Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley
Pretty Little Dead Girls was the first of Ms Yardley’s books I ever read. I sort of flirted with the idea of buying it for quite a while. The title, the cover, the blurb all caught my eye and yet the theme seemed so dark it made me hesitate. The book is not fantasy in any conventional sense, but you could probably call it speculative fiction in a contemporary setting and – a bit like Teresa Frohock’s Los Nefilim trilogy – it defies categorisation. Like its heroine the book seems determined not to be parcelled up into one (or more) different pigeon holes.
Bryony Adams – the book’s dazzling star girl – is doomed to die young by being murdered. It is a fate she and everyone around her know and understand to be inescapable. Postpone-able maybe, but still unavoidable. This short bright tale of young Bryony, shows how she, and those around her, deal with such a life. An existence pursued by a dark destiny, personified as a howling desert, a hissing visceral fate, or – in the end – a charmingly brutal murderer.
I’ve read the book three times and am not by nature, a re-reader. The only other book I can recall re-reading cover to cover even for a second time is The Hobbit. This will be my third review of Pretty Little Dead Girls, as I resolved a while back to write a review of every book I read, every time I read it.
The title of the book, for a while, drove me away as much as it drew me in. Pretty Little Dead Girls. Think about it. Is that a book title you’d be comfortable holding in front of your face for your fellow morning commuters to read? As a titular concept, Mein Kampf might lead to fewer raised eyebrows in the rush hour underground. However, I do not commute on public transport and I have a kindle, so I took the plunge and bought it.
There is, in modern life – or perhaps just in human nature – a curiosity about death that can border on obsession. There are countless horror movies which have paraded a sequence of lives in front of us that were usually young and brutally ended. The Jasons, The Freddies, the Michael Myers (in the William Shatner mask rather than the Shrek CGI), the Saws, the Final Destinations even the parodies of Screams and the parodies of parodies – Scary Movies.
Then there are the thrillers and the mysteries, ranging from the “how did they solve it” through the “who dunnit” to the grisly “how did they do it.” I’ve not read any Kay Scarpetta stories but I remember one controversy where the details of how two fictional victims were found – embracing and eyeless – seemed to echo too closely the minutiae of a confidential police report. There is a risk that a curiosity about death can become extrapolated into a ghoulish fascination, a shameful shiver, a wallowing in the macabre. It is, perhaps, the greatest triumph of Pretty Little Dead Girls that Ms Yardley avoids that pit of indulgence, dancing around it with a deftness of prose and a charm of characterisation that makes light of the darkness. While unique is not really a relative term, this is the most unique book I have ever read.
There was a book I read a long time ago, and to my intense frustration the name of it escapes me. I have some sense of it being a recognised classic set sometime around the start of the twentieth century. However, the part that impressed itself most on me was when the hero’s female friend unexpectedly lost her hearty young rugby playing fiancé – snatched in the prime of his youth by some quirk of fate. The hero ran to his friend, who was dumb with shock, and entreated her to mind, she should let herself mind this cruelty very much. The writer also made reference to life as being like a bubble, so perfect and yet so easily burst. (If you know the story that I mean, please tell me because it’s really bugging me.)
Ms Yardley’s writing has that same intoxication with the precious fragile wonderful beauty of life. It is never seen so clearly or so brightly as when it stands in the shadow of death. Which is not to say that sudden untimely death is the book’s entire theme or pre-occupation. The omniscient third person narration is delivered in a light but sharply observational vein – seasoned with knowing asides – which place the narrator not so much inside the reader’s head as whispering in their ear.
All the characters, those that fall, those that champion, and those that do both, get their moment in the limelight. In a few pen strokes of description, of personal history, of future prognosis, Ms Yardley affords us brief but deep insights, fleshing them out into creatures we care about and, regrettably, mourn for.
Not since Terry Pratchett first turned capslock on has the concept of DEATH, have I been given such a refreshing slap in the face by a writer. Bryony Adams at one point tells a musician friend, “You write the most joyful songs of heart-wrenching loss that I have ever heard.” That sums up the whole experience of Pretty Little Dead Girls far better than any words of mine.
This review appeared first on Fantasy-Faction on October 8, 2016.