BOOK REVIEW: “La Petite Sirène (Les Contes Interdits)” by Sylvain Johnson (2018)

Whoa, where to even start with this gorgeous, demented slice of psychological horror? So, for those who don’t know, Les Contes Interdits is a series of horror novels from Quebec that modernize fairy tales while rooting them in Quebecois culture, and if this one represents the series then I’m not sure if I have the emotional bandwidth to handle it. This was one of the most punishing books I’ve ever read: I literally had to put it down to collect myself just four pages in, and it never got any less nihilistic, gruesome or pitch-back. This is horror in the purest sense of the word; it’s a gritty, depressing read, but it’s undeniably well-written, not to mention downright gripping. There are times where I flirted with the idea of putting the book down once and for all because it was so dark, but the strength of the writing was simply too great and I was pulled back in, over and over. The adapted narrative (transplanted from Hans Christian Anderson’s legendarily depressing fairy tale) is cleverly molded to fit the overall goal of the series, and it’s a trip to see what author Johnson does with the tale’s elements, notably the sea witch and her lair. In some ways, it’s like the literary version of a Patrick Laugier movie: Like Laugier’s “Martyrs” and “Incident in a Ghostland,” “La Petite Sirène” challenges you and pushes your boundaries, and then pushes them again and again and again, but in the end it’s a satisfying, nerve-shredding masterstroke… but be prepared for some really, really dark stuff.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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