A Woman Built By Man: Edited By S.H. Cooper & Elle Turpitt
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Some horror anthologies are best taken slowly, savouring one story at a time for maximum enjoyment. A Woman Built By Man deserves a similar approach, but for an entirely different reason. This is an emotional sledgehammer of an anthology; powerful and heavy. It’s absolutely unrelenting in terms of horror and raw honesty. Never have I been so glad of a content warning section, because this devastating book never lets up, and if you go in entirely cold, without a handle on just how affecting these stories can be, you’re a braver soul than me.
The theme of the anthology is right there in the title – what does it mean to be a woman built by man – but not taken literally by every author; this isn’t a book full of Frankenstein knock-offs. The women across these 21 short stories are either built up or beaten down by the men in their life, whether emotionally or physically. And while there are stories of redemption and catharsis, there are also plenty where nobody truly wins, least of all the women who have to suffer assault, neglect, abuse, manipulation, misogyny and more.
It’s no exaggeration when I say that I struggled with this book, which is why I was glad of the aforementioned content warnings. I went in cold before scanning that section, and hit a brick wall after being completely torn apart emotionally by Lilyn George’s She Asked for It, which is as upsetting as the title suggests. This is not a book to go into expecting a bunch of happy endings, nor is it one where you should expect a sugar-coated version of reality at every turn. Any hope is hard-won; any semblance of freedom reduced to a fantasy for many of the characters. As such, when there is victory, it’s immensely satisfying to read about, though often bittersweet.
These are tales that shine a harsh light on reality, whether they do that with a supernatural twist or not. The undead stalker in Lindz McLeoad’s Youngblood, for example, serves as a terrifying reminder of how much being stalked stays with you through your life. Elsewhere there are women who are prisoners either in their own home or outside of it, sealed away from others, expected to serve, trapped. There are disbelieving smirks, desperate attempts to cling on to relationships run ragged, all the things you know are happening right now to some women, and as such every story cuts deep, especially those where the male characters seem emboldened by religion or their own misguided sense of superiority.
The quality of writing is consistently strong across the board; there were only a couple of stories which I didn’t really gel with, but nothing that would make me shy away from buying a copy. That said, it would be a difficult book to revisit, seeing as the often gruelling scenarios and numerous downbeat endings will be haunting me for a long while anyway. As challenging as you might find these stories to be, it’s a vital read, an anthology that grips you from the first page to the last, and refuses to let go once you’re done.
A Woman Built By Man
A Woman Built By Man is a collage of 21 horror tales that seek to crawl under the skin and deconstruct the many ways women are built up and broken down by a patriarchal society. And the many ways they’re finally saying, “Enough.”
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.