One of horror's favourite archetypes is the highly intelligent, articulate and cultured homicidal psychopath, yet most real acts of evil are committed for petty reasons, by people who are a little insecure and not very bright. Real characters with these properties are not popular because they are less engaging and more annoying, yet Mr. Valentine has created one we can absolutely enjoy spending time with. It's a first person narration from someone with little literary skill, but the character voice is consistent and engaging, and the slow drip feed of growing terrors is nastily effective.
It's called "You Walk the Pages", and was written by Mark Valentine, a writer I only know by name. Also quite short, this story is narrated by a clearly insane man who wishes to relate how he used the services of a gift website called youwalkthepages.com to get back at his enemies. The site -- which, if some version doesn't actually exist now, certainly will soon -- takes classic literature and replaces the names of the heroes with the names of whoever you want to give the gift to. So if someone wanted to get me a copy of Ulysses wherein I can read things like "Mr. Bill R. ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls", that's how you'd go about it. But our narrator has the idea to place his enemies in the position of victims in horror stories. The resulting private volume is Valentine's horror anthology. And I know what you're probably thinking about where this one's heading, but I'll go ahead and spoil it, sort of, by pointing out that no, these enemies do not suddenly drop dead. This is because our narrator is insane. He's delusional. He's never not those things, and the story doesn't try to fool us into thinking that what he believes might be true but might not be true -- it pretty obviously isn't, and the horror of "You Walk the Pages" is the horror of the narrator's madness. On this level, it is entirely successful. When describing one of his "enemies", an old man who takes up too much space at the library table, our narrator says: "I want to sit there and make notes, I only have a standard size notebook, I do not need much space, but it is all I can do to get a little patch of the desk because of all the space he has got with his papers. He does not even look up, he does not give any sign that he sees you, or that you might want some space as well, you might as well not be there. If he saw what books I was looking at and what i was writing in my book he might take a different attitude I believe." I also like the approach to the anthology idea here. While O'Driscoll's approach is as delightfull literal as you might expect when hearing the idea for The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, and Hughes's approach is to sort of not approach it at all, Valentine imagines something entirely new and unique and on point. Well done.
The title of this excellent story refers to an internet service which allows you to replace the name of a principal character from a famous book with your own, or that of a friend or family member- or perhaps, of someone you might consider to be your enemy. This captures the imagination of Mark Valentine’s colorful, obsessive and fastidious writer-narrator. ‘One day I sat in my room wondering what to think about, what should engage a man who is a thinker and a dreamer, who is able to have visions like I am.’ I won’t say more but that the narrator incorporates ideas concerning the magical properties of the Seven Wonders of the World into his narrative to great and chilling effect.
“You Walk the Pages” by Mark Valentine deals with a similarly autistic-seeming individual who uses horror stories as a way of getting back at people who offend him, like the lady in the chip shop, by substituting their names for the characters in the stories and making them suffer the same fate, or worse. It is the hilariously deadpan first person narrator that made the story work so well.
Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will appear in the comments below.
My own views: http://horroranthology.wordpress.com/editors-story-by-story-commentary/