Monday, November 4, 2019

Evil Roots: KillerTales of the Botanical Gothic edited by Daisy Butcher

This has to be a contender for personal favourite book title - everything about it appeals to me, and it turned out to be the perfect book to read over Halloween. I love a good collection of short stories at anytime, appreciate them even more in times of stress (last week was the last customer facing week at work, the next couple of days are the clear out and clean up then I’m done), and this collection lived up to the promise of the title.

I found Mellisa Edmundson’s ‘Women’s Weird’ genuinely unsettling - it was definitely a book that had me looking over my shoulder, ‘Evil Roots’ not so much. Maybe this is because I don’t know any mad scientists, or own a flesh eating plant. Or possibly because I already have a healthy suspicion of plant life (is it poisonous, will it scratch me, is a branch going to fall off it as I’m walking past, will that creeper damage the brickwork, will that seaweed drown me*, am I going to be sent out for interminable hours to cut it down**) born of a country childhood and a love of gardening.

Anyway. There are a trio of stories here that really stood out - M. R. James’ The Ash Tree’ which is the sort of class act you would expect from James. Abraham Merritt’s The Woman of the Wood which nicely picks up on the eerie quality trees can have, and Edith Nesbit’s ‘The Pavillion’. The Pavilion is a genius bit of storytelling.

There are a few flesh eating plants that get out of hand which not only illustrate the Victorian unease with scientific advances, but are an interesting parallel with current debates about GM crops - the fear is just the same. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Giant Wisteria’ is here too - I wish I admired this more than I do, but it’s fun to compare it with Ambrose Bierce’s ‘A Vine on a House’ - or maybe pair is a better word.

Essentially these are family friendly weird tales, the sort that are as likely to make you laugh as shudder, and where you can sit in dim lighting without assuming something is coming to get you (maybe not next to any plants though). Daisy Butcher has done a splendid job of finding ‘the very best tales from the undergrowth of Gothic fiction’, it’s a collection that’s fun to read, gives food for thought, and has some real gems in it.

*There’s a long stringy weed that we called Drewie lines when I was a child, we were told it would wrap round your legs and drown you if you swam through it, though in truth the actual temperature of the sea was the most effective deterrent to wild swimming. It is however a nasty weed to get tangled around a propeller, or oars, and it still gives me the horrors.

** My father has a vendetta against thistles, they continue to win the battle.

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