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Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker from @angryrobotbooks #BookReview #horror #psychological

Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker

Angry Robot, paperback, £9.99

Reviewed by Stephen Frame

The front cover for Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker. The front cover has a person's face in the middle. The face is separating into slices and smoke is coming out from the gaps in the face.

Mothtown is billed as a story blending horror and literary fiction. It certainly sits comfortably in the literary genre, but its horror credentials are less certain. If your taste in horror runs to supernatural goings-on or pages dipped in a lot (or a little) crimson, Mothtown might not be a good pick. It is an unsettling story, but horror might be pushing it a touch. It feels more like a psychological drama, where the protagonist, David, deals with the disappearance of his beloved grandfather. There is a science fiction element to this, as David believes his grandfather, a researcher into multi-verse theory, has journeyed to another universe. As the story unfolds, it is revealed this has happened and is happening to many people. There may even be a secretive organisation which helps people escape in this way. There are so many disappearances it has become a national issue and is described as ‘The Modern Problem’.

Through all of this, David battles to trace his grandfather’s steps. Most of this battle is with his family, who see David as lost in grief. David’s character comes across as either neuro-diverse, having mental health problems or possibly both. It’s never made clear in the narrative, as it switches between David as a boy and David as a young man on the quest to find his grandfather.

As expected from a literary novel, there is a good deal of description and a strong focus on David’s character. The drama comes initially from David’s efforts to get to the truth behind his grandfather’s disappearance, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that David himself is having a crisis, as his behaviour becomes ever more erratic in the lead-up to the climax.

Mothtown is an interesting, if slow-burn read. It does a good job of capturing the themes of loss and loneliness. It has an eerie, sometimes hallucinatory quality to it, as it describes events going on all around, which might be threatening but are never quite clear or understood. It’s worth taking the time over if literary fiction is where your tastes lie.

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