Review: Phantasy Moste Grotesk, by Felicity Dowker


(Corpulent Insanity Press, limited edition of 26 copies)

(Review first published on the Australian Specfic in Focus website, February 2009)

Felicity Dowker is a young Australian horror writer who, barely a year after first sending off her first work of short fiction, is already heralding the release of her first book. Phantasy Moste Grotesk is the inaugural offering from US small press publisher Corpulent Insanity’s line in limited-edition chapbooks, with an accent on the weird, the horrific, and (it seems) the downright blood-spattered.

I should, before cutting to the meat of this review, acknowledge that Dowker is a member of both the Specusphere reviewing team and the Andromeda Spaceways publishing co-op, both affiliations I also hold myself. But I believe it’s crucial to review any item impartially, and I’ll strive to do my best on that score.

Phantasy is a short work, its business done within thirty-odd pages. I’d judge it to be technically a novelette, but it may be merely a longish short story. Be that as it may, it’s fairly brutal stuff.

The story opens with a knock on the door. Josh expects a pizza delivery, but instead it’s a mysterious black-eyed boy, who insists that Josh let him in, to avert an unnamed disaster. Josh, instead, sends the kid packing; but, unnerved, places a pleading call to his long-suffering ex-lover Erin, who agrees to check in.

My expertise in the horror genre is limited, but it seems to me the most obvious parallel with earlier work would be Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. There’s a great deal of Bradbury’s carnival-and-calliope ambiance to Phantasy, though the horror here has, I think, a harder and more visceral edge. I’d also say that, where Dowker’s evocation of the ruined relationship between Josh and Erin is razor-sharp and haunting, her exploration of the Grand Guignol nightmare in which the pair become enmeshed is not uniformly successful. This, I think, is a matter of the macabre being laid out too plainly for the reader’s eyes. While the story certainly succeeds in presenting some intentionally grotesque images, these are sometimes too hastily introduced, and too hurriedly packed away, to be truly resonating. Nonetheless, Josh emerges as a memorably troubled (and troubling) individual, with a past that Dowker takes her time in dissecting. Ultimately, the story’s strength derives not from the dark carnival theatrics, but from the pervading sense of loss and harm that quietly pads along behind Josh and Erin while they walk into whatever fate awaits them.


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