Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill

A review

This is not a novel, but a novel concept. ‘Wyrd’ is a word used in many fantasy stories and table-top fantasy games — there’s even a games company takes its name from the concept. In broad terms, it is a concept in Anglo-Saxon culture roughly corresponding to fate or personal destiny. In this, Nevill’s collection of stories, the word seems to suggest something larger, more cosmic. So, what is a ‘dereliction?’ In Nevill’s words, derelictions are ‘weird tales that tell of aftermaths and of new and liminal places. Each location has witnessed catastrophe, infernal visitations, or unearthly transformations. But across these landscapes of murder, genocide and invasion, crucial evidence remains. And it is the task of the reader to sift through ruin and ponder the residual enigma, to behold and wonder at the full horror that was visited upon mankind.’

The upshot of this unique approach is that, humans are absent — either totally, or in terms of them having been recently removed, usually in a horrifying manner. There is therefore no dialogue. The narrator is just a shadow, and is often akin to a drone bearing a camera, surveying these scenes through its impassive eye.

I received my copy of the collection as a signed hardback copy directly from Nevill’s own publishing house, Ritual Limited. As such it is a lush presentation, as described in my previous review of his last novel, The Reddening.’ Nevill has repeated in recent interviews how ‘no traditional publisher would have considered this type of collection for publication.’ In my view, this is much to their loss.

In terms of the narrative, Nevill’s gift of consummate prose poetry is exploited to the full. As such, the brief nature of the collection is sufficient and necessary. A novels-worth of this kind of story-telling would probably render it difficult for most readers to contemplate reading from beginning to end. Those familiar with Nevill’s writing will recognise this use of style when describing scenes of ultimate horror, atmospheric scenes in which he places his characters and allows them to live out their particular nightmares. Here, he removes the human element; although their imprint is there, it’s as if they have only recently been removed, shadows or ghosts of their existence still evident.

There now follows a story-by-story review/analysis which could be seen to contain spoilers if this was a conventional book, but I suspect won’t detract from reader’s appreciation of the pieces as my inspection is very much a personal response to the impact they had on me. I suspect this will be different for everyone falling into the spectrum of Nevill’s aficionados.

Hippocampus first appeared in ‘Hasty for the Dark’ and other collections, which I had read before. The scene is set with a ship of some size riding the heaving waves of a stormy ocean. The narrator describes the interior of the ship, where a scene of great trauma has just occurred. From the vivid descriptions, the reader has to piece together what has happened. This knowledge will lead them to predict what may occur in the immediate future once the story ends. Whatever the seeds of ruin have been, and how they will bear fruit paints a grim picture!

Wyrd begins with a description of scenery from a coastline habitat, no doubt culled from Nevill’s many peregrinations in his home county of Devon. A sinister atmosphere is painted with the author’s characteristic prose-poetry. Nevill’s choice of words masterfully describes a scene of sacrifice. The reader’s point of view is akin to that of a roving camera man (or drone perhaps.) As the scene unfolds, horror tightens the belly, and we are left in no doubt that an event of great upheaval has occurred here. If I could pick a fault, it might he that Nevill over explains the reason for this scene of carnage, but these are fine lines to tread; lines that divide the need to express weirdness and the concern that a description might leave the reader rudderless and without point of reference. A final footnote I would make is that this short dereliction is reminiscent of Nevill’s recent book, The Reddening. It evoked similar feelings of ancient evil and the desire of some people to connect with or appease it.

Turning the tide

Once more, the scene begins on the shore line. Nevill paints a rich tapestry of colour and shape to describe what would be a refreshing landscape of sea and coastline flora and fauna — if it weren’t for the presence of a four metre-wide shallow furrow that starts at the shoreline and extends landward, leaving signs of devastation in its path. And so the dread builds.

This story illustrates both Nevill’s great strength and — dare I say it — one minor bug bear. To illustrate how he uses lush language to immerse you in the scene, take this: ‘Closer, the trunks and branches of the trees are white where they are visible betwixt a rigging of bright ivy that pythons each trunk.’ Or, ‘At various junctures on this shaded path, the surface glistens like the tar is freshly poured. A dark, viscous liquid has spattered and been smeared by whatever was dragged across the stains.’

My bug bear is that the only intrusion in this unfolding of vivid narrative is the recurrence of the phrase ‘as if.’ It even appears in the first sentence. I don’t know if there is a grammatical term for it, but it seems to me to lie in the realm of simile, and – to my mind – the prose might benefit from moving this aspect of his descriptions more towards metaphor. It would open up a whole gamut of active verbs and pictures which he is so adept at using. I lost count of how many times ‘as if’ appeared in the story, but maybe this is just me. Who am I to criticise, eh? Like I say, not that big a deal, but the repetition of this phrase provided just a small hiccough to what is otherwise a masterful use of the English language.

Anyway, back to the story. The campsite scene adds extra horror for me as familiar items are described that remind me of camping trips and caravan holidays I went on in an earlier life. The fact that something has visited these tents and wreaked bloody havoc in early morning, just when you’re waking up and most vulnerable, evokes a particular dread.

Enlivened

I had to look up two words for this one. The first I had come across before, the second was completely new.

Dolmen – a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or ‘table.’

