Unceasing atmosphere: Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory
Mayhem & Death is a collection filled with sea, mystery, birds, darkness, and hints of light. It is made up of short pieces—many only a couple of pages long—and also a fantastic closing novella, Powdered Milk, which is atmospheric and very fitting to close the collection. Other highlights amongst the lyrical writing include: ‘The Inciting Incident’, which feels like a lens to view telling stories and what you do and don’t say; ‘Folk Noir’, which gives snippets of a countryside noir that makes you want more; ‘A Voice Spoke To Me At Night’, which features a mystery voice and has a strangely relatable narrator; and ‘Take Care, I Love You’, which is a hauntingly good poem about loneliness.
McClory’s collection makes me want to use the term “damp gothic”: it is suffused with an eerie sense of water and nature, whilst also being very much about people and the modern day. A lot of the stories have a kind of looming mystery, even (or indeed especially) the very short ones, many of which make you want to immediately go back and read them again, to take in the phrases and the atmosphere. There is a lot of strangeness and hints of unpredictable, but also somehow these pieces of writing feel very fitting for the contemporary world.
Mayhem & Death is the kind of collection you’ll want to give to writer friends and people who love lyrical and strange books. The shorter pieces create tiny atmospheres and stories in concise and clever ways and the novella Powdered Milk is difficult to stop reading as you find yourself drawn into a claustrophobic world.