The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
I originally started reading the ebook of Whiteley’s enticingly strange The Beauty on my phone to fill in time between sets at a gig. The gig ended up being a bit of a wash, and so I found myself spending more time in the horror-ticultural (I know, right?) world created than in the land of beer and recapture-your-youth music, which is not really how I’d envisioned my Saturday night panning out.
But then, it’s pretty hard for a band, however good, to compete against encroaching vegetation.
I know how that sounds. But really, you should read this novella. It’s short, and I don’t want to give too much away about it, but it’s really worth a look. It’s set in a sort of commune, and while some elements of the story are painstakingly illustrated, there’s a lot – mainly the outside world – that’s left intentionally vague. Something terrible has happened, and our band relies on a storyteller to keep things on an even keel.
There’s a sense of timelessness in the encampment. A sense of the stillness of loss. It feels as if the characters within are caught in webs of loosely associated solipsism, inescapable.
This is fitting, as the novella offers a fair bit of food for thought regarding relationships, and of the way genders interact.
In very strange ways. Sometimes it reads like an agricultural version of Freaky Friday, and sometimes it reads like a theoretical discourse heard from behind a veil. It’s certainly a unique tenor that’s on display, and it’s easy to see why Whiteley’s writing has earned such acclaim. I feel the strangeness of SF parsed through the everyday experience in the work, as one would find in something by Wyndham or Ballard, with all the uncanny tingling that that suggests.
It’s not subtle, in some parts, but it is thought-provoking, and utilises some instances of body-horror to illustrate the innate strangeness of the human form. People are fucking weird and the way we interact is even stranger. But it’s a rare book that makes you consider such ideas through a filter made from salad ingredients.
So yeah. It’s delicious. Dig in.