The other day I was looking for something dark and spooky to add to my TBR pile. I came across The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. The cover was creepy and the blurb had a hell of a hook, but when I read that the story was inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s novella The Willows, I clicked the buy button.
And am I glad I did because The Hollow Places is nothing less than a horror tour-de-force.
Like a lot of horror novels, this one opens with a woman in trouble, in this case thirty-something Kara, who is about to get divorced. When her quirky Uncle Earl invites her to stay with him at his Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities, and Taxidermy, she accepts. Not long after, Kara discovers a portal in a wall leading to a nightmare world that can’t exist, but does.
The story is told from Kara’s point of view, and I can’t recall when I’ve encountered a more relatable or likeable narrator. The other characters are equally engaging, and the imaginative plot reads a little like an LSD trip. But where Kingfisher excels is in her creation of atmosphere.
The strange museum is a chicken-fried homage to the Cabinets of Curiosities from earlier days. With her loving descriptions of jackalope and taxidermied mice dressed like soldiers, Kingfisher brings the quirky museum alive–literally and figuratively. But she really shines with her chilling portrayal of the nightmare world beyond the portal. All too often, horror writers fail to describe the Big Bad, but Kingfisher delivers, including some very nasty bits that.
In the end credit, Kingfisher credits Algernon Blackwood’s novella The Willows as inspiration for her story. Curious, I went back and reread Blackwood’s tale. Despite the difference in tone–THP is infused with a snarky attitude that would have shocked Blackwood–it is a legitimate and worthy offspring to Blackwood’s nineteenth-century horror classic.
Each story creates a nightmare world that is both familiar and strange, which is the essence of the uncanny. Travelers in these dark realms learn that the world is neither safe nor sane, but a dangerous place where nightmares roam. A place of terror, but also of wonder.
I loved it.