New Treasures: Figurehead by Carly Holmes

New Treasures: Figurehead by Carly Holmes

Figurehead by Carly Holmes (Parthian Books, September 5, 2022). Cover design by Syncopated Pandemonium

It’s good to know a lot of writers on social media. Back in April I saw a terse 10-word Facebook post from Mark Morris that simply read:

Books Read in 2023 no 24: FIGUREHEAD by Carly Holmes

That was it. Well, that and an image of the cover, a silhouette of a fox and a tree, and that humblebrag about reading 24 books by April 24. Everybody hates a show-off (especially people like me, who are hoping to get out of single digits by the end of May).

Nonetheless, I was intrigued enough to investigate further. Figurehead is a collection by west Wales author Carly Holmes, and the more I learned, the more interesting it got. By the end of the week I had a copy of my very own, and I settled in to check it out.

Holmes’ debut novel, The Scrapbook, was shortlisted for the International Rubery Book Award, and her short fiction has appeared in anthologies like The Ghastling and Shadows & Tall Trees, and magazines like Black Static and The Dark.

Isobel Roach reviewed the book for Wales Arts Review, saying,

An uncanny weirdness pervades Carly Holmes’ debut short story collection, Figurehead. These twenty-six bizarre and chilling tales might fit under the umbrella term of ‘strange fiction’ with their concern for nameless monsters lurking in the peripheries, startling acts of metamorphosis, and a penchant for reinventing fairy tales – but Holmes’ stories are chimaera-like creatures themselves. Drawing on a rich tradition of horror writing, Figurehead is a collection that navigates the differing modes of the genre. Holmes proves herself a master of the macabre, uniting the gothic with body horror, ghost stories, and suspenseful thrillers – all with an interminable undercurrent of weirdness that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat….

Women are the beating heart of Holmes’ short fiction. Figurehead is, primarily, an interrogation of womanhood through the lens of the gothic and weird, and its portrayal of femininity is closely linked to nature, wildness, and a kind of magic that’s rooted in the earth. This idea is often made literal in an array of short stories that see women transforming from human to animal – or even tree…

Holmes is at her best, however, as a writer of ghost stories. This can be seen in the aptly titled tale, ‘Ghost Story’; a brief but chilling tale of a haunted house enthusiast who gets more than he bargained for. ‘Three for a Girl’, a novella-length story at the very centre of the collection is a standout piece with perfect pacing and an excellent, immersive setting. Here, the repressed are manifestations of a fractured familial bond; this longing for motherhood, sisterhood, and the kind of blood ties that transcend life itself is a recurring theme in Figurehead. At its most haunting, the relationship between mother and child is balanced on the edge of a knife, threatening at any moment to fall into darkness, as in the particularly well-crafted story ‘Sleep’.

Through beautiful, rhythmic prose Figurehead weaves a sequence of stories that are strange, captivating, and unforgettable.

Read the full review here.

Figurehead was published in hardcover by Tartarus Press in July 2018, and reprinted in paperback by Parthian Books on Setpember 5, 2022. It is 230 pages, priced at $13.99 in trade paperback. The cover design is by Syncopated Pandemonium.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

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