Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes This may be a somewhat controversial view, but here goes…

For months before this book’s release I had excitedly followed the hype on Twitter, and I grabbed my copy as soon as it was out in our local Waterstones, chatting with the cashier about how great it was supposed to be. I think that was problem number one. It was too hyped up, and I started reading it with impossibly high expectations.

Of course, all the hype was about the final twist, that Twitter hashtag of #WTFthatending. And that, I think, was problem number two. Rather than immersing myself openly into the book and its characters, I spent the whole time looking for clues, trying to figure it out, to be one step ahead. I kept the whole thing, untrustingly, at arms length, and found myself not caring about the characters at all.

My third problem was that it was written by Sarah Pinborough, one of my favourite authors. I so wanted it to be another The Death House, which had me sobbing at the end, or 13 Minutes, that I read in just a few days. But it wasn’t.

I hate giving this just 3 stars, but it left me unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and, frankly, a little angry that it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. I didn’t like the final twist, and the very ending annoyed me immensely.

But I don’t think it was all the book’s fault. I wanted too much from it. It was over hyped and failed to live up to its marketing.


Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies Vlog

Hopefully my blog won’t think I’m cheating on it, but here’s a quick vlog in which I promo the Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies anthology, and read an excerpt from my story, Order Up. I also recommend my current favourite book. All while looking pretty dumb. Seriously, does anyone like watching a recording of themselves?!


Edge-Lit 4 Roundup

Sunny With a Chance of ZombiesThe Book Launch

Yesterday, I was at Edge-Lit; Derby’s annual (well, soon to be bi-annual) speculative fiction convention. Packed full of panel discussions, workshops, and book launches and sales.

I was there, once again, with KnightWatch Press, and this year we were launching the Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies anthology. The launch was for several of the press’ anthologies: Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies of course, along with Chip Shop Horrors, Killer Bees from Outer Space, and Nice Day for a Picnic. Yes, KnightWatch are not your typical horror publisher! There was also a reading by Terry Jackman, from her novel Ashamet, Desert Born. The launch was fantastic, and had a really good turn-out.


And, of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without a real-life (albeit undead) zombie, and some brain cakes. Well, it goes without saying, right? And, despite shaking like a leaf, my book reading went very well. In fact, it couldn’t have really gone any better (wink, wink. More on that another day.)

So, a huge thanks to KnightWatch Press, to Theresa Derwin and Steve Shaw, and the wonderful Dion Winton-Polak, editor of Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies. Also, my fellow Sunny reader on the day, Louise Maskill, whose story Run, Rabbit is also in the book. And of course, a massive thank you to Alex Davis and the whole Edge-Lit team.

So, the launch was great; we ate cake, we conquered our fears, we signed books, and we made new friends. Here’s to the next one!

The Panels

While the book launch kept me tied up for some of the day, I did manage to make it along to a number of panel discussions. I love this part of the convention, and I eagerly sit there, with pen and notebook, ready to grab useful hints, tips, insights, and soundbites.

The first panel, Into the Grimdark, featured authors Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gav Thorpe, and Sophie Sparham, plus Adele Wearing of Fox Spirit Books. It was a really interesting discussion about the elements and tone of grimdark fiction, and its place and future in the world of literature.

Adele Wearing pointed out that “Writers can’t help but respond to the world around them”, that the choice is to “either go in with escapism, and the lighter strands, or you reflect what’s really going on.” She added that “there is a mood for more flawed, everyday heroes, without the heroic persona.”

They all agreed that the genre is evolving, that it’s becoming something more playful, and satirical. Despite that, Adrian Tchaikovsky noted that “it is easier to write stories where everything’s horrible, because the conflict is given to you on a plate.”

The Looking Back panel discussed how much history is required in fantasy fiction, and it reiterated some of the points raised in the grimdark panel. This one featured authors Stephen Deas, Freda Warrington, Joanne Harris, Tom Lloyd, and Angus Watson.

Freda Warrington stated that “it’s almost impossible to write a book without history”, and, indeed, neither the panel nor the audience could think of an example. Joanne Harris went on to say that both stories and history—words that, in many languages, are almost identical—are a “shared narrative of being a human being, and the planet, and the cultures that we all come from”, that “they are entirely the product of their creator, who is entirely a product of their own time”.

They also discussed how historical accounts can’t be trusted, because they are written from particular perspectives, often embellished, twisted and changed over time. There are also huge gaps in our knowledge and evidence of the past. Joanne Harris pointed out that “history is as speculative as science fiction”.

The Death House signed by Sarah PinboroughThe third panel I attended, Monstrous Regiments, looked at the monster in horror fiction. It featured authors Adam Nevill, Sarah Pinborough, Mark Morris, and Alison Littlewood.

Such a panel couldn’t have avoided a debate on the zombie trend, and Alison Littlewood pointed out that their appeal was because “they’re not just zombies, they’re actually us. There’s an emotional connection”. Adam Nevill added that readers enjoyed “the fantasy of being a survivor”. But Sarah Pinborough personally found “much more emotional resonance” in ghost stories.

But there was clear agreement that readers didn’t want the old tropes and cliches, with Mark Morris concluding that they want “something different and new”.

All in all, another set of great panel discussions, and I only wish I could have attended more of them. Still, there’s always next year…


Review: The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

The Death HouseThere are very few books that have made it onto the list of books that have made me cry. But this one did. There’s no doubt about that.

Here’s how I reviewed it on Goodreads:

How can I possibly review this book? Five stars simply aren’t enough. The story, the characters, they creep into you so quietly, so deftly, you’ll barely notice it until you’re rooting for them, fearful for them, championing them. This book had me in tears before the end, and as the pages counted down to the climax, I could barely sit still. I wanted to pace the floor while I read it. And the ending? It’s nothing short of perfect. No book has made me cry so much. I sobbed through the last few pages. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and somehow triumphantly optimistic. This is going to take some time to recover from.

And it will take time to recover from. In fact, I may never. I think this might be one of those books.

The ending. Oh, the ending. I wasn’t prepared for it, not for a moment, but when it happened, so unexpectedly, I realised it was the only possible ending. The only one that made sense. The only way it could ever end.

When I finished, I clutched it as I dried my tears, laughed at something on the TV, and tried to readjust back to everyday life. I placed it on the sofa next to me, and knew I couldn’t just leave it there. I had to tell someone. So I phoned my sister and told her she had to read it, and all the while, the tears caught in my throat. Never, ever has a book made me cry simply by thinking about it. I told her she’ll sob her heart out. (She made me watch Shooting Dogs which made me cry for an hour afterwards. An hour. So this will be my payback.)

Don’t be put off by the title. This isn’t a horror, it’s not a ghost story, or a dark thriller. This is a coming-of-age story, and a beautiful one.