Horror and humour don't always come together. In fact, far from it: we don't often want our horror to amuse us. But there are times when we do want the grotesque to spark a laugh-out-loud response. So I've chosen two books to review today that combine these elements successfully.
The Seance and Other Stories by IB Singer
Book name: The Séance and Other Stories
Author: IB Singer
Publisher: Farrah, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: 1970
Rating: Five out of five stars
This anthology of horror short stories has a wry tone to it that I really appreciated. That's probably because I'm fond of stories that combine horror with a bit of humour.
Writing about what you know always makes it more vivid and for IB Singer that means drawing upon his Jewish culture and heritage to provide a compelling portrait of the European life of his people.
It was very evident that this was almost all based on IB Singer's lived experience. Most of the stories in The Seance and Other Stories were written in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, but I felt they harkened back to altogether earlier times. They had a tone and feel altogether different to most twentieth-century fiction. I liked that.
There was a willingness in The Seance and Other Stories to deal with life's knotty issues head on that I found interesting, given that I'm English and as a nation we never approach anything directly if we can use euphemisms or allusions to hint about it instead.
Some of the portraits of women, especially older ones, were hilarious. In 'The Needle', Esther Rosa is seeking a bride for her son and when Itte Berish fails to reach her exacting standards, she picks another girl instead. Itte doesn't take it too well and the tragedy quickly ripens, but there's a sense behind this of IB Singer chuckling up his sleeve. We laugh with him, too.
Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti
Book name: Teatro Grottesco
Author: Thomas Ligotti
Publisher: Virgin Books
Publication Date: 2008
Rating: Five out of five
Another volume of short stories that combines horror and humour is Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti.
I just love Thomas Ligotti's work. He's a mischievous combination of Vladimir Nabokov and HP Lovecraft. And there aren't many writers you can say that about.
There's quite a hierarchy in weird fiction from HP Lovecraft down through the next generation such as Ramsey Campbell and then on to writers such as WH Pugmire and Thomas Ligotti. But the addition of playful irony and subtle humour gives Thomas Ligotti a voice all his own.
My favourite story by such a long way was 'Gas Station Carnivals'. I grew up around the time this story is set, and by the end of it I truly longed to believe that small amusements had been laid on by gas stations seeking to draw customers to buy petrol. If only it could be true.
Thank you for reading my reviews of The Seance and Other Stories by IB Singer and Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti. Since horror with humour isn't everyone's cup of tea, I haven't gone into too much detail. Both have free samples on Amazon for you to think about whether they are for you.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Ghosts.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.