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World of Hurt

by Brian Hodge

(Earthling Publications, $40, 151 pages, hardcover.)

Review by Gary Couzens

cover scanFourteen years ago at the age of seventeen, Andrei drowned. For thirty-eight minutes, he was dead, but was brought back to life by doctors. Ever since then, he's been haunted by what he found on the other side, as he tries to rebuild a life for himself. He contacts via a chatroom another near-death survivor, Kimmy. But when she is grotesquely murdered, Andrei realises that Heaven -- or the horrible reality he once glimpsed -- is out to reclaim him.

World of Hurt has a premise that's reminiscent of the Final Destination series of films. But the resemblance is a superficial one. While the film series became an excuse to string together several elaborately gory setpieces, Brian Hodge's short novel (it's around 50,000 words) goes in an entirely different, more serious direction. As well as Andrei, we meet his French work colleague Manon and the killer Bruce, both of whom have designs beyond the obvious on Andrei.

Hodge's novel has a slightly fragmented feel at first, being mostly in third person with some italicised sections in first person from a narrator who isn't identified straight away. Hodge does demand you pay attention, as at times he doesn't identify the viewpoint some of the third-person sections are from, apart from "he", leaving it for the reader to work out. The initial effort does pay off, and the novel leaves you with a vision of the afterlife that's more unnerving in its implications than actually scary, which survives a somewhat anticlimactic ending.

It's often said that the novella or short novel is the perfect length for horror -- though nowadays it's not one that is usually commercially publishable. However, it's a hard length to get right, and I'm not convinced that Hodge has quite succeeded in World of Hurt. I'm the first to complain that too many novels these days are bloated beyond their natural length by publishers' dictates -- and I'm old enough to remember when 40 to 60,000 words was quite an acceptable length. I'm very glad that there are publishers like Earthling willing to publish novellas and short novels that the majors won't touch. But for me I wanted more than World of Hurt delivered -- its ideas and their implications were too big for the book's short compass. (Admittedly, Hodge points out in an afterword -- which you shouldn't read until you've finished the novel -- that World of Hurt, although it can be read in isolation, is part of a series of stories with a common background.) This may be a rare novel which isn't long enough.

Earthling's edition of World of Hurt has dustjacket artwork by Robert Sammelin, a foreword by Stephen Jones, an introduction by Brian Keene and an afterword by Hodge. It is available in a limited edition of 500 numbered hardcovers, signed by the author ($40), and a run of twenty-six lettered and traycased hardcovers signed by Hodge, Jones, Keene and Sammelin ($250).

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