Compassionate and Beautiful, Pseudotooth is About Difference and Self-Acceptance
I am an unrepentantly morbid human being, with a macabre love for the weird, the gruesome and the odd. As a result of this rather sinister outlook I am drawn to tales which explore the darkly glinting perverse underbelly so rarely glimpsed in ‘popular’ fiction. In fact, the darker the tale and the more saturnine the protagonist the happier I am.
From classic genre tropes to freshly minted hybrids, all speculative fiction shares a desire to understand ourselves and the world we live in better. This craving for understanding is tangible in Pseudotooth which blurs the lines between dream, fiction and reality, to boldly tackle issues of trauma, social difference and our conflicting desires for purity and acceptance, asking questions about those whom society shuns, and why.
Verity Holloway was born in Gibraltar in 1986 and grew up following her Navy family around the world. She graduated from Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University with a First Class BA in Literature and Creative Writing and went on to earn a Distinction Masters in Literature. Her short stories and poems have been widely published, with her story 'Cremating Imelda' being nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2012 she published her first chapbook, Contraindications. Her novella, Beauty Secrets of The Martyrs, was released in 2015. Her first non-fiction book, The Mighty Healer: Thomas Holloway’s Patent Medicine Empire (Pen & Sword), a biography of her Victorian cousin who made his fortune with questionable remedies, was published in 2016.
“Hellish alchemy to conjure angels.”
Pseudotooth is a delicious slice of atmospheric brilliance filled with a cast of wicked, cruel and difficult characters led by Aisling, a young woman who is beset by inexplicable dissociative seizures. Abandoned by her self-centred flighty mother in a crumbling house unloved and forgotten in the Suffolk countryside, Aisling strives to understand the meaning behind these bouts of terrifying blankness. At first retreating into her copy of Blake’s poems, faded and blurred with the devotion of it’s reader, and her journal detailing the exploits of Feodor, a fiery tempest ready to watch the world burn, eventually she begins to explore. The reader is soon left questioning the reality of Feodor, a character who may be more real than Aisling thinks, and the mysterious origins of Our Friend, the author of the mysterious ramblings hidden away in the cellar.
“History is unkind to those who dance while the walls crack around them.”
Holloway has created a richly detailed, multi-layered plot which weaves together a number of thought provoking themes including mental health, sexuality and family. Aisling is a young woman alienated from those around her by their demonising of her mental health. At the cusp of sexual awakening she is beset by horrors and left to wither in a cold house whose walls run with the memories of a dark and wicked past. Surrounded by nothing but green and pleasant land, Aisling is at the mercy of her fanatically puritanical aunt, a character who would make Goody Proctor seem like a hedonist. As Aisling slides down a rabbit hole of secrets, strange books and hidden places within the house, the reader is left to question who is real and who may be a fever dream, to puzzle over the mysteries which lie beneath the dusty gloom of a country pile and to meditate on the motto that you aren’t paranoid if they really are out to get you.
“…scores of yellow molars had embedded themselves painlessly in the thin flesh of her temples.”
Holloway’s strength is an ability to conjure up such images of revolting brilliance that they haunt you long into the night. Moving effortlessly between tenderness and terror, Pseudotooth grips the reader from the first page and manages to maintain a linear, seamless plot despite interweaving the narratives of various characters, each with their own distinct voice and malignant power to seduce.
“That kind of love, it’s a weapon.”
Holloway has touched on a number of themes throughout Pseudotooth, with the most achingly real theme being the desire to be loved. In it we see Aisling, a confused and unloved girl thrown into a ghoulish unloved house. Without giving too much away, Aisling’s journey as fantastical and surreal as it may seem at times, does lead to love, by turn sweet and light but also bitter and obsessive. However, the most important relationship is the one she finds with herself; ultimately, Pseudotooth is a book about self-acceptance and the strength that comes from that, about a young girl becoming a woman and finding the ability to love herself despite the wider world’s harmful narrow-minded view of her.
This is a thought provoking look at the stigma surrounding mental health, our journey towards understanding and acceptance of who we are and an insightful critique about the cruelty we are capable of. If often unlovable characters, psychological uncertainty and shocking bursts of joyously vivid gruesomeness are your bag then Pseudotooth is the book for you.
Pseudotooth is a compassionate fever dream of a book and an achingly beautiful narrative about difference and self-acceptance. Holloway is a conjurer of the beautifully grotesque, an architect of the vivid, who’s writing is so lyrical and evocative it makes your teeth itch.
Pseudotooth, written by Verity Holloway and published by Unsung Stories is available now.
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