Book Review: Bury Them Deep, by Marie O’Regan
I met UK writer Marie O’Regan at a conference last year. Her name wasn’t new to me: in dark fiction circles she’s well known for being a superb editor ‒ her anthology The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women making the finals of the British Fantasy Awards, for example ‒ and yet I wasn’t familiar with her writing. I resolved to change that with Bury Them Deep, O’Regan’s chilling novella released by Hersham Horror Books in September last year. Then I wrote a review, which I forgot to post at the time, so I'm finally posting it here:
Bury them Deep is the story of Maddie, a young woman who’s been on the run for as long as she can remember, her mother, Elsa, making her daughter pack up her rucksack and leave at a moment’s notice, keeping them just a hair’s breadth ahead of a mysterious stalker named Frank. But when her mother is murdered and Maddie discovers her skull in a shallow grave, ‘water sluicing from the empty sockets, providing tears as it emptied out the spaces inside’, Maddie resolves to be done with running. Except Frank has a dark ally, and being free of him isn’t going to be easy.
Bury Them Deep is a pervasive and compelling read, O’Regan imbuing her contemporary ghost story with a vintage gothic style, every word carefully weighed, giving clarity to that small town anonymity, each with its desolate train station, where passengers getting on and off can be counted on one hand. Indeed, it’s hard to reconcile the warm and effervescent woman I met at breakfast with the bleakness and isolation her words evoke: “It was tiring, sitting on the cold hard ground begging for charity. It took little nips out of you, left you a little more diminished each time you had to do it.” There’s a political feel to the writing too, like the Faye Weldon stories of the 1980s, although in Bury Them Deep, there’s no sign of Weldon’s intrusive narrator, O’Regan’s message hidden instead in the jagged obsidian of her prose: themes of family, loss, and sacrifice. I particularly loved the symbolism of the owl as a harbinger of safety in this story, a little like New Zealand’s own morepork owl, a watchful night guardian who hovers over the spirit world. Perhaps, the real beauty of this particular tale, however, is in its structure, with O’Regan segueing artfully from one voice to another, revealing her characters’ minds, across time, and across realms, the mystery eked out until its final satisfying twist.
Two ghostly short stories have been added to the back matter. The first, Shhh, tells of a séance, held among neighbours, since Ciara’s family can no longer attend. This gruesome little tale comes with all the snide little insults of those not-quite-friends who nevertheless feel entitled to your hospitality, and is followed by a finale that is as gutting as a kick to the solar plexus. The second story, Suicide Bridge, has stuck with me ever since I read it. Set on the eponymous bridge, John’s about to kill himself, when he meets Sarah, who gives him pause to reflect. O’Regan’s prose here is crisp and poignant, even as John and Sarah are buffeted by the biting wind. And while O’Regan doesn’t glorify suicide, her characters asking, “Will it hurt much?” her intent with this one is surprisingly hopeful.
It may be a small collection, just 87 pages, but O’Regan’s Bury Them Deep is the perfect ghostly sampler for people who love stories with good bones, twisted hearts, and tortured souls. Highly recommended.