“Humanity […] reflects the very strangeness of the land that grows, spores, seeds, and then dies around us. […] Whether reading crime, fantasy, horror, literary or science fiction, the realisation that anything is possible belongs within the land, and therefore within ourselves.” –Aliya Whiteley, ‘The Lay of The Land: Weird Possibility in the English Countryside’
The Beauty is Aliya Whiteley’s second novella. It was published in 2014 by Unsung Stories, a small UK publishing house that has since published her 2016 novella, The Arrival of Missives. It is a story I had been meaning to read for over a year, ever since fromcouchtomoon raved about it on her blog. Living in Japan meant it was difficult for me to get hold of a copy, so I was delighted to finally buy one during a recent trip to England over the New Year.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic England where something unspecified and deadly has happened to the women. A small group of male survivors are hanging on to existence as they attempt to come to terms with a world without women, and all that this entails. Nathan, the narrator, is a young storyteller whose nightly tales seem to be keeping “the Group” going. Until a walk in the forest leads to a shocking discovery for Nathan …
One of the reasons I love the internet is that it led me to this wonderful book. I would never have found it if it weren’t for reading the praise heaped upon it by fellow book-review bloggers. This is a stunning story, a mesmerizing piece of speculative fiction. Whiteley’s lyrical prose is poetic, her descriptions of the characters’ natural surroundings both beautiful and disturbing. There is wisdom in here. Also a deep understanding of the human condition and gender roles. Here are a few examples:
‘The windmill turns, the fire jumps high and the river tumbles over the stones. It grows dark and the wild goats bleat in chorus, giving their sad farewells to the sun.’ (p.11)
‘The wrongness sweeps over me, obliterates the butterflies, leaves only black insect legs, squirming and scrabbling in my mind.’ (p.21)
‘Sleep is a truth that will not come readily to those who fill their minds with pretense, so I sit up and watch my breath billow out into the December cold.’ (p.61)
At only 99 pages, this will be a quick read for most. Yet the language is so vivid, the imagination on display so emphatic, The Beauty deserves to be consumed slowly and carefully. It’s a treat to find such an original story by an author who instantly becomes a must-read. I’ve already bought Whiteley’s 2016 novella The Arrival of Missives and am looking forward to reading it soon. The Beauty is a book that I will read again.
Very highly recommended!
‘Stories are as slippery as seasons; it’s beyond my power to make either stand still. I try to tell them the same way, but each telling leads to small changes; something is added to the structure, a change of pace, a tweak of testimonies, all of them make circles in our minds.’ (p.10)