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A Haunting Beauty by Charles Birkin

Psychological horror at its best (or worst!)

I was recently reintroduced to the work of Charles Birkin and was reminded of what a master of psychological horror he was. His first collection, A Haunting Beauty, was published as part of the famous Creeps series in the 1930s and showcases his talent for creating an atmosphere of unease and dread.

Birkin’s stories are often described as contes cruels, or tales of cruelty, because of the way he manipulates his characters’ emotions. He takes them to the brink of madness and then pulls them back, only to push them further the next time. It’s a technique that keeps the reader on edge, never quite sure what is going to happen next.

Insane and cruel

One of my favorite stories from the collection is “The Shining Splinters.” It’s the story of a man who is slowly driven insane by the sight of shards of glass embedded in the walls of his house. The glass seems to be moving, and he comes to believe that it is trying to kill him. The story is a genius example of how Birkin uses everyday objects to create a sense of fear and paranoia.

Another stand-out story is “The surEYE.” This one is about an optometrist who starts seeing things that aren’t there. He eventually comes to believe that his own eyes are betraying him. Again, Birkin does a great job of playing with our perceptions and making us question what is real and what isn’t.

In Birkin’s works, readers often encounter the dark and twisted nature of human evil. Rather than relying on supernatural elements, Birkin delves into the horrors that exist within humanity itself. In his collection “Terror on the Tobit”, the only work with a supernatural element, this horror is explored through a Lovecraftian lens. Ultimately, Birkin presents a message: who needs ghouls or vampires when humans themselves can be the most horrific monsters in existence? Each story in his collection serves to emphasize this theme, leaving readers both disturbed and reflective. Birkin’s approach to exploring evil in humans is incredibly impactful, more so than reliance on traditional horror avenues such as ghosts or demons. His unflinching examination of our own capacity for cruelty leaves an indelible mark on the reader’s mind and serves as a chilling reminder that true terror can be found within ourselves.

If you’re a fan of psychological horror, then I highly recommend checking out Charles Birkin’s A Haunting Beauty. It’s a collection of short stories that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them. Birkin has a talent for taking ordinary situations and turning them into something truly nightmarish. So if you’re looking for a good scare, this is definitely the book for you!

A Haunting Beauty Published May 28th 2000 by Midnight House; post -humous “Best of…” collection was limited 450 copies.

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