Books

Motherthing review: A little horror for Halloween

Motherthing takes the fraught mother/daughter-in-law relationship to new and terrifying levels when a toxic, meddlesome ghost takes up residence in the basement

light streaming through a basement window

'She's dead in the basement and she's refusing to leave'. Image: Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

October is spooky season, and a great time to warm your cockles with a terrifying horror story. The underrated genre ranges from schlocky slashers to psychological hauntings and all points in between, and here’s a literary example that demonstrate the diversity at play in modern horror. Motherthing by Canadian author Ainslie Hogarth comes with the excellent tagline: ‘She’s dead in the basement… and she’s refusing to leave’.  

Welcome to the marriage of Abby and Ralph Lamb, who live with Ralph’s mother Laura until she slits her wrists downstairs. The news of her death is a secret relief to Abby, who never got on with her mother-in-law, but when Ralph claims to see his mother’s ghost giving him instructions, their relationship is thrown into turmoil all over again. 

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Abby is a terrific narrator, an engaging and believable mix of caustic, dark humour and genuine love for her husband. She has her own issues with motherhood too, and is clearly still dealing with abandonment as a child – the book’s title comes from an experiment where a rolled-up pair of socks was successfully used as a surrogate mother for baby monkeys. Abby works in a care home and has formed a bond with resident Mrs Bondy, but Mrs Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move her, and Abby can’t handle the idea of more separation. 

Motherthing book cover

This delightful and disgusting romp of a book is not afraid to be visceral in its thrills, delving into body horror as the action ramps up. Hogarth expertly builds on the chills as the novel progresses, and it’s stylistically interesting too – using elements of screenwriting alongside conventional prose to vary psychological distance from the reader. 

The shocking conclusion is no surprise, but it’s not meant to be – the author having scattered the breadcrumbs expertly along the early trail of the narrative. The fraught relationship between mothers and their children has always been fertile ground for horror, and this excellent novel is a fresh and exciting addition to that body of work.  

Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth is out now (Atlantic Books, £14.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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