The Hollow Places: T. Kingfisher
Reviewed By Tarn Richardson
T. Kingfisher, also known as the writer Ursula Vernon, is an award-winning author and illustrator, with an impressive fan following and a real skill for writing effortless fiction. She has written literature for children, created Hugo award-winning graphic novel work and, through her pseudonym T. Kingfisher, has begun to write literature for older audiences.
With such an impressive history and repertoire, not to mention a gorgeous looking cover of her latest novel and not insignificant buzz about Kingfisher from both authors and critics alike, I was excited to have my first taste of what some are calling the ‘next big voice in horror fiction.’
The Hollow Places takes place in a museum of curiosities and a parallel world, discovered beyond the wall of one of the exhibit rooms. Recently divorced Carrot opts to move in with her Uncle Earl, in favour of returning back to her parents and, when Earl falls ill and is hospitalised, she remains behind to run his museum and begin to get the place into some sort of order by cataloguing the individual exhibits.
Whilst carrying out this work, peculiar things begin to occur within the museum, courtesy of an oversized stuffed otter, and suddenly our protagonist is thrust into a fast-paced, thrilling, humorous and sometimes horrifying adventure.
So far, so good.
When joined by her friend Simon, together they discover a magical portal to another world behind a thin wall of the museum, guarded by a concrete bunker and rusted door. Of course, everyone knows you never go through the rusted door, but you do in horror stories, with obviously disastrous results.
And it was when they went through that the problems started – and not just for them.
The novel is filled with nature and the environment, cleverly observed and shrewdly written (no surprise then that Kingfisher’s work often focuses on animals or put animals into lead roles), as well as a whole host of wisecracks and sometimes base humour, a warm childlike innocence and simple child’s folklore storyline. There’s also a whole avalanche of ‘fucks’, ‘shits’, ‘motherfuckers’, porn mags, horrific ghoulish beings in swamp water and terrifying willows which marshall the contours of this hellish parallel world.
And so maybe you see what my problem was? Whilst immaculately written, with all the deft skill and attention to detail one would expect from such a heralded talent, I just didn’t know who the intended target market was – but I knew it wasn’t for me. If for adults, the storyline was too reminiscent of a hundred other stories of magical kingdoms discovered beyond walls and too naively cast to be considered ‘adult’ material. To be fair, Kingfisher does constantly reference Narnia as the only way Carrot can describe her feelings when she breaks through into her alternative world, so she’s not trying to pull a fast one on the reader here. If The Hollow Places is for kids, the horror parts are too horrific, whilst the casual littering of swearwords throughout the novel gives it a grubby cheapened tone for young adults.
It was such a shame because I really enjoyed Kingfisher’s writing and her writing style. I have no hesitation in declaring Kingfisher to be a wonderful writer, gifted, observant, with a wonderful sense of pace and turn of phrase. However, with The Hollow Places, it left like a regurgitation of the same old parallel universe tropes, pitched to everyone and yet to no-one.
Of course, for all that, I am clearly the one in the wrong, because to date the book has received almost universal praise and love from readers and fellow authors alike. Which then to me prompts the question, is there something I am missing, or is love blind?
The Hollow Places
Carrot has moved into the Wonder Museum – an eclectic collection of taxidermy, shrunken heads, and Mystery Junk owned by her Uncle Earl. For Carrot, it’s not creepy at all: she grew up with it. What’s creepy is the corridor behind one of the museum walls. There’s just no space for a corridor there – or the concrete bunker, or the strange islands beyond the bunker’s doors, or the unseen things in the willow trees.
Carrot has stumbled into a horrifying world, and They are watching her. Strewn among the islands are the remains of Their meals – and Their experiments. And even if she manages to make it home, she can’t stop calling Them after her…
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