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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: I Will Surround You

16th Feb, 2024

Author: Peter Tennant

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I Will Surround You is the third short story collection from Manchester based writer Conrad Williams. It was released by Undertow Publications in 2017 and contains fourteen stories, six of which I've reviewed on previous occasions and two of which are original to the collection. The collection is shown as SOLD OUT on the publisher's website, but you can still grab a used copy on Amazon UK.

Opening story "Manners" is a moody, evocative word portrait of somebody living off the grid and foraging for food, the kind of person that Ben Fogle visits. Williams deftly builds his story, taking us inside this person's mind, letting us see why he is as he is, and then pulls the carpet out from under our feet with a brilliantly understated ending, one which puts an entirely different interpretation on what has already taken place. For "Trash Polka" Williams appears to be channelling David Lynch, with the story's protagonist encountering an unusual tattooist and given access to a forbidding library. The story piles effect on top of effect, and creates in the reader's mind a feeling of unease that culminates in the final, climactic revelations of the narrative, but while I enjoyed the story, not least for the quality of the writing and striking imagery, ultimately I felt that it was a little too ambiguous.

Drifter Siddall finds himself back in his home town for "The Closure" and memories come flooding back, in particular of the incident that derailed his wish to be a surgeon. There's a terrible feeling of malaise hanging over this story, the sense that everything is in free fall, with the desolate urban landscape mirroring the protagonist's psyche, all of it leading up to the shock of what happened all those years ago, the thing Siddall cannot escape no matter how he tries. Photographer Tommy in "f/ 8" is struck by lightning while taking a shot, an incident that provides a full stop of a kind for his already unravelling life, but at the same time confers on him terrible knowledge. The revelation aspect of this story is routine, but what makes it special is the catalyst for this event, Williams' detailed description of the horrors of a lightning strike and the way in which Tommy's back story of marital failure is woven into the fabric of the tale.

Okay, time to shift into retrospective mode.

"The Jungle" I reviewed in Black Static #35 when it appeared as a chapbook from Nightjar Press*, and "The Devil's Interval" I reviewed in Black Static #47 when it appeared in The Spectral Book of Horror Stories at which time I had this to say - ''The Devil's Interval' by Conrad Williams is the tale of Fleckney, a hopeless guitar player who somehow finds inspiration from an outside source, with the strong suggestion that this is tipping over violently into other areas of his life. It is a compelling study of obsession and the cruelty of an uncaring world that doesn't understand how you feel, wishes only to mock and torment.' And "The Hag Stone" I reviewed in Black Static #48 when it appeared in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth - 'In 'The Hag Stone' by Conrad Williams an elderly man who stays at a wartime fort in the Channel Islands becomes drawn into the activities of the Deep Ones when a series of murders seems to lead right to his door. As ever with Williams the story is splendidly told, with details piling atop each other until character and reader alike cannot deny the obvious, while the wildness of the story's isolated location, its disconnect from the modern world, is powerfully realised on the page.'

In "Blizzard Crypt" Don is haunted by the death of his wife, a visit to an ancient cavern suggesting to him a way in which he can once again be with Julie, but things go horribly wrong. This is a ghost story of sorts, but more central to its theme is a razor sharp description of the effects of grief, the way in which it can unmoor the psyche and make the most fantastic things seem plausible. Adding yet further appeal to the story is Williams' description of Kayte's Cavern, its unworldly nature, and his depiction of the annoying and unaware but essentially good-natured supporting character Kerner. More retrospection with "The Offing" which I reviewed in Black Static #51 when it appeared in Terror Tales of the Ocean and I had this to say - 'In Conrad Williams' subtle tale 'The Offing' the girl child Fearne is fascinated by the sea and the objects that it throws up, but this plays counterpoint to her relationship with an alcoholic mother and absentee father. Strongly conveyed is the atmosphere of the rundown seaside town in which the action takes place, with an almost apocalyptic sense of dread mounting as the narrative progresses, so that we anticipate a great wave that will sweep it all away, the story culminating in a tsunami of blurred imagery.' "The Fox" I reviewed in Black Static #34 when it appeared as a chapbook from This Is Horror.*

Peggy takes grandson Billy on a trip to Manchester, but they end up in "Shaddertown". This is a story that captures perfectly our fear of all the things that can go wrong in the modern world, the feeling that the present is not as safe as the past, and despite Peggy's mocking of her daughter's over concern it turns out that her daughter was right. Yes, there's nostalgia here, but also a reminder that things were never as harmless as we remember them to be, that there were always monsters lurking in the background. Bar worker Eddie's on/off affair with the beautiful but strange Dervla is at the heart of "Raptors", which I'd characterise as a vampire story only it is so much more than that (and Dervla isn't a vampire). It brings to unsettling life the sense of strangeness that young love engenders, the doubts about the object of one's affection and ways in which this can sometimes get twisted into intense dislike. Eddie sees all the signs that there's something not right about Dervla, but chooses to ignore them, thinking with his cock rather than his mind, and the punishment for that is brutal.

Loner Salter, whose life was blighted by the death of his sister Mo in childhood, tries to get away from it all with a camping trip in "Cwtch", but of course things aren't that simple. It's a slow burn story that builds up to a shock ending, one that is all the more effective for being so understated. Finally we have "Rain" which I reviewed in Black Static #1 when it appeared as a stand alone novella from Gray Friar Press.*

I've long regarded Conrad Williams as one of the horror genre's finest prose stylists, and I Will Surround You only confirms me in that opinion. All of the stories in this collection are excellent, and several of them are among the very best that horror as a literary form has to offer.

*These three reviews are a bit too long to reproduce here, but if you want to read them then nip over to my personal blog at and you'll find links on the Book Review Index page.




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