First published in May of 2014, British author G.R. Yeates’ novella ‘Sevengraves’ marked the (eagerly-anticipated) return to misery-drenched horror fiction.

DLS Synopsis:

Nothing about Jim Hendrice’s life was particularly remarkable.  He lived in a small grubby flat, barely getting by each day on the meagre benefits he received for his unemployment.  And today he had to go through the grating ritual of stopping by the Job Centre to satisfy those holding the purse strings, to show so that he was doing all he could to seek employment.  He had to jump through their hoops, or he’d lose his benefits.  And so, after going through the motions of his morning rituals, and with a thick blanket of fog encompassing the cold streets outside, he took a bus and into the dreary centre of Sevengraves-on-Sea for his 11am appointment.

However, after waiting in the depressingly sparse Job Centre for half-an-hour, Hendrice finds that he is no longer on the list to receive benefits.  He was being cut off.  Understandably his temper rises.  But he knows he’s not in any way being threatening or overly angry.  Nevertheless, he’s asked to leave.  In fact, he’s pretty much thrown out of the Job Centre for what seems to be no good reason.  And now, out on the streets he realises he has nothing.  No money, nowhere to go, nothing to get by on.  He has absolutely no idea what he’s going to do now.

And then he sees the woman from the Job Centre who threw him out.  The woman who refused him his benefits.  And she’s lying on the cold pavement; the words guilty…guilty…guilty carved across the entirety of her body.  Jim tries to help her.  Tries to offer her some comfort in her pain.  And then it all changes.  And all of a sudden he’s the one who will undoubtedly appear to be responsible for this heinous murder and mutilation.  And he runs.

Now, wherever he goes, Jim Hendrice finds he is put in horrifically compromising situations.  If it’s just a nightmare he’s experiencing, then when will it end?  Perhaps he’s spiralling into a hopeless bit of insanity?  Or is what he’s seeing, all the terrible horrors he’s experiencing, actually real?  And if they’re all real, then why him?  Why is he being followed like this?  What has he done to deserve this unrelenting torment?  And how can he force an end it all?...

DLS Reviews:
Author G.R. Yeates’ horror offerings thus far have all included a deeply unnerving ‘nightmarish ambiguity’ to them.  Indeed, it’s hard to tell if what you’re reading is actually happening, if it’s simply one long nightmare, or if it’s the consequences of our deeply-disturbed protagonist’s crumbling sanity.  And ‘Sevengraves’ is certainly no exception.

Starting off, the reader begins on pretty solid ground, with the introduction of the principal character of James Hendrice.  Already the grimy, depressive atmosphere of someone who’s obviously down-on-life and experiencing plenty of day-to-day hardship begins to slowly smother the reader.  Outside his meagre flat, the generally depressive atmosphere continues – the thick fog coating the town adding further to the clinging creepiness.

And then Yeates starts throwing in the first of Jim’s strange (potential) hallucinations.  Figures that are seen lurching around the seaside town, with old teeth rotting in a grey mouths producing a recurring image that sends worrying tingles across your skin.  And then things start to go very, very bad for him.

All of a sudden it seems that Jim Hendrice is being stalked by someone or something.  Everything quickly gets out of his control – and before you know it, he’s potentially on the run from the authorities, with a dead body left bleeding on the cold street and the guilty stain of blood on his hands.

From here on Yeates delivers a strangely spiralling series of events that pushes the nightmarish turn of events into escalating degrees of horror.  Indeed, Yeates incorporates some pretty strong and notoriously taboo subject matters in the snowballing horror; with notions of underage sex, rape (male-on-male and gang rape by knife-wielding youths), violence, strong scenes of drug abuse, mutilation and murder.

So I think we can quite safely say that this isn’t exactly a piece of light-hearted feel-good reading.  Instead, it’s a story completely submerged in misery, in depression and bursts of sadistic violence.  It’s a nightmare sequence that seems to carry on and on; without even the briefest sign of any let up.

The writing itself utilises the author’s usual, highly evocative prose.  Similar in ways to a violent Hubert Selby Jr daydream, or a (ramped-up) Ramsey Campbell nightmare sequence, with a touch of a more sinister (slightly Lovecraftian) air to it; the novella is a veritable cacophony of unnerving imagery and unsettling weirdness.  It’s sometimes hard to favour a correlation to what you’re being confronted with and what is possibly taking place.  There are always those lingering thoughts of the potential reality behind it all.  Of what may twist itself into the story’s eventual outcome.  And how this has all continued to spiral so uncontrollably downwards.

Indeed, after a while the reader can begin to feel a deeply-unwanted connection with Hendrice’s terrible plight.  We’ve all been in situations that just keep going from bad to worse.  When life as a whole feels like it is out of our hands and it’s decent seems uncontrollable and gut-wrenchingly unstoppable.  Magnify that a thousand-fold and throw in one bastard of a bad trip, and you’d only be touching the surface of Hendrice’s harrowing turmoil.

However well-executed the guttural horror of the tale is, it still feels just that little too unresolved.  The ambiguity behind the unrelenting misery doesn’t ever really draw itself out from that foggy blanket.  Yes there’s an ending.  And Yeates does take the reader to a point where the cliff edge is presented for the reader to jump off of (really don’t expect to come away from the story feeling on top of the world).  But ultimately it doesn’t offer up enough to feel the snowballing hell had anything other than the simplicity of horror behind it.  Perhaps that’s the point?  Perhaps cruelty, perversion and self-destructive addiction are the inherent demons that are lurking behind the fragile flesh and blood that makes up us all?  If so, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, whatever your final take on the tale is.

The novella runs for a total of 63 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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