Seeing Things: Sonora Taylor
Reviewed By Tarn Richardson
“Language is wine upon the lips.” So said Virginia Woolf, apparently to her husband over a bottle of Blue Nun one evening. Now, I doubt the last part of that story, but I reckon she was pretty much spot on with the rest of her thinking. It might be cliche to compare what we put into our stomachs to what we put in our brains, but seeing as a glass of wine and a good book complement each other as well as basements and ghosts, I’m sticking with it.
And I’m even more encouraged to stick with it having just read Seeing Things by Sorona Taylor, a spiky, rapid little novel, which you can read in an afternoon, or over half a bottle of something cold.
Sorona Taylor is a prolific writer, one who writes with gusto, tempo and a devil-may-care attitude, embracing the ghoulishness of Edgar Allan Poe and modern gothic of Shirley Jackson. She has a popular following and is regarded as ‘leading light’ in the dark of contemporary horror writers. On Seeing Things, Taylor writes with purpose, focus and speed, disregarding back story and character in pursuit of plot and storytelling, pulling in the classic horror/genre hooks of The Sixth Sense, The Shining and Eighth Grade, with a coming of age horror mash-up which, on the back cover synopsis, ticks so many of the boxes.
Following the exploits of Abby Gillman, a thirteen-year-old girl with the penchant for seeing dead people, she finds herself carted off to her down-on-his-luck uncle for the summer, spending her time reading books, eating pizza and discovering dead people in the cellar. All in a day’s work for a girl who recently discovered a dead girl in her school locker.
Returning to the analogy of language and wine and why it fits well with Taylor’s novel, Seeing Things is a novel which has all the fruity notes and potential aftertaste of a cracking read, but disappointingly suggests it might have benefited from another year in the barrel.
The book is chock full of inventive scenes, bloody interludes and snappy dialogue, all of which unfortunately add up to the lesser of their parts. The simple reason the novel fails to flourish, at least for me, is because it’s over too quick. The wine (read ‘story’) just hasn’t been given the opportunity to breathe. It’s turned out too thin, when it has the potential be a full-bodied vintage.
Taylor has clearly decided on writing a novel which is as direct and to the point as the serif on her type. There’s scant time spent setting scenes, characters are delivered with little or no history and even less personality, all of which contribute to a shallow and frustrating read. Because so little is offered in terms of characterisation, you struggle to feel empathy for any of the players in the book. Events seem to occur in a manner which are not all together believable, as if Taylor had plotted the route she wished to steer through the novel and hoped, or expected, her readers to tag along without any questions. The problem with this is that some of the events presented are monumental in the life of the characters (such as Gillman suddenly being able to see dead people), but they are glossed over, little time invested in description, prose or interrogation by the writer to give these events the gravitas they need and, consequently, would be so much more authentic and better for. As a result, what could be a rollicking, unsettling read turns into something which feels implausible and rushed.
Seeing Things feels like a solid first draft, which needs putting into a drawer for three months, then returning to pick through, expand, enhance and extrapolate out into something that really gets under your skin.
It’s a shame because, like I said, there’s the germ of a terrific story here which, if coaxed out into 300 or 400 pages, could have become a classic. Unfortunately, we’re left with a 100-page sprint through a series of scenes and ideas which don’t just do the reader a disservice but, primarily, does Taylor a disservice; a writer who is capable of doing so much more.
For all this, I suspect that many readers of horror and darker fiction, who enjoy pacy books where you just park your brains and embrace the fantasy, will enjoy devouring Seeing Things in a few short hours, before moving onto their next literary conquest and adding one more to their ‘books read’ quota for the year. And perhaps this is the point, and beauty, of literature. That it comes in all colours, varieties and strengths, full-bodied weighty brews, as well as lighter tomes to stanch your blood-lust. And, as poet and translator for Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, once said, “High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”
Abby Gillman has discovered that with growing up, there comes a lot of blood. But nothing prepares her for the trail of blood she sees in the hallway after class – or the ghost she finds crammed inside an abandoned locker.
No one believes Abby, of course. She’s only seeing things. As much as Abby wants to be believed, what she wants more is to know why she can suddenly see the dead. Unfortunately, they won’t tell her. In fact, none of them will speak to her. At all.
Abby leaves for her annual summer visit to her uncle’s house with tons of questions. The visit will give her answers the ghosts won’t – but she may not like what she finds out.
Tarn Richardson was brought up a fan of fantasy and horror, in a remote house, rumoured to be haunted, near Taunton, Somerset. He is the author of THE DARKEST HAND series, published by Duckworth Overlook in 2015-2017 and republished by RedDoor in 2019. Comprising of THE DAMNED, THE FALLEN, THE RISEN, and free eBook prequel THE HUNTED, the books tell the epic story of Inquisitor Poldek Tacit, battling the forces of evil to the backdrop of World War One. He has also written the novels, RIPPED, and THE VILLAGE IN THE WOODS, to be published in 2020 and 2021. He lives near Salisbury with this wife, the portraiture artist Caroline Richardson, and their two sons.
Official Website www.tarnrichardson.co.uk