Hugh Fleetwood’s 1978 collection The Beast is preceded this time with an interview, allowing you to familiarise yourself with whose mind you’re about to delve into. A collection of short stories, this takes the reader on a number of mini rollercoasters, bridging a clear gap between innocence and horror.
Through his stories there’s a distinct theme of innocence – be it the painter who creates beautiful landscapes, but without anything deeper or darker on the canvas; the innocent civilians accused of crimes as part of an assumed duty to the world; a young girl wanting to run away with her lover but finding herself trapped.
And then, it twists. By two or three stories in, the suspense is there that something should happen and still you wonder. This is the prowess of Fleetwood’s stories – they hook you in, and more often than not catch you off guard with its ending. It’s his own dark twist, with questions left floating around afterwords. What happened to her? Was he right? Did she do it?
Take A View of Love as a particular stand out – the character becomes consumed by watching young lovers. They make him happy after years of observing people he felt to be miscreants, and in turn his life gets better. His life is dictated by his obsession – when they leave, even for a little while, he is deflated – his life is a reflection of his own obsession. This innocence and joy becomes his new test – he believes a falsely levied accusation would be the ultimate test of their strength, and the result is surprisingly interesting.
These are little snapshots, and they completely hook you in. Suspense at its finest with a very strong theme across the board, and a sense of sacrifice, for oneself or for another. There’s little, if anything, to fault.