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The Library at Mount Char: Horror or Horrific?


I did not enjoy this book; I managed to get 75% through the story and thought for sure it was finishing, only to discover another 25%. What I thought was supposed to be a horror novel was a different genre entirely, and I was bored and frustrated more than entertained.


I've found a lot of good recommendations from bookstagramers. I came across Our Wives Under the Sea thanks to IG user @spookycurious, and though I would call if a gothic story rather than a horror novel, I absolutely loved it. But that distinction is proving important for my personal reading pleasure. The short conclusion is this @spookycurious and I have very different definitions of "horror" as a genre, and so her recommendations are less likely to be to my taste. This is not a knock on her, or on the books she's promoted. But it is an illustration of a trend in genre classifications I've noticed, from bookstagram to Shudder and more.


My stance is this: horrific events or plots do not automatically make a text a horror story. The events of the film Lake Mungo are horrific, for example, but the film is a tragedy, not a horror film, focusing on lies and loss and grief. People dying in extraordinary or violent ways can just as easily be a thriller or even a fantasy as much as a horror story. It seems to me that a story that is dark is now automatically categorized as a horror. And I disagree.


The Library at Mount Char is best described as a fantasy, rather than a horror novel. There is exceptional violence, yes, but in being grounded in a separate, exceptional world it doesn't carry the threat of that violence or disruption to the space of the reader. It is a separate, perhaps parallel, fantasy world, and while Carolyn insists that magic isn't real, that's the best word to describe the alternative physics the book employs.


Horror, by contrast, extends the threat of the narrative into the space of the audience. It can still be magical or extraordinary, but the framing of the extraordinary in the familiar is what realizes the terror a text is trying to convey. It pulls on traditions of the gothic, threatening an audience surrogate in a place where they may conceivably find themselves, and tricks them into thinking in the depths of their subconscious that something may be out there. Mount Char bends too much, moves too much, and makes its own rules. Sure, it's set in the US and describes a suburb, but it also creates a library separate and outside of physics, and argues that "normal" children can do extraordinary things, like raise the dead or live under the sea for months at a time.


And that is fantastic.


So, I dunno. I hated it, but not because it is poorly written or conceived; I hated it because I don't enjoy fantasy stories. Another reader's mileage will likely vary.

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