M. John Harrison Returns to Explore Life's Bleak Underbelly

January, oh cruel mistress! Dark, windy, rainy, skint. Angry faces everywhere you turn. In short, a horror of a month, filled with nothing but ‘New Year, New Me’ mendacity. When faced with such distress, there is little choice but to find a book and bury yourself in it.

This tumultuous January, my book of choice was a new release from M. John Harrison, an author described as a ‘cartographer of the liminal’. In his first collection in over 15 years, Harrison has provided a plenteous compendium of more than forty short stories in You Should Come With Me Know.

In this collection, Harrison blurs the boundaries between horror and science fiction, fantasy and travel writing, and sketches characters who exist within a tumultuous frontier which is at once spatial and spiritual. Described as ‘the master of the New Wave’, Harrison has produced an unsettling body of work that offers up disturbing visions of contemporary Britain and an eerie commentary on our political landscape. Described as slippery and subversive, these are weird stories for weird times delivered with acute exactness and self-restraint.

Harrison is the author of eleven novels (including In Viriconium, The Course of the Heart and Light), as well as four previous short story collections, two graphic novels, and collaborations with Jane Johnson, writing as Gabriel King. He won the Boardman Tasker Award for Climbers (1989), the James Tiptree Jr Award for Light (2002) and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Nova Swing (2007). He reviews fiction for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, and lives in Shropshire.

“It looked fibrous but not woven…you were afraid if you pulled any harder, they might rip something else out of him, something he couldn’t do without”

Harrison manages to weave impossible narratives into tales which seem plausible, even reasonable, whether that is the arrival of Volsie, a manifestation of psychic piles, a madman who appears and disappears without warning in Keep Smiling (With Great Minutes), or an alien invasion of the iGhetti in The Crisis. These stories, coupling moments of horror and terror with everyday banality, showcase the strength of Harrison’s writing and his ability to conjure tales which defy expectation, as well as encouraging the reader to question the human cost of relentless scientific endeavour and the possible consequences of toying with forces we cannot understand.

Harrison’s fiction is delectably rich and macabre and defies conventionRelationships are a common theme for Harrison, who studies the messy intricacies of daily life and the subtle cruelties we inflict on those we love with forensic precision: “I can’t stand mess, she would tell us, meaning, I can’t stand the mess you’ve made of my life.” This black tenderness is the background hum in many of the stories here, from the sting of betrayal and sexual jealousy in Dog People to the ghostly remnants of marital violence in Animals. The harm we cause and the pain we suffer as a result of our romantic entanglements are explored with a melancholic interest and Harrison paints these relationships with visceral, jagged brushstrokes.

Escape is also a recurrent subject, be that a man choosing to escape into his loft in Cicisbeo, the paranoia experienced when trying to disentangle from a former lover in Not All Men or a detective tasked with finding those who disappear in The Good Detective. The need to escape, to create anew is palpable in many of Harrison’s stories, and the notion of re-birth, of re-invention is explored with searing clarity in Harrison’s distinct style: “The challenge is in the ones who go missing in their own lives. There’s less to know about those people. They live inside us.” 

Art, science, love, loathing, past, present and future all combine in Harrison’s tales of banality, suffering and transformation, creating a collection of work which is at once luminous and dark, compelling and peculiar. You Should Come With Me Now is a tantalisingly worrisome invitation to delve into the dark places we brush against, a murky reflection of the daily horrors we partake in and a chilling vision of the future.

If you like your fiction strange and unbridled, and are ready to explore the bleak underbelly of life then this is the collection for you. Harrison’s fiction is delectably rich and macabre and defies convention, perfect for those of you who like your reading dark and challenging.

This is a refreshingly weird collection of tales which defy classification. Harrison’s sparse yet vivid prose captures the imagination and draws readers into his disquieting vision of the world, prickling them and puncturing their comforting bubble of reality.

  • You Should Come With Me Now, written by M. John Harrison, is published by Comma Press and is available now

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