I have zero idea why, but it seems to be impossible for anyone to write a horror novel about spiders that effectively frightens me. I'll tell you one thing: It's not because I'm impervious to all things arachnid. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Ever since the day a huntsman bigger than my 16 year old hand (I was 6'2" then) lived up to its name as it stalked me through the back end of my house, I've been shit scared of the creepy-crawly bastards. Like the main character in Matt Shaw's The Infestation, I understand the need for spiders as a species, I just don't care when one or more of them are encroaching on my personal space. ie. Any indoor or entry area I frequent.
I came at this first person perspective short novel about spiders being involved in a UK-based apocalypse with high hopes. I'd never before read anything by Matt Shaw but was encouraged by the largely positive reviews I'd read of his other works. However by the 33% mark of The Infestation I realised this was not going to be the novella that caused me to shiver in spider-related horror.
The main problem, for mine, was that other than an initial domestic house spider, Shaw's novella is oddly devoid of any spiders until the half way mark. Instead, the reader follows the main character, Ethan, as he fails to get to work because of some kind of rioting, tries to get to his kids in the city, then gets shipped off with a bunch of other survivors to a refugee camp. And all the while I was wondering: So where are the spiders?
When they finally do turn up, there are a couple of creepy moments as Shaw describes them bunching together and quivering up against windows. But that's about it. These spiders somehow bite someone and immediately multiply in their blood (or something) before streaming out of their every orifice. As if that wasn't out there enough, it all happens within seconds. To put it simply, I just could not get on board with such a threat. Where were the scenes developing the menace of the spiders? How does it go from nothing to apocalypse in one morning? Why was Ethan able to behave as if his fear of spiders was just a minor inconvenience rather than the phobia he refers to it as? And while I'm on his character, why was he made out so frequently be an unlikable individual?
Technically I did not much care for the structure via which Shaw presented his tale either. The shift that takes place about three-quarters of the way through felt like a bit of a cheat to me. Worse, however, was his regular shifting between past and present tense - especially through the novella's opening scenes. For example: I dialed the number, hit the green button on the phone's keypad, and waited for the connection. I wonder if there's any way I can just go back to bed and start again. Why wasn't it "I wondered if there was any way I could just go back to bed and start again?" These changes in tense were extremely jarring, and smacked of an editor's failure or the need for a few extra proof-reads.
Given the large number of other authors stories of arachnids have done little to nothing for me, this won't be my last attempt at a book by the author. So if anyone has a perspective on what is a Shaw-thing, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll be back at it, trying to chase down a genuinely frightening spider-focused horror ...
2 Legs More Than Your Average Insect for The Infestation.