Anyone who knows me could easily point out that when I find something I thoroughly enjoy be it books, movies, podcasts, songs, food, you name it, I become hyperfixated on it. This usually results in me eating poke bowls for three months straight and then not being able to look at fish and rice for a whole five months after, just to name a very topical example. A similar, but also kind of not similar, thing happened when I discovered horror author David Sodergren. In a collaboration article titled Spooky Book Recommendations for Halloween, I stated that David Sodergren is a horror fanatic’s author, and that will never not be true. When I found The Forgotten Island it opened my eyes to what horror fiction novels could be, and because of David, I went from owning four books to a collection that is now at least 200 horror novels strong. When I read The Forgotten Island I became hyperfixated with horror novels, and, unlike poke bowls, I did not tire of them for one second.
David Sodergren’s new genre-bending horror novel The Haar breaks new ground in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen him write before. From his giallo novel, Dead Girl Blues to his bikersploitation novel Satan’s Burnouts Must Die! there has not been a bad apple in the bunch. The Haar, though, felt like nothing he has ever written before. While he has always had a knack for writing visceral and heart-pounding, there’s something that feels fundamentally different about The Haar, in the best ways possible.
The Haar starts as a story about a greedy American arsehole who is trying to destroy the small coastal fishing town of Witchhaven, Scotland, and slowly turns into a story about love, self-preservation, and the human condition.
Muriel Margaret McAuley has seen a lot in her 84 short years, and she’s going to see a lot more over the coming days. Billionaire, and don’t you forget it, Patrick Grant is quickly buying up every property in the scenic town with the ultimate goal of creating a golf course. By the beginning of our gruesome tale, the majority of the town has sold their properties to Grant, and the authorities in town have [figuratively] sold their souls. The only holdouts who haven’t sold are Muriel and a group of other elderly townspeople who can’t bear to see the homes, and the town they love so very much, just go up in smoke. Due to the number of holdouts within the town Grant might soon take things into his own hands through compulsory purchases (known in the states as Eminent Domain), scare tactics, narrative controlling, or other nefarious means. On one fateful day, Muriel stumbles across a sort of cosmic primordial ooze that may just change her life, and the lives of so many others, for good, and for bad.
At its core, The Haar is a preemptive revenge tale, as Muriel has not been kicked out of her home, but she will do anything in her power to make sure she does not get removed. Muriel’s husband Billy has been missing for 12 years and is presumed dead. Upon meeting this ooze/blob, which she names Avalon, she slowly comes to realize that she may be able to fight back in a way that she, Patrick Grant, and the town would not see coming from a kilometer away. One thing that I feel a lot of genre authors have difficulty with is the chapters where little to no horror happens, that’s not the case for Sodergren. Even the benign chapters that are used to push the story forward are filled with heart and deep emotion; he does a fantastic job of putting us in Muriel’s mindset, which helps us feel for and fall in love with our protagonist.
David Sodergren has always had a very specific and direct prose, excelling in the descriptions of things from the most mundane to the most extremely visceral. It’s impressive to see how his writing has grown and refined over his career, though it has always felt mature and sophisticated. His writing has never been pretentious and it never insists upon itself. The same is true for The Haar, but it stays interesting and smart enough to keep an academic entertained. I think one of the most impressive aspects of this novel is the basis of Muriel. The dedication of the book is for his grandma Connie who, “would not have liked this book at all.” He goes on to state in the afterward that the character isn’t solely based on her, but there are elements of her life that he worked into the character, which really gives it a personal feel and elevates it just that much more.
The structure of The Haar is fairly linear with us mainly following the daily doings of Muriel from her walks on the beach, or her morning routines, to her meetings with the other folks in town who aren’t ready to buckle under the ever-growing pressure of the megalomaniac billionaire who is threatening them nearly daily. There are a few times we break from the mold to take a glimpse into the life of others like Arthur, Muriel’s close friend, or the guys who are working on the construction site. The occasional break from Muriel is a good palate cleanser and lends a good look into differing perspectives on the situation everyone is finding themselves in.
The Haar may just be my new favorite novel by David Sodergren. It seamlessly blends cosmic horror, folk horror, and body horror in the most disturbing and gruesome ways. If you have never read a book by David Sodergren I cannot recommend The Haar highly enough. Novels like this need to be held in high regard for the genre content they are, and for not being the overly written beat-for-beat novels that continually get shoved at us by big publishers. There is no doubt in my mind that David Sodergren will go on to continue breaking the mold and creating fun and interesting stories to keep us up in the dead of night. Also, David has the cutest pug ever named Boris, and he is such a good boy!