5 On a Theme: Queer Horror

queer horror

Representation of queer characters in horror fiction and film was often fraught with problems in the best case scenarios, or outrightly hostile at worst. But in the last decades especially LGBTIQ+ writers have taken on the genre and created complex engagements with horror and queer identity away from the doom and gloom of earlier phobic depictions in the mainstream. Adressing intersecting notions of the queer and horror, the normative and the Other, these works ask us to rethink where we draw lines and how we make rigid transformative and fluid identities.

let the right one in

1. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This Swedish vampire story has been adapted to the big screen and been a popular read. 12 year old Oskar’s new friend Eli is a strange one and she only comes out at night. Let The Right One In notably deals with issues of Othering, pederasty and adolescent sexuality as well as the performance of binary gender identity.


2. Affinity by Sarah Waters

One of my favorite authors, Sarah Waters continuously writes engaging, addictive page-turners with lesbian characters. Affinity, once again set in Victorian London, depicts a complex relationship between Selina a jailed occultist and charity worker Margaret who visits the prisoners of the women’s ward.


3. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

In the 1850s a young Black girl escapes from slavery and finds community in Gilda’s sisterhood of vampires. The Gilda Stories challenges notions of binary gender identity, sexuality and what it means to be a “monster.”

sea, swallow me

4. Sea, Swallow Me by Craig Laurance Gidney

This collection of short stories centers mostly around Black gay characters and combines horror with mythology from Africa to Japan. Reaching from the Antebellum South to the contemporary US, Gidney demonstrates how we are shaped by the intersections of faith,  race and sexuality. Just noticed that with the elements of mythology, fairy tales and the speculative, this could definitely be a good one for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

the drowning girl

5. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan

This one is about India Morgan Phelps, called Imps by her friends, and her attempts to make sense of her encounters with mythical creates and her family’s history of mental illness. Framed as a Imps’ recordings of these encounters, the book is a meta-heavy work of intertextuality hinted at by the book’s subtitle: a memoir. The Drowning Girl also examines issues of gender performance and transformation in Imps’ friend Abalyn who is a transwoman.

Looking for more themed reading? Take a look at my previous 5 On a Theme post: Afro-German Literature.

Do you enjoy horror stories? What are your favorite scary books beyond the norm?


Review: The Unit

Dystopian literature is one of my favorite genres, perhaps the favorite. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist was one I´ve been wanting to read for a while but somehow never got around to. I´m happy I found the German edition in my library (since it´s originally Swedish I thought it didn´t really matter if I read the English or the German translation).

The Unit is set in a society in which people are classed into two groups, those who are needed and those who are dispensable. Dorrit is a novelist, relatively poor, childless, not in a romantic relationship, and has just turned 50; therefore she has become dispensible, a burden on society. Dorrit is brought to the Unit, a place with every convenience (art galleries, a gym, a theatre etc), where she is among equals, and a place where she will be subjected to experiments and organ donation until her death.

The Unit takes the same approach as Ishiguro´s Never Let Me Go, and envisions a group of people as a biological resource that has to cater to the needs of the rest of the population. In this case it is women from 50 years on and men from 60 years on who have become dispensible and who are called on to contribute to the national economy instead of having to be supported by those who are needed. The focus of Holmqvist´s critique is as such more of an economic nature, her dystopia warns from regarding people only in terms of cost-benefit, their contribution to the economy, and thereby reducing them to numbers.

The main character Dorrit has to leave behind her house, her dog and end her affair with a younger married man when she turns fifty but adjusts very quickly and calmly to life in the unit. For the first time she finds herself surrounded by people like her and finds friends and love. She is not angry and not a heroine who tries to fight the system. Instead, Dorrit is quite happy, accepts her situation and can devote time to her writing. It took me a while to understand that Dorrit was not a fighter, that the system in The Unit has other ways than surveillance and violence to ensure that the dispensables accept their situation.

This dystopia is especially scary for me because I am a woman, because I´m not sure that I want to have children, because I am a humanities student, because I will most likely not have a career that will leave me well-off. In this dystpopia, independence makes dispensible. I don´t know a lot about the situation in Sweden, but with the apparently low birth rates in Western countries and the media and politicians trying to tell us that some nationalities will die out if female university graduates don´t start reproducing, I can see what makes a writer envision a dystopia as this.

