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How horror fiction is coping with climate change

And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related topics.

A receding glacier and the rocky terrain it has uncovered.
The shores of Lake Argentina, uncovered by the rapidly receding Upsala glacier on April 4, 2019 in the Los Glaciares National Park in Santa Cruz province, Argentina.
David Silverman/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Welcome to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of October 20, 2019.

What would happen is that Joyce’s bones would bring more tourists to a city that, were he alive today, he would still have to leave because he couldn’t afford to live in it. And what would furthermore happen, I may as well warn you now, is that I would personally dig up those bones in the dead of night, haul them into eternity along Sandymount strand, and heave them into the snot-green, scrotum-tightening sea.

Darkness and strangeness abound in children’s literature, as they should. Anything else would be a lie. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is propelled by characters’ fears, and by bodily transformation, and by threats of beheading, cultural misunderstandings, class anxieties, time itself stopped by the atrociousness of a poorly sung song, a muttering dormouse on the nod, a floating, grinning cat, a mock turtle with the head of a calf, flamingoes used as croquet mallets. It’s as if Bosch had painted it. But the unbridled and unselfconscious joy in children’s literature is also as it should be, and to write the world otherwise would be a lie.

To be fair, this is a gorgeous photograph — but there’s no denying that the look on her face is saying: yes, Spider, yes, here they come over the hill; slowly now, don’t make a sound, I don’t trust them, you know I don’t trust them, but either way, our new friend will soon be dead, and then we will feast, and the look on Spider’s face is saying: run, you fool, run. (NB: Highsmith’s favorite cat was actually named Spider.)

Yet the idea of a world in crisis is fundamental to horror, a genre historically devalued by the gatekeepers of high culture as, well, outlandish and unserious. Horror has always sought to amplify fear. It works against false comfort, complacency and euphemism, against attempts to repress or sanitize that which disturbs us. Inevitably, the climate crisis has given rise to a burgeoning horror subgenre: eco-horror. Eco-horror reworks horror in order to portray the damage done to the world by people, and the ways the world might damage or even destroy us in turn. In eco-horror, the “natural” world is both under threat and threatening.

Formality. Is that the key difference? Brooklyn would laugh at the suggestion, but to my eye both Brooklyn’s transplanted hipsters and its original natives appear — when compared with their London equivalents in Shoreditch or Harlesden — somehow more arch, more obviously stylised, more in costume, more like someone on TV. Which leads many to the argument that London fashion is, by definition, cooler, because being cool means not caring too much, or not looking too much as if you care, and with all respect to my adopted city, New York evidently cares a lot and all the time. On the other hand, never-not-caring can result, in New York, in the sort of avant-garde sensibility you see less of in London, especially among the very old.

“My belief is that whenever you go into somebody’s head — anyone’s head — it’s all insecurity,” he says. “It’s all doubt, it’s all reluctance, it’s all inhibition, shame, that’s all it is. There are sparks of desire that keep us interested in real life, but ultimately there’s something suffocating all of us.” That sense of instability and insecurity has an obvious root in his life story, and it finds its way into the lives of his characters, unlucky lovers included. “I live with that fear that in a minute,” he says, “everything could go away.”

The untrue truisms are slightly different only in the most minor way: the clichés spouted by genre writers about literary fiction tend to be ignorant and defensive; the clichés spouted by literary writers about genre fiction tend to be ignorant and snobbish. “Literary fiction is boring and entirely about college professors sleeping with their students!” “Genre fiction is unserious and entirely about dragons and spaceships! Pew pew, pew pew.” They are such tedious clichés, and ones performed in such bad faith, that all they tell me is that the offending thinker is more interested in victimhood or condescension than in reading good work or becoming a better writer. It is solipsistic, irritating, and the opposite of useful.

And here’s the week in books at Vox:

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