I love the idea of this, and I love the way it’s been edited, dividing the book into three distinct parts that reflect very much the most vital areas of England: Country, City and Coast. The seventeen stories in this collection cover a host of supernatural occurrences, embracing the diversity of the English experience. Most were very well thought out, even if the execution on some felt iffier than others. I’ll discuss a few standouts, beginning with The Headland Of Black Rock by Alison Littlewood, which was far and away my favorite of the bunch. It packs a lot of story into its few pages, of an aging celebrity who falls in love with a mute girl by the seaside, and satisfyingly covers a wide and complete-feeling gamut of emotions.
I also very much enjoyed Jeannette Ng’s We Regret To Inform You. It was a bit daunting at first, especially if you’re not terribly familiar with the Venerable Bede, but once you slip into the cadences of academia and grow comfortable with the alternate universe on display, the twist is quite impressive. Domestic Magic by Kirsty Logan was far more straightforward but felt beautifully constructed, and I loved the message of women’s love. Angela Readman’s Swimming With Horses was also a delight to read, if definitely one of the milder stories in this collection.
Of the stories that had great ideas but didn’t quite land with me, for one reason or another, a standout is James Miller’s Not All Right. The protagonist is a horrible person and Mr Miller eviscerates him and his ilk very adeptly — I just didn’t understand the what and why of the mishmash of supernatural goings-on around him. I feel like it’s a great idea for exploration in a longer novel, say. I also found Robert Shearman’s The Cocktail Party In Kensington Gets Out Of Hand to be memorable even if I didn’t like it so much as find it deeply discomfiting.
Overall, an entertaining collection of supernatural fiction that considers the many aspects of modern England whilst also incorporating its past. It wholly satisfied that part of me that loves to indulge in the occasional horror anthology.