Horror in many forms
BY CATHARINE MORRIS
The new issue of Granta is out (117), and the theme is horror. Despite the Halloween launch date, and the gothic typeface on the cover, there isn't all that much in the way of supernatural manifestations, otherworldly terror, gore, etc. With some exceptions – Daniel Alarcón on the Foam Weapon League, an LA-based crypto-Gothic fight club, being one of the more exuberant – the horror is altogether closer to home.
Julie Otsuka's short story focuses on the interactions of a woman losing her memory; and Joy Williams's was inspired by reports of a tragedy involving (as Granta sums it up) "a mildly disgruntled man, his placid wife and their peculiar son". Tom Bamforth writes about his experiences in Darfur as part of a UN envoy; and Santiago Roncagliolo about a childhood shaped by the Peruvian terrorist organization Shining Path. Will Self has contributed an essay (reproduced in part in the Guardian) about his diagnosis of polycythaemia vera, a disease (caused by a mutated gene) which results in an over-production of red blood cells. The treatment is regular bloodletting via a needle.
At a Granta launch event last week Self described the horror of that treatment – all the more distressing for a former intravenous drug user (it is a horror a touch exaggerated, he admitted, by an element of “Jewish kvetching”). Appearing with Self was the American poet Mark Doty. His piece on his experience of sexual insatiability takes as its starting point a fan letter from Bram Stoker to Walt Whitman – on whom, according to Justin Kaplan's biography of Whitman (2003), Stoker based the character of Dracula.
Doty’s essay prompted discussion about the nature of addiction – in his own case was it, he wondered, a symptom of a perennial sense of lack within the self? A constant need to know himself in relation to other people? A form of love? – and about Stoker’s literary intentions. The novel may well be a metaphor for repressed homosexuality, Doty said. ("Is there a novel of the late nineteenth century that isn't?", Self replied.) Self called Stoker "the Michael Crichton of his day": the character John Seward uses a phonograph, Mina Harker does a lot of typing and, according to Self, Dracula has a phone number. Our researches here suggest that he was joking – but we’d be happy to be proved wrong . . . .
Granta 117 will be reviewed in a future issue of the TLS.