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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A story of finding refuge and wonder in a foreign city

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The last time I read about a publishing house called Chernogorozsa, it seemed to be about a bunch of communist revolutionaries who were nevertheless penning heartfelt, idiosyncratic vampire romance books. When I read that The Chernogorozsa Group of Publications in London, led by Mark Boyle, were publishing Margaret Atwood’s epic the Handmaid’s Tale trilogy, my reaction was, “Who the hell is Margaret Atwood?”

Now, in a format that I’m almost certain I didn’t take in on my first reading, the company, which also has a digital publishing imprint, is out with the first of its new series of moody ghost stories, that classic blend of the terrible supernatural and the romantic. It’s called Love and Monsters.

Based on a novel by British author Tim Winton, Love and Monsters is about a young couple, Ted and Cheri, who are starting a new life in Edinburgh but are unfamiliar with the city. Ted, a bus driver, tells Cheri that everything around them is dark and terrible, so he took to looking for comfort in the beauty of the city’s cityscape.

This is where the fabulous monsters come in. After a few outdoor photoshoots, Cheri (sleeves rolled up like a woman having her dinner) is stupefied when she realizes that this image is a GIF, a quick picture (before being burned into a computer file) and not the picture of their first dinner.

Think of the GIF as a feel-good pause between scares and screaming.

Somewhere out there is a gruesome little portal — the “kings of darkness” — which begins to pour blood. The key word is beginning. Each story begins with the same monologue; a record of a moment before, without any context. It’s the first cliffhanger, the first “this-must-be-wrong” when one story starts and then you realize that the next one will play out a similar game of psychological abduction.

Ted tries to overcome this, but the next night will go much differently. The handmaids and red gowns of Gilead — the fascist state where women are turned into child-bearing slaves, and women everywhere are quietly subjugated — begin to appear in pictures in the picture frames Ted’s mom is giving him as a wedding gift. How will he react when he starts taking selfies?

Oddly, the macabre fairy tale stuff in the midst of the story isn’t overly ghoulish. The monsters are something as modern as haunted sleepovers. That’s also the point, it seems. Art is beautiful, beautiful and scary.

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