Discover more from Fragmentary
The Revel Now Is Ending
Horror and politics
I’m not good at horror. By which I mean that it horrifies me and I don’t enjoy that experience, so I’m not really a consumer of horror fiction. There are exceptions; I’m a wary fan of old ghost stories and there are some stories which edge up against horror which I love. But Dog Soldiers is about my limit. The original Ring - which bizarrely I watched while sitting between a guy in treatment for heart problems and Hiroyuki Sanada - was probably a long way over the line, but so good I just about managed to keep my eyes open.
I’m always perplexed by people who find bits of my own writing horror-like, because I think of the dark sections of my books as necessary extremities rather than over-arching realities - to my eye the defining characteristic of horror is often that the universe hates you and wants you to die: part of the point is that there are no good choices available. Maybe it’s my own visceral rejection of horror that animates those segments, or perhaps it’s just that imagination is always double-edged. Dreams and nightmares are separated only by the nature of the unreality they put you in.
I am in general fascinated by ideas about structure and narrative schematics, though, so John Clute’s four-stage explanation of horror stays with me:
This contrasts interestingly with the five act structure I was taught at school for Sharkespeare, and the conventional three act structure of the movie world, which is endlessly repackaged into analyses like 7 segment/22 beat structure.
I will read and believe in any of these, while at the same time seeing them as useful illusions: the human brain’s overactive pattern recognition looking for the tiger in the dapple. Sometimes there is one. Sometimes you’re looking at two tigers, or five wolves, or a beach umbrella. But I’ll use anything I can find that works, and quite often it gets bent out of shape along the way. Gnomon, notionally, has a three act structure composed of multiple three act structures, all rotating around… I can’t remember. The book echoes its own internal cosmology, except where it doesn’t.
So… one of the features of horror is that period where the danger has been introduced (Sighting) and is growing worse (Thickening) but authority figures of whatever stripe decline to acknowledge the danger. They’re either foolish or corrupt, usually both; they see the signs, they are warned, but the take no notice. (That’s close to the VO track from more than one trailer, isn’t it?)
And so we come to this…
Which has me looking at this moment in UK political life through that same sequence. Everyone was warned, from Truss herself through to my overly-trusting instinctively Conservative relatives. The electorate was warned about Brexit, about authoritarianism in the modern Tory party and about its lack of compassion and its disconnection. And the last few weeks have been the Revel. The monster in full glory. What follows is going to be hard.
Into this brutal moment we may find injected a risible coda as Boris Johnson seeks a new Revel of his own. The man who once proposed the mayor in Jaws as the real hero now apparently wants to make a comeback. I think his rhythm is off. It wouldn’t - I devoutly hope “won’t” - be a sequel, but the final beat of the original flick, in which the world demonstrates its ultimate loathing for the characters. It’s not just that Johnson has a negative approval rating in every part of the country, or that he was ejected by his own MPs essentially because they thought he’d crossed the line so blatantly as to be politically toxic. It’s that his style is loud and difficult and relentlessly in your face with nonsense.
The word is “Aftermath”. Everyone I have spoken to is begging for some aftermath. Two straight weeks without the government doing something so stupid you have to pay attention. We would all like, please, some representative democracy, and a wise representative would recognise that in this moment that means letting us have a cup of tea without someone setting a vital public service on fire and crashing the pound into the sea.
And anyone in politics who cannot deliver that should probably just be really quiet until after Christmas. Probably Christmas 2032.
I write fiction. I take care of my family. I try not to let the water in the boat get too far ahead of