La beauté sans vertu by Genevieve Valentine
Published by Tor Books, 2016
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
One of the shorts made available for free through Tor.com, this offering from Genevieve Valentine is an unsettling, satirical swipe at beauty standards, and the hidden cruelties of the fashion world. Speculative sci-fi that flirts with body horror, the story explores a concept more than it tells a narrative, as we see the build-up to and aftermath of a catwalk show. With the pursuit of eternal youth having reached horrifying heights, it is now common practice for models to undergo disturbing surgeries, including full limb transplants courtesy of deceased, adolescent donors.
Though Valentine’s critique of the beauty world is clear from this setup, and there is indeed a feeling of unease of pathos throughout, I felt it could have ended with a little more punch. Visually striking and well written, however, I would certainly read more from this author.
If you’d like to give it a go, you can get La beauté sans vertu as an ebook from your usual retailer, or read it online for free by clicking here.
The Inner Room by Robert Aickman
Published by Faber & Faber, 2019 (first published in 1968)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
One of the Faber Stories range, this novelette sees a woman reflect on the strange, ornamental dollhouse that both fascinated and disturbed her as a child. Now, as an adult, she stumbles upon a secluded mansion that seems to be an exact replica.
This is another example of a fantastically well-realised concept, and a disturbing tableau that draws on horror conventions to great effect. The prose is solid and the atmosphere builds well towards the heroine’s final confrontation with her own nightmares. Again, I felt the ending could have had a little more impact, rather than the quiet fizzling out we were given, but as far as literary horror goes, and the creation of imagery that will linger in the mind, this is a great little contribution to the genre. Just be prepared for the kind of story that poses questions more than it offers answers.