Vetiver – an essential oil ingredient with an ‘earthy’ fragrance.

Armed with this knowledge, I was able to appreciate better a scene described where something unspeakable has visited, or indeed (as we are to discover,) is in the process of visitation. Whatever it is leaves a wake of carnage. I start to wonder whether the beasts or entities alluded to in these stories have the same origin, or whether they are simply convergent evolution from a common primal ancestor. I also speculate whether there are connections between the derelictions and other works Nevill has written. Common threads emerge: ancient evil (or simply unfathomable alien consciousness); a sense that humans have reached out to these sources and reaped a fatal and savage reward; the notion that something has awoken that was best left buried or allowed to sleep.

The dereliction melds the ancient and the modern. The dolmen below ground speaks of ancient megalithic times, whereas the weird constructs that function as sacrificial pyres above ground are made from modern appliances and furniture. The same unspeakable force unifies these two expressions of worship and ritual. Nevill sculpts a highly original scene of disquiet through what initially seems to be an impersonal roving camera, yet in one paragraph we learn that the observer opens a suitcase. What is the nature of this observer? They seem impassive to the scenes that unfold before them. Is it the same observer in each story? So many questions arise and remain unanswered. The very meat and gristle of great short stories.

Monument begins with a description of what seems to be a burial mound or barrow of some sort. Our roving camera eye — or perhaps a more like ancient, impassive, arcane sentinel — moves out from underground and captures a ring of yew trees (wonderfully described.) Beyond this lies the grounds of a house, the construction of a swimming pool strangely halted. More bizarrely, there is a bonfire of possessions left smouldering. The construct is made from a curious mixture of household furniture and valuables. The story concludes with the observer (who bears no emotion or reaction to the scenes) looking beyond the house and taking in the further aftermath of horror.

In this respect, Monument seems to link with the last dereliction. Did the same entity visit this habitation before wreaking havoc on those in the previous story? If so, the tale functions almost as a prequel.

Low tide

Is another common theme occurring? That these stories or derelictions all relate to horrors released by the ocean? We shall see. The roving camera eye is free once more as the means by which another mystery of horrific proportions is revealed. This time the scene begins landward at a holiday park and gradually moves back down to the shoreline, gradually uncovering the death and destruction wrought; not by one single monstrous entity but by a multitude. This one appealed to me as one having a zoological background. Nevill describes a fauna of predatory invertebrates; all somehow deposited in areas of human habitation, all having contributed to these victim’s grisly end. So if you’re not familiar with sea squirts or cnidarians, then you might want to look up these creatures in an identification guide or consult wikipedia. Then again, you don’t need these sources to appreciate the horror unveiled by Nevill’s skilled pen. As the dereliction concludes, we receive suggestions of how this panorama of devastation might have occurred — just a suggestion, mind you. Enough to leave you sweating, your pulse racing at night as you recall the horrors of what you have just read.

Hold the World in My Arms for Three Days and All Will Be Changed.

The passive observer surveys another scene of devastation. This time it is a built-up area consisting of residential housing. The time is early morning. Absence of humans is evident, save for those too infirm or elderly to leave their homes. A mass evacuation? There is the suggestion of something oppressive pervading the whole community, as if imposed by something that has visited, something from above. We get the sense of following in the wake of the entity that caused this dereliction. We catch a brief glimpse of it, and Nevill’s description leaves us in no doubt that it is utterly strange, completely alien and quite probably ancient beyond our ken. The author continues to use dense, descriptive prose to evoke the horror of the scene. Not that the writing is inaccessible or impenetrable, simply that one has to read it slowly and deliberately to gain the best sense of the atmosphere.

As this is a long piece, the author (helpfully) splits it into sections. One such section is entitled Back to the Village. A nod to an Iron Maiden song, perhaps?

The final scenario focuses on an old people’s home. Here, we are chasing the shirt tails of whatever has caused this ‘event.’ There is an indication there might be several figures or entities, perhaps acting at the behest of the larger ‘being’, but this conclusion is not definite. Finally we gaze upon the ultimate cause of the visitation, and are astounded.

~ ~ ~

The concluding section of this book is a commentary by Nevill on the stories. I’m glad this was put at the end (unlike John Irving’s ‘World According to Garp’ which provided spoilers in his story notes right at the beginning!) It gives an insight into why the author embarked on these highly unusual and original stories. I wasn’t far from the mark when I described earlier how the pseudo-narrator of the stories offers a camera-eye view of the scenes. Nevill likens the collection to a gallery of photographs.I have found an approach to reading poetry where I don’t always try to appreciate or evaluate the exact literal meaning of the words and sentences. Rather, I liken the collection of words to music, where I read them in my head and allow them to conjure up images and emotions. I found a similar mind-set useful in reading these derelictions. Instead of taking a linear approach and unravelling the meaning in terms of act-consequence-conclusion, I simply allowed the descriptions to affect me. As such, maybe the author has helped engender or develop a new kind of reading. Given that he has approached the writing of these derelictions as an experiment, it perhaps behoves us to adopt a similar attitude in terms of our appreciation of them.

Click here for an in-depth interview with Adam Nevill at Kendall Reviews.

Adam Nevill’s website can be found here.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions can be purchased as a signed paperback here or from Amazon via this universal link.

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