The Fox by Conrad Williams – Review
I came late to the This Is Horror Chapbook Party, but am glad I’ve discovered it, because I love the novella/novelette form. It offers more potential for depth than the short story, but can still be read in one sitting. Perfect. D.H. Lawrence excelled at this form, and since the best of his short novels is The Fox, it’s only fitting that I start with the chapbook by the same name from Conrad Williams. It’s also the most recently published of the series.
I’ll start on a superficial level. The cover rocks—stark snowy white gashed by a crimson-rimmed eye with a yellow iris and a dark pupil. The eye of a chicken. A dead chicken. Yet with a coldly accusative gaze, as though it blames you for its untimely passing. Marvelous. Made me want to buy it. Kudos to Neil Williams, the cover artist. My guess is his design was inspired by this line, from the story:
I dream of russet flames flickering over white, and black slashes through amber.
Anyway, on with the story.
The narrator, his wife and two daughters are on an October glamping holiday on a farm in the New Forest. (The logism glamping is so neo it stumped every dictionary in my flat, including the 2007 two-volume Oxford. I finally had to go online to discover it’s a hybrid of glamorous and camping. I felt horribly out of touch.) They open their glamorous tent-flap one morning to a freak snowstorm, and from there events take an eerie turn. A fox has slaughtered the farm’s chickens, not to eat them, but—apparently—just to slaughter them. This disturbs the story’s narrator in ways that are not at first clear. The tension increases with the discovery of a fox-corpse that has no apparent cause of death.
I’ll say no more, other than that the final twist (and it really isn’t a twist per se as the ending has all the inevitability of the booming drums of doom) reveals a little known fact about foxes, and illustrates how, in the great Man v. Nature bout, Nature has all the power, and all the smarts. When Man strikes, Nature strikes back Chicago-style. But patiently. This snow, along with keeping the characters right where they are, suggests the ‘cold’ at which revenge is best served.
The Fox is a tense and atmospheric read. Williams writes prose that is both taut and flowing, sparse and evocative. How he does this, I think, is through his choice of verbs. For instance, the wind did not make the tent walls flap. It didn’t even snap them—no, the way Williams writes it, the wind “spanked against the canvas”. It’s an active force, with a preconceived agenda to punish. That’s just plain good writing. Two sentences in, when I read those words, I decided to relax and allow this prose to rule my imagination for a while. It was a good decision.
Keep an eye out over the coming days for reviews of the earlier chapbooks in the series, Thin Men With Yellow Faces by Gary McMahon and Simon Bestwick, and joe & me by David Moody. I also noticed at the back of The Fox that, sometime this spring, Joseph D’Lacey will be publishing one of these called Roadkill.
Life just got a little better.