Review by: Mark Palm
While not a typical academic work I would argue that Danse Macabre is an exceptional book about horror fiction, especially Stephen King’s concept of the three “tarot” cards of horror, which are central to many tales in the genre; the Werewolf, the Vampire, and the “Thing Without a Name.” I cannot go into these concepts with any depth here, but you can if you read the book, and I suggest that you do.
The one “tarot” card he barely touches is that of the Ghost. Mr. King states that the Ghost is an Archetype, and a concept too vast to discuss in a limited space. Fellside, by M.R. Carey is not really a horror novel, although there are plenty of scares to be found; but it is a Ghost Story, if any novel ever was.
Jess Moulson wakes up in a hospital bed, badly burned, with no memory of how she got there. In time she recalls that she is a heroin addict, and that her flat burned down, and she has been charged with murder, since the police claim that she deliberately set the fire, and it took the life of a little boy named Alex who lived one story above. Wracked with guilt, Jess sleepwalks through her trial, and is easily convicted and sentenced to Fellside, a maximum security prison on the Yorkshire Moors.
When she was a child Jess had an unusually vivid imaginary friend, and claimed that she could walk into other people’s dreams. Now, in prison, without hope, she decides to starve to death. As she grows weaker and weaker she begins to be visited by a ghost, who she slowly comes to believe is Alex, the boy upstairs. Eventually she becomes convinced that she did not kill Alex, and that someone else did, and determined to discover who, she stops her slow suicide and begins to investigate Alex’s death and her own case, using her legal team. While this is happening Jess is finally released into the prison’s general population, and must deal with her reputation as a child-killer, which places her at the bottom rung of the convict population.
At this point we are only about a third of the way into the novel, and Mr Carey is just getting warmed up. Fellside is one of those books were the reader’s knowledge grows alongside that of the main character, so to divulge much more would be unfair to the reader, but just let me say that Fellside is a startling hybrid that manages to incorporate aspects of several different genres without giving short shrift to any of them. Jess is essentially stuck in a dark and violent prison while trying to slowly piece together an arson investigation and feel her way through a supernatural/psychological mystery. While it would seem like handful Mr. Carey pulls it off, and one reason is the supporting cast. Each person caught up in the story, from the prisoners, to the prison guards and staff, to Jess’s legal team is a living breathing character, subject to change, and all varying shades of grey.
Fellside is Jess's book however, and even that is a surprise that is deftly handed by Mr. Carey. At first Jess is as insubstantial as a ghost, but as the story progresses Jess comes more and more to life, until her courage and bravery and principals in the face of all but overwhelming odds makes her a true heroine. Every time I thought I knew where the plot was going Mr. Carey steered to somewhere else, and it was often because of new depths that were found in Jess. Read Fellside, but be prepared to be haunted.