Being an Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club by Nin Harris looks at “body horror” in an interesting way.
What is body horror? It’s a genre of horror that deals with the body and the way it can be intruded upon, changed, taken over. Common themes include possession, parasites, mutations, body parts falling off, infection, etc. Certain bodies– those with uteruses and vaginas– have their own special body horror elements surrounding menstruation, pregnancy, and the vagina/uterus as some kind of holding cell/pocket dimension out of which slugs, snakes, demons, aliens,etc are free to come out of at will. There’s an entire genre of horror films centering around menstruation, for instance.
“Being an Account…” takes 3 approaches to body horror:
- Lila imagines bodily horror/torture/mutilation/etc happening in the flat above hers
- Lila’s “body” in the form of her home/surroundings are invaded by a malevolent force
- The group discusses books and folklore that feature bodily horror
Noise is common in shared living spaces. In Lila’s case, she’s in a very large gated condo development. She’s had many upstairs neighbors, plenty of them loud and irritating. But one neighbor is more than irritating, he scares her. Not that they’ve met, no. But the sounds that he makes, that come from his flat over head, are alarming. Hammering. Power saws. Dripping fluids. Screams. Lila’s home should have a measure of sanctuary, but she’s tense and afraid of what’s happening around her. Is she culpable, if she doesn’t report it? But report what, noises? Will anyone believe her or investigate? Will the perpetrator of the noises come for her and turn her into a noise as well? If she DOES live beneath a serial killer, and if he DOES kill her, will anyone notice? Or will she be a vanishing, quickly quieted noise as well?
As a bulwark against her dark fantasies and fears, Lila starts a book club both as a way to meet new people and distract herself, while also making social ties. If she does disappear into pain and death, someone will miss her. She’s careful to screen people, and not allow in the person with the flat number above hers. The first book she selects is J. G. Ballard’s “High-Rise,” a novel from the 1970s in which groups of people in a luxury high rise building devolve into a Lord of the Flies type scenario. It’s ironic.
The group moves from discussing Ballard’s “High-Rise” to “Crash,” a novel (and movies) about people who can only experience sexual pleasure from the near death experiences of car crashes… le petit mort made real, so to speak. Only violence and death can make them feel sexually alive, and they express this through watching car crashes both real and simulated, and with fetishizing the medical effects of surviving car crashes: cervical collars, braces, scars, etc. The body is changed by near death and by cars both, metal machines of disaster. From the Western literary world of bodily horror they travel to Eastern, specifically Malay, folklore and mythology. Meanwhile, alone in her bed at night, Lila is certain she can see dark shapes coalescing into a fox form. She feels haunted, hunted.
When a stranger named Mikhail shows up at her door, she recognizes something vulpine in his face.
“Being an Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club” is an excellent short story with enough vagueness to be extra creepy. While Lila’s physical body isn’t under attack, her sense of self and her mind are. She doubts her surroundings, she doubts herself, doubts worming under her skin and into her mind. She can’t stop thinking about her upstairs neighbor and what he’s doing. And what he’s doing, she’s certain, is torture. At the very least, she’s being tortured, even if only incidentally.