Almost a year ago, on our way back from Iceland, we met a lovely couple whose names I won’t mention for fear of embarrassing them. But Ruth (Christian name should be sufficiently anonymous) had just finished a book, and rather than take it home with her, gave it me because she thought I might like it.
I could see from the start that I almost certainly would, but at home I had a TBR pile of books a mile high and so ‘Beyond Black’ was placed, not quite, but fairly near the bottom of the pile.
A week ago I began reading it and was transported to a particularly seedy lower middle class culture, its leading protagonist, Alison, with even darker roots than that. Alison is a genuine clairvoyant, her gift more a curse than a blessing. She has a spirit guide called Morris along with his even less savoury friends, lowlife who had damaged her badly, very badly, as a child.
Explaining to her spiritually arid companion, Colette, on a car journey home, Alison describes her curse, and why other clairvoyants are more buoyant and positive than her:
“But you see, Colette, some people . . . manage to have lovely thoughts. They have thoughts that are packed inside their heads like the chocolates in an Easter egg. They can pick out any one, and it’s just as sweet as the next.”
The lights changed as they shot forward. “What?” Colette said.
“But other people’s heads in the inside, the content is all mixed up and it’s gone putrid. They’ve gone rotten inside from thinking about things, things that the other sort of people never have to think about. And if you have low, rotten thoughts, not only do you get surrounded by low entities, but they start to be attracted, you see, like flies around the dustbin, and they start laying eggs in you and breeding. . . . And so when you have certain thoughts – thoughts you can’t help – these sorts of spirits come rushing round. And you can’t dislodge them. Not unless you could get the inside of your head hoovered out.” And so Alison is haunted, literally, by a past that she’ll never escape.
And this is the beauty of the book. It’s a book far removed from the horror of King or the more traditional gothic novel. It's the horror of the mundane, if you like. The book is replete with ghosts, ghosts as commonplace as cigarette butts or discarded fast-food packaging, and made real because of that fact. In this respect, despite the veins of sly humour throughout, Beyond Black is as much a profound character study as anything horrific, and the over all air is one of quiet tragedy.