Tuesday, 14 March 2017

''The Other Tenant'

The second story in Mark Samuels' collection Written in Darkness is very different to the first. Or at least, that's the initial impression. However, a few pages into 'The Other Tenant' is seemed clear to me that it was in many ways a pendant or thematic sequel to the first story.

The tale is simple enough, and might be an example of 'miserablist' sub-genre of British horror that emerged in the Nineties. A man with a chronic, mysterious illness is forced to give up work and moves into a new flat. His neighbour plays the television too loud and seems to watch a never-ending stream of horror films, judging by the sound tracks coming through the wall. When he complains the protagonist is told that the flat next door is in fact empty...

So far, so simple. But the backstory of the invalid Zachary echoes some of the themes of 'A Call to Greatness'.This is another story about the decline of the West. Zachary is left-wing in his views, and an atheist, despising the idea of the soul. Samuels hints strongly that this is the reason why his illness defies medical analysis, because it is spiritual in nature. 'His intrinsic bitterness had been too apparent, even to those who were ideologically in sympathy with him', so he has no friends and is not loved.

The Grand Guignol conclusion when Zachary breaks into the flat next door is a revelation of his own private hell. Conventional in form if not in feel, this tale even ends with another tenant moving into Zachary's flat. Yet again, the telly next door comes 'blaring through the wall'. A bleak take on modernity, then, but all the more convincing for that.

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