahon shadowy avenues of the human condition it also breaks new ground regarding resolution and consequences.......
Recovering from the death of her partner Alice has joined a therapy group for grieving people, it is a group that she attends but never fully engages with, even here among those who have travelled a shared path she feels isolated and somewhat sidelined. When the group's councillor invites her to a weekend retreat where they will supplement the therapy sessions by doing up an old house as a means to get closer to each other and each other's pain she reluctant agrees to go along.
However, it is a house with a dark past, where the crimes of yesteryear are soon awakened and begin to impinge on the present day and lives of those staying at the Grief House.
The Grieving Stones is a beautiful melancholic discourse on the process of grief and the transformation process that a person goes through as they come to terms with the loss of a loved one. McMahon's measured and sparse prose carries the emotions that Alice feels with an elegance not seen in a lot of modern horror fiction.
The mixing of standard tropes such as witches and spiritual animal avatars with more original objects of supernatural portents, such as the brilliant use of an old sparring dummy is inspired, and the presence of the "backward facing girl" makes for a chilling encounter with the ghost of the past.
While this is a dark and brooding tale, there is a, for want of a better phrase, a lightness to the dark. Don't expect a happy ever after ending, but there is a gloomy, pessimistic sense of joy at the stories conclusion, a sort of personal schadenfreude for Alice.
The Grieving Stones is a powerful novel that deals with some heavy and personal subjects in a sympathetic manner that can come only come from an author who has a deep rooted sense of empathy. McMahon has fined tuned his unique narrative voice into a bewitching tale supernatural redemption.