Mega-store of Horrors: The Mall by S.L. Grey

Title: The Mall
S.L. Grey
Published:  1 June 2011
Genre: Horror, satire
Review copy from the author
My Rating: 8/10

Buy a copy of The Mall (Kindle edition, available now)

Rhoda was supposed to be babysitting someone’s kid, but she lost him when she left him at Only Books in Highgate Mall while she went to score crack from her dealer. Dan’s an emo bookseller at Only Books. He hates his manager, he hates his job, he hates his life. He also seriously pisses Rhoda off when he tells security that he didn’t remember seeing her with any kid, because he didn’t think that a scruffy-looking black woman with a scarred face would be with a “respectable” white child. So when the mall closes and Rhoda still hasn’t found her charge, she hunts down Dan, twists his arm (literally) and forces him to help her look for the boy. Dan leads them through the service corridors of the mall, but instead of finding the child they’re forced deeper and deeper into a disgusting otherworldly building, driven on by sick spam sms’s that threaten their lives and their sanity, and followed by a slavering beast preventing them from ever turning back.

The Mall is the debut novel by S.L. Grey – the pseudonym for the collaboration of authors Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg. They wrote The Mall in alternating chapters, with Greenberg writing Dan’s chapters and Lotz writing Rhoda’s, but with the necessary crossover editing and rewriting that befits a collaboration. In the writing process they’d often leave their characters in difficult situations that the other would have to write their way out of.

This leads to some incredibly tense scenes, but admittedly it also makes the transition between chapters a little jerky. New chapters often don’t start quite where you expect them to, and there are a few small errors in continuity. Nevertheless that doesn’t prevent it from being an awesome horror novel. It’s genuinely creepy at times and utterly horrific. I was glad I no longer work at a bookstore in a mall, or I’d get nervous about working the night shift and having to leave through the back door.

The service corridors that Dan and Rhoda enter become increasingly surreal and sinister. The bowels of the mall and are reminiscent of Silent Hill – coated in rust, soaked in blood and God knows what else (but it’s best not to ask). And there are mutilated bodies, lots and lots of mutilated bodies, from mannequins showcasing torture, to amputees and cripples with seeping wounds. Then, in an otherworld version of the mall, there are ‘Shoppers’, deified consumers disfigured by hideous plastic surgery, traipsing around in the hottest fashion, forced to keep shopping or risk being “recycled”.

It’s part of The Mall’s brutal stab at consumer culture. In the otherworld mall, everything glitters and gleams like it does in the real world, but all the glossy marketing has been scraped off. Lonly Books sells titles like Jesus Wants You to be Pimp-Rich; McDonalds is re-envisioned as the thoroughly disgusting McColon’s (I don’t know if I can eat a Big Mac again); and models in adverts are grossly starved and sickly. The stores all have twisted names like Curl Up & Die (a hairdresser) or Last Call (a cellphone shop). This mall is always open and there’s nothing outside of it.

With its satire, the otherworld mall is the coolest part of the novel, spoilt only by Rhoda and Dan’s failure to realise that they haven’t escaped. Despite what they’ve already been through they try to fit this surreal mall into their idea of a normal world, imagining, for example, that the strange store names are bad marketing decisions or inappropriate attempts at counter-culture advertising. Dan is particularly slow to catch on, but it’s crystal clear to the reader that this is another dimension of horror altogether and you wait anxiously to find out what will happen next.

The ending is surprising, as the novel abandons the visceral horror of the preceding chapters for something more cerebral. Initially, it disappointed me, because my horror diet has consisted almost entirely of nerve-destroying zombie movies and films like The Ring­. However, the more I thought about it the more impressed I was, and it’s the kind of ending you’d ask anyone who’d read the novel about.

The Mall will be out in stores on 1 June, and I suggest you buy a copy and read it asap. It’s creepy, gruesome, satirical, and even though its protagonists aren’t exactly heart-warming (Rhoda’s a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered drug addict who can’t even remember the name of the kid she was looking after, and Dan’s, um, emo) you’ll like them anyway and hope they don’t get tortured.

Buy a copy of The Mall (Kindle edition, available now)

5 thoughts on “Mega-store of Horrors: The Mall by S.L. Grey

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