‘Near Zennor’ is a beautifully written piece of work, with deep descriptions and connections to place and the mysteries that come of place. Elizabeth Hand has written a piece that is well layered with characterisation, even of those deceased in the story, so you gain a sense of the lives of these characters. I would never say I was scared or even tense when reading this story, but I did like its unknowingness.
Jeffrey is a recent widower to Anthea, who finds some letters of hers when she was a teenager addressed to an author imprisoned for paedophilia. Worried that Jeffrey did not know about this part of her life, he goes on a journey to talk to friends who had visited the author with Anthea in the hopes that he might found out the truth and if anything had happened to her.
While tension could exist within the story in relation to Anthea and relations with a possible paedophile, this was not the terrifying connection for me with this story. In fact, the story is more lush than terrifying in what happens to Jeffrey and what he finds out, with a lot of unknowns thrown in as the reader only knows as much as Jeffrey ever does. The story raises questions about time, history, memory, ritual, and the unknown; never in a seat-of-your-pants way, but more of an intellectual one that leaves you thinking about what has happened to the characters in the story.
I would not recommend this story for hardcore horror fans, and it isn’t heavy in regards to gore or violence for those looking for it. In relation to this, the story could be seen as mild. But the lack of knowledge of Jeffrey and other characters is interesting because that can be terrifying. That space between knowing and the unknown can leave us fanciful and terrified. And for that reason, I enjoyed this novella.
Check out ‘A Book of Horrors’ edited by Stephen Jones for this story and others in the same field of horror, as he has attempted to collect tales that bring back what horror really is for audiences.