Things We Lost In The Fire

‘In the darkness, in among the barely visible vegetation, the fireflies shone. I hate when people call them lightning bugs; firefly is a beautiful word. Once, I caught a bunch of them in an empty mayonnaise jar, and I realised how ugly they really are, like cockroaches with wings. But they’ve been blessed with the purest possible justice. Still and grounded, they look like a pest, but when they fly and light up, they are the closest thing to magic, a portent of beauty and goodness.’

Spiderweb, Mariana Enriquez.

It would be easy to classify the stories in Mariana Enriquez’s collection as gothic, or horror. Ghosts and demons vie with haunted houses and ritual murder. A new father struggling with parenthood sees the spectre of a famous child-killer. A woman in a failed marriage longs for her husband to disappear. A recluse discusses his fascination with the dark web. And yet for all these familiar tropes, the atmosphere is grounded very much in literary realism. The horrors form the background to personal torments: family difficulties, failing marriages, teenage anxiety. It represents the gothic of everyday life, a rational horror, which explores the very real possibility that even, or especially, in an age of science and technology, the world is essentially unknowable, with terror and violence waiting for us at each step, and the capacity for strangeness never leaving our inner lives and dreams.

The day I finished the collection, I was travelling on the tube . I paused at the end of ‘The Neighbour’s Courtyard’ a particularly grisly story, which ends with a boy with filed teeth sitting on the main character’s bed. The morning had been grey and frantic, the sky closed like a lid as I made my journey to work. I’ve recently moved flat, and am still feeling my way into the daily routine; everything still has a capacity for strangeness. I noticed a young woman sitting opposite me. I felt I knew her from somewhere; she smiled when she saw me return to the book. I checked the photo on the back cover. The woman looked exactly like the author photo of Mariana Enriquez. The tube had pulled into Mansion House; when I looked up again, the woman had disappeared.

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