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Book Review: Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone by Michael Griffin

“The relentless sense of foreboding which has built from the first page until the very last remains with the reader long after the book is closed.”

Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone by Michael Griffin - coverHieroglyphs of Blood and Bone begins by introducing the reader to Guy, a man who has recently separated from his wife of more than twenty years and is finding the process of adjustment particularly difficult. What makes matters worse for him is that he is living with a callous, if well-meaning friend and colleague, Karl. While Guy is a cerebral character, interested in independent music and literature, amongst other things, Karl is a more basic type. Karl encourages Guy to try to meet new women and preferably to seduce them as quickly as possible, before discarding them and moving on to the next. Such trivial subject matter might make the story appear somewhat mundane, but the skill of Griffin’s writing here is in sowing seeds of dread, right from the start. The reader digests these seemingly normal events, but something about Griffin’s writing style—be it the short sentence structure or the gloom of Guy’s internal dialogue—leaves no doubt that something dark is brewing.

The story takes its first turn for the weird when Guy is alone in his room one night and hears Karl having a sexual encounter with a woman. The animal nature of it is both disturbing and absorbing to Guy. Then, when he has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he discovers Karl’s door ajar, a mystery woman sitting naked on the edge of Karl’s bed, and Karl himself missing. In the morning the plot thickens still further as it appears to have been purely a figment of Guy’s imagination. It is at this stage that Karl decides to stage an intervention and, true to type, decides that this should be a boy’s fishing trip. They fish on an old estate that belongs to an acquaintance of Karl’s father and Guy does indeed feel benefit from this experience. As they are leaving though, he sees a woman. Seemingly wild and living in a wooden hut of sorts, he is intrigued by her. When he returns later their connection is both explosive and confusing. The woman, Lily, attempts to communicate with him through a series of symbols and sketches of which he can make head nor tail. So begins a journey of questioning that will haunt Guy and lead him to doubt everything from day to day events, to the fabrics of time and existence.

The mastery of this book is the way in which it takes hold of the reader and refuses to let go, without relying on scenes of a graphic nature or large scale events. Suspense is ratcheted up to breaking point in scenes where very little action is occurring. Guy’s struggles, real and imagined, are ones the reader can identify with but which are amplified by his self-doubt to the point where there is no respite from the unnerving sense that something awful is happening, will happen or perhaps has already happened.

When the reveal comes, there is much left unsaid and there is satisfying work for the reader in unpacking what was real, what was imagined and what message the story is trying to convey. Meanwhile, the relentless sense of foreboding which has built from the first page until the very last remains with the reader long after the book is closed. For anyone with even a passing interest in weird fiction, Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone is certainly one for the list. For fans of Griffin’s previous work, it is one to snap up right away.

KEV HARRISON

Publisher: Journal Stone
Paperback (176 pp)
Release Date: 24 February 2017

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