I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Only Human: Act 1…”; the blurb is a little mysterious, hinting at a humorous, perhaps satirical journey with an ambiguous protagonist. In reality, the book is actually quite a bit darker than I expected – though this is always welcome for my tastes – playing on themes of demonology, Hell on Earth and the Devil. The concept is that a strange, shape-shifting mythological creature called a “Twyleth Teg” (I still don’t know what that is) is being held captive by a priest in rural Wales, while the latter ascertains the creature’s intentions for good or evil. To help the priest make his decision, the Teg narrates a selection of dark, supernatural tales, the subliminal message within them supposedly the key to the priest deciphering the answer to his question.
“Only Human…” really is as entertaining as it sounds, and I couldn’t put it down, reading from cover to cover in just a couple of hours; the stories are both atmospheric and surprisingly chilling – more so than the tongue-in-cheek dialogue of the opening chapter might suggest. There is a degree of humour from the off, but this is subsequently dropped in favour of a more menacing undertone. As one reads on, it soon becomes apparent that the stand-alone stories are actually directly connected parts of the same sum, creating a time-spanning story which crosses dimensions, not dissimilar in structure to “Cloud Atlas”, if a great deal more contemporary. The further it progresses, the more profound and philosophical this book becomes; what begins with the suggestion of a 70s Hammer horror-style anthology gradually evolves into a hellish kind of sci-fi fusion, until the Underworld dimension in the book becomes a metaphorical reflection of our own corrupt, Dystopian, oligarchic future.
This is a very intelligent and imaginative book - highly enjoyable and genuinely thought-provoking - but only if you’ve the determination to unravel the metaphor. Unfortunately, the reader is required to think a lot more than I believe the author intended, because it is necessary to unravel Leigh Holland’s writing to some extent. While she is a very professional author with a good technical knowledge and grammatical ability, I do feel this book suffered badly simply because it is so confusing to read; Leigh’s explanation of events and timelines is not necessarily clear, and I did find it necessary to go back a couple of times to check where (and when) I was at. Natural breaks in the text and story are fragmented and disjointed, and scenes are often not coherently discerned from each other – it felt as though the author is picturing the events in her mind, but foggily articulating them onto the page; unfortunately, this does leave the reader, in my view, with too much work to do. It is a shame this was such a prominent issue, as I otherwise believe “Only Human…” is a book I would have scored with a significantly higher star-rating.
An ambient read this is probably not, but intriguing and fun it certainly is. If you are willing to put in the brainpower, and are perhaps a little more laterally-minded than myself, I think you will enjoy it a great deal.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: leigh-holland short-stories horror anthology supernatural demons mythical creatures