Household gizmos with a mind of their own.
Constant cold calls from unknown numbers.
And the creeping suspicion that none of this is real.
Reality, and Other Stories is a gathering of deliciously chilling entertainments – stories to be read as the evenings draw in and the days are haunted by all the ghastly schlock, uncanny technologies and absurd horrors of modern life.
I had my first taste of Reality, and Other Stories during Hay Festival’s wonderful digital Winter Weekend. While it was a shame not to be there in person, Hay put on some fantastic events, including a series in which authors including John Lanchester, Kate Summerscale, and Sarah Moss read from their work. The samples were read from vastly different books, but all followed a ghostly theme which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Lanchester read part of one of the stories – Coffin Liquor – in this collection of short stories and I had to buy a copy. Partly because I wanted to know what happened – so cruel to read only part of the tale! – but also because I was intrigued by the collection. Reality, and Other Stories features eight short horror stories but with a very modern twist. What connects them is that all relate to our increasing use of technology and the changes it has brought to our lives. It’s an unusual idea, but one that works brilliantly as Lanchester explores the horror genre whilst also highlighting the often impulsive use of technology. It sems so easy to relate something to Black Mirror – I do it more than I should, I think – and yet, that is what this collection brings to mind in places.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite from the collection of eight tales, but I particularly enjoyed:
Charity which sees a retired teacher using some of his free time working in a charity shop. He thinks little of selling a selfie stick to one of his former pupils, and yet it’s a transaction that proves to have more significant consequences than either of them anticipated. I felt that this tale touched upon the desire to capture the perfect image, through use of filters etc. – and that desire to portray perfection at any cost. It’s cleverly done and while not the most chilling in the collection, it’s one that I really enjoyed.
Signal is a more traditional ghost story that sees a couple and their children spending Christmas at a country house as a guest of their friend. When another guest begins to take an unhealthy interest in the children, the couple become understandably concerned… It’s difficult to say too much about this one without giving the game away, but it’s a relatively straightforward set up with an excellent twist.
The Kit – highlights our increasing dependence upon technology, to the point where the thought of undertaking some tasks manually is unthinkable. This idea is explored through the family of Jarlath and his four sons, whose device one day stops working (nothing’s built to last now, is it?) leaving them to a whole host of household chores – cooking, cleaning, laundry, tidying – to be undertaken. There’s an excellent twist in this tale which I didn’t see coming at all but absolutely loved.
While this is a collection that pokes fun at technology and our increasing dependence upon it, I don’t think it’s meant in the sense of disparaging those of us that use it. Rather, I think that it’s an intriguing collection that adds a modern edge to the traditional horror story, and maybe acts as a collection of cautionary tales regarding our (over) reliance on technology and some of the negative aspects it has introduced into our lives. Whether you take it as such or not, this is an excellent collection of tales for dark winter nights, and one that I highly recommend.