Mike O'Driscoll, Unbecoming. Elastic Press, 2006. Pp. 246. ISBN 0954881273. £6.99.

Reviewed by Karina Kantas

Unbecoming is a collection of short, dark horror stories about characters that choose to, or fight against, change. They are becoming. This is not an easy read, with stories that are darkly psychological, causing the reader to search for truth and reason. If you are looking for horror stories that contain gore, vampires, and monsters, then you have the wrong book. However, if you want to read stories that will keep you awake at night while you question your own sanity, then this is the book you’re looking for. Unbecoming is contemporary dark horror at it’s best. What Mike O’Driscoll dishes out are tales that will remain with you for many days, even weeks to come.

The plots are of everyday occurrences: characters that you could easily pass on the street, and that is where the chill factor comes into play. The psychological emotions of the characters, as their personality or environment around them changes and their mental quest to cope with the loss of their identities, will remain deep within your consciousness as you try to make sense of it all. Relating to the emotions and thoughts of the characters is where the horror comes in. Putting yourself in their places, you will ask the questions: would I feel the same? Would I make the same mistakes?

All of the stories apart from 'Evelyn Is Not Real' have been previously published and, unsurprisingly, 'Sound’s Like' is currently being filmed for the Masters of Horror TV series.

The stories are well written, narrated in 1st and 3rd person. However, it is not until you reach the conclusion of the tales, that the pieces suddenly fit together, causing you to want to read it again just to make sure you didn’t miss something and hoping it will make more sense the second time round.

The first chilling tale 'We Will Not Be Here Yesterday' is about two collaborating artists, one of whom takes his ability to the limits. The story is made up of snippets of reviews, interviews and comments about the artists’ latest work. Throughout the pieces, the plot starts to come together. It’s very cleverly done, but makes you wonder weather you are reading an actual story, and whether or not you have picked up the right book. By the end of the story, the plot will makes perfect sense in a warped way, but would make a better impact if the piece were in the middle of the collection.

In 'The Darkening Green' is a story that will open your heart as you follow the steps and emotions of Adu, an orphan who lives within the walls of Happy Kids. As each child hopes they will be the next chosen, Adu believes that if she leaves the shelter of the home, she will change, and become programmed into becoming someone she is not. It is not until Adu escapes while on a trip, that her fear becomes reality and she finally learns the truth to what is out there waiting for her.

'Hello Darkness' is one of the darkest tales of this collection. O’Driscoll makes sure the reader understands what being at the bottom really means. The main character is searching, but for what? A way out, an escape from the pain and misery? He discovers Lulu, a drugged up prostitute who is ready to let go. Both find what they have been looking for.

'If I should wake before I die' is a tale about Lee, a sick individual, who from being a young boy gets pleasure in hurting and killing animals. Of course, as he grows older, his victims become larger. Home calls to him, and on retuning he is faced with his past and the horrific truth of his actions.

With 246 pages of thought-provoking tales, this book is excellent value at £6.99 and will be enjoyed by readers who relish dark psychological horror.

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