Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Gifts for the One Who Comes After

by Helen Marshall

Following her 2012 debut collection, Hair Side, Flesh Side (which won her a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer), Helen Marshall returns with 17 disquieting excursions into dark and darkly funny places. In the dimly lit venues of Marshall’s stories, love is as liable to cut as to cradle, childhood is a supernatural minefield, and death is “the slow undoing of beautiful things.”

Gifts for the One Who Comes After (Helen Marshall)Much of Gifts for the One Who Comes After concerns children and their tenuous, sometimes otherworldly comprehension of the world. “The Hanging Game” starts with an innocuous children’s game, only to transmogrify into a discomfiting analysis of the traditions we carry on our shoulders. “The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass” allows a boy to witness the past and discover where his parents’ marriage went wrong. “Supply Limited, Act Now” puts a working shrink-ray in the hands of eager teenagers desperate to escape the confines of their lives, fearful that “the world our parents have always been telling us about, the world of mistakes matter, the world of no more freebies, the world of ain’t just kids anymore was the world we were gonna be living in for the rest of our lives.”

Marshall exhibits a bracing refusal to play to expectations, taking left turns where others would travel a straight line. It’s one thing to make the strange appear familiar; Marshall’s true gift lies in the opposite direction, where what was familiar is warped beyond recognition. “Magic is about waiting,” Marshall writes, “it’s about letting the bad things happen. It’s about letting the children pass on to adults, and the mothers grieve, and the fathers lose their way, or find it.” A quirky interpretation of the term, but this marvellously unnerving collection lends credence to the definition. Gifts for the One Who Comes After, saturated with tales of omens and curses, is a gift for the one who comes looking