by C J Halberd
Tempest Bay, New Zealand is a small coastal town whose inhabitants live according to their own customs, which are known only to themselves. When a man and his adopted daughter arrive in the town for a brief stop to meet with a reclusive meteorologist to discuss her book; events, emotions, and insanity begin to take over…
Her Mad Song is a wonderfully atmospheric, almost Dystopian novella that is unusual and, consequently, immediately absorbing.
The writing is beautifully nuanced and has a poetic energy. This lyricism is balanced by some well-observed character portraits that are amusing in their cynical contempt. These sharp descriptive details make the characters incredibly visual which contrasts with the dark and murky environment of Tempest Bay.
The town is creepily evoked. Bleak and unsettling, its tentacles of simmering unease and preternatural goings-on, wrap themselves around everything and everyone. Aside from being distinctly eldritch there is also a definite post-apocalyptic haze hanging over Tempest Bay.
Despite being given little information on ‘the man’, his dialogue is carefully constructed to give a real measure of him, it’s weary and with a dry delivery. This is someone who has seen it all and expects to see more. Conversely, Lucia, his adopted 12-year-old daughter could have done with a touch more context. The reader is given some but, in places, she is a little too nebulous and, subsequently, frustrating.
Hedy is the character that the reader is allowed more insight into. She is a complex figure, veering between a pathetic victim of circumstance to someone who enjoys orchestrating being a victim. Her issues are many but it’s unclear whether some are of her own making.
Jessica, the ancient doyenne of the town, is horribly sinister. You feel the force of her personality jump from the page. She is unpredictable and, like Tempest Bay itself, disturbingly awful.
The story is intriguing, there is a quite a bit to puzzle with as the tale twists and teases. I did wonder if a little more definition to the horror angle would have been beneficial but the prose is so taut, and emotionally resonant that the narrative remains compelling.
C J Halberd is a really interesting writer, there are flashes of experimental technique throughout Her Mad Song – staccato sentences switching between tense, no speech marks to name a couple and, overall, they work fairly well within the confines of the strangely disconcerting yet fascinatingly profound narrative.
Really intrigued to read more from this writer. Highly recommended.