PRINT December 2014


Sophia Al-Maria

I’m going to make a statement that will piss off fans of weird fiction and “world literature” alike, and say that Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq (Penguin) belongs firmly in the horror genre and, more specifically, in the subcategory of Lovecraftian “cosmicism.”

This collection of the Iraqi writer’s short stories achieves in a few true tales what most Western authors of the genre only ever play at. It conjures a real, throbbing darkness, a godless world where characters spew philosophy and poetry with a naturalism born of the most nightmarish of experiences. This world is one where everything we hold dear is irrelevant, including morality and mortality. It’s a place where you are as likely to end up in eternal limbo with a cantankerous jinni as you are to be hog-tied and gagged in the trunk of a car. “How,” asks the Jesus character in “The Iraqi Christ,” “can I reconcile my private life with my awareness that a world is collapsing in front of my eyes?”

Blasim’s gorgeous, petrifying prose (brilliantly translated by Jonathan Wright) creates an unsettling but electric atmosphere of fear and awe. While reading it I experienced a tangible sense of some unnamed, unknowable chaos lurking in the margins. I had to take a day’s break between each story just to allow the hairs on the back of my neck to settle down.

Sophia Al-Maria is an artist and writer based in London. Her book The Girl Who Fell to Earth (2012) is available from HarperCollins.