Tade Thompson, The Murders of Molly Southbourne, Tor, 2017.
I had been very impressed by Rosewater, Thompson's previous novel (1), so I had to read this new story. Nonetheless, I was a bit wary of reading this novella that Tor, the publisher, presented as horror. It turns out that, yes, there is gore. But it's not so much the gore than the very dramatic story that makes it so striking.
A woman wakes up. She has been beaten up, chained and she has no idea why. Another woman steps into the room and begins to tell her her story : her name is Molly Southbourne, and since she was born, everytime she bleeds, a new Molly is born from her blood and tries to kill her.
The Murders of Molly Southbourne is mainly the story of Molly's life, from her childhood to the present. Through her story, the drama unfolds. But of course, there's gore. The new Mollys born from her blood have to be killed or try to kill her. It can be brutal and the original Molly needs to dispose of their corpses afterwards. But Thompson doesn't write body horror for the sake of it. It slowly plunges you in Molly's world, where death is her constant companion.
And the tragedy unfolds. Here is a woman who has to kill or be killed almost every day, at the very least every month, by creatures in her own image, animated by a mysterious rage. It is very much akin to ancient tragedies in that a superior force or chance, maybe even the "sins" of the parents, have put this curse upon Molly, a curse she cannot escape.
Molly is far from a victim : she has been taught to fight by her mother, she has been taught to dispose of a body by her father, and she is a bright young woman. But can she overcomes the odds when so many people constantly try to kill you? Can her life ever be normal ? And what are the consequences for the people around her?
Thompson doesn't write a horror novella. He writes a human drama, a quest of self and identity, lost in so many mirrors, in tension and in this mysterious blood anomaly. Molly has to constantly kill herself to keep on living.
For those who have read Rosewater, despite the differences, there's some kind of kinship between Molly and Kaaro, Rosewater's main character, in their sometimes nihilistic attitudes, and it is as interesting in Rosewater as it is in this novella.
Nigerian born Thompson moves away from the setting of his previous novel but this novella, beyond the setting, is universal. More than a horror story, it is a beautiful metaphor of overcoming oneself and finding oneself, and of creating relationships with the people around us. Even if horror isn't your cup of tea, I highly recommend it.
(1) Good news regarding Rosewater for people who had missed it: it will be available again soon as Orbit has bought the rights and Thompson will extend the world with two more volumes, all coming in 2018.
The writer's Twitter account.
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