Review – “Phantasy Moste Grotesk” by Felicity Dowker

Maybe it’s because I’m British, but recently so many great stories have fallen into my lap that I’ve had nothing to moan about, and I’ve kinda missed it.

groteskI thought the opportunity might come with this little chapbook from Corpulent Insanity Press, purchased on a whim simply because I liked the title and cover. But it wasn’t to be.

Phantasy Moste Grotesk is an exceptional novella, a colourful and emotive horror tale that rubs its hands gleefully whenever you pull a face in distaste.

It follows the tale of Josh, whose evening with a takeaway pizza and a book is upset by the arrival of a ghastly, black-eyed kid at his front door. Along with his troubled ex-girlfiriend, he visits a circus tent that has mysteriously sprung up in a nearby playing field: a sinister carnival that promises monsters moste grotesk and phantastique.

That we certainly get. The tale is a claustrophobic descent, just as notable for the emotional destruction that ensues as well as the twisted attractions within the big top’s yellow canvas walls. I think the carnival theme can be precarious ground for horror and dark fantasy writers. There’s a danger of unoriginality and cliché, and because the opportunity is there to really let the imagination go, there’s a risk of exposing oneself as not being able to pull the punches when the golden chance has presented itself.

Felicity Dowker’s story avoids these pitfalls with a sneer. There’s some vividly sick images that cling in the memory (the ferris wheel is stunning), but more important is the way some of the horrors entwine with the characters and the deeply personal anguish of their plight. This chapbook seems to give an actual taste of madness, not just somebody’s guess as to what it might be like.

I’ve no complaints. It begins with a wheel-spin, slows to let you get your breath back, then slowly accelerates, faster and faster until by the climax, you’re clinging to the pages, appalled and intrigued in equal measures.

If you’ve missed out, then keep your eye out for Felicity Dowker. I hope, actually I’m sure, that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her deliciously sour prose in the future.

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