This novel is (and I´m commenting on the translation here) well-written with a simplistic and sparse language. It evokes a very different atmosphere from Never Let Me Go, not as dreamy and beautiful, Holmqvist has a colder, sparer style.

There are some aspects about The Unit that I did not enjoy as much (Dorrit´s regard for gentlemenly behaviour and conservative love which is apparently looked at as a transgression, her joy at being lead (when dancing and in her relationship), and something unexpected that happens later but I can´t really spell it out without spoiling too much, I´ll just say that it felt out of place, especially with the rest of Holmqvist´s critique), but this is still a very good example of dystopian literature.

Some great passages (found them in English on the net):

It was more comfortable than I could have imagined. A room of my own with a bathroom, or rather a suite of my own, because there were two rooms: a bedroom and a living room with a kitchenette. It was light and spacious, furnished in a modern style and tastefully decorated in muted colors. True, the tiniest nook or cranny was monitored by cameras, and I would soon realize there were hidden microphones there too.

People who read books,” he went on, “tend to be dispensable. Extremely.

And life is capital. A capital that is to be divided fairly among the people in a way that promotes reproduction and growth, welfare and democracy. I am only a steward, taking care of my vital organs.

In here I can be myself, on every level, completely openly, without being rejected or mocked, and without the risk of not being taken seriously. I am not regarded as odd or as some kind of alien or some troublesome fifth wheel that people don’t know what to do with. Here I’m like everyone else. I fit in. I count.

Also reviewed by:

The Literary Stew

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I´ll add a link!

Review: Daisy Sisters

Henning Mankell is perhaps better known for his Wallander crime series, although he has written a couple of novels as well. One of these is Daisy Sisters, a story about 3 generations of women against the backdrop of Swedish history. The translation of this book was only recently released here in Germany, and has yet to be translated into English. I´ve been debating whether to post a review about this, as it is very likely that any of you will run out to get the Swedish or German edition (I don´t even know what other language editons there are), but as he´s quite the successful author I´m sure the English edition will be released sooner rather than later.

This is one of the very few books that I went into with completely false expectations. I was expecting a story about the Daisy Sisters,17 year old Elna and Vivian who take a biking trip in the summer of 1941, and in equal parts the stories of the other 2 generations of women in this family. Although the backcover description promises a saga of these three generations, most of the story follows Eivor, daughter of Daisy Sister Elna. I was initially disappointed because I had expected the focus to be on female friendships and Sweden in the 40s. Once I had gotten used to the actual plot, I enjoyed getting to know Eivor so well. The book jumps a couple of years with each chapter (and each chapter is more of a novella in length), but meeting up with Eivor every couple of years and see where and what she like now was very interesting. The saga starts out with Elna, happy because she finally meets her longtime penfriend Viv in person. On their trip however, she is raped by a soldier and gets pregnant with Eivor. The story then jumps to when Eivor is herself a teenager with hopes and aspirations. We meet with her off and on again until the 1980s, when she is nearly 40 years old, and has a teenaged daughter herself.

The novel is wonderfully written, in a simplistic but powerful style, but the story itself is unbelievably depressing. I liked the book, and am glad to have read it, but it wasn´t exactly fun. The backcover reveals nearly everything and the plot is not about suspense and twists, so I´m going to mention key events (stop reading now if you don´t like it!).

What happens over nearly 600 pages is that every time these women are on the brink to success or the first step in realizing their dreams, they get pregnant.  Then they make all the wrong decisions and they never manage to break free from their small and confining lives. The men in their lives are all more or less a curse, they exact their influence over Elna and Eivor through the children, through violence and rape, and through their position as breadwinners. Mankell is very successful in depicting the situations of these women, the influences in their lives, and what being a woman means in the worst of circumstances.

Daisy Sisters also dips heavily into social criticism. Elna and Eivor are surprisingly passive characters. They are from a working class family and experience the great times of war and and the ovement of the 60s and 70s, but they never show an interest in politics. They appear as weak and non-confrontational, especially when compared to their best friends who are self-confident and politically active. I often got frustrated over Elna and Eivor, they are not fighters, but at the same time this made them more real as persons.

No favorite passages this time, it´s two in the morning and I can´t be bothered to translate them. Also, I hope this review makes sense somehow, I´m not completely awake! 🙂