After A WEEK and train wifi playing absolute havoc with my attempts to get this post up and running, I’m delighted to be belatedly joining the blog tour for Chronicles from the World of Guilt by Chris Durston, a book that caught me by surprise.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
What is Guilt?
Is it an enormous flying whale? Maybe an alien, come from deep space to punish us? Some call it an angel or a god, others a demon.
What nobody can deny is that it is the end.
These tales chronicle the story of the Earth in the centuries after the apocalypse: struggles for survival against twisted, horrific foes; small moments of kindness and warmth in the dark; life going on, even as the whole world changes.
These are the Chronicles from the World of Guilt.
I think this book had me at Celestial Space Whale.
The premise for this book is intriguing but doesn’t give much away and I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this collection, and what I got…was wow. The Chronicles from the World of Guilt is a fantastic example of what fiction is capable of, and how little boundaries and genre definitions mean, as this collection of stories breaks through so many walls to find its own meandering path of meaning. It was called dark fantasy, and there are certainly elements of that, but there is also sci-fi elements, horror (lots of body horror which absolutely delighted me as that is my favourite form of horror), philosophical questioning and an almost anthropological look at humans – at how they react to the unknown, to emotions they don’t have full control over, and choices beyond their understanding.
The fact that it was a collection of interconnected standalone stories works beautifully with the variety of forms these stories takes, and it also captures a key aspect of the tales – the variety of experience, both human and other. We see it not just in the snapshots granted by each chapter, but also within individual stories for example, in ‘What Guilt Wanted’ we get to see how different individuals reacted to the ingestion of Guilt. It also ties nicely into the title, because these are chronicles – records of humanity reacting and adapting, seeking to understand and find meaning either in language or religion or anything in between, and in anything that takes that kind of approach you need to have the different viewpoints offered here and Durston has captured that perfectly here.
Even the choice of a whale to represent Guilt in all it’s myriad forms and meanings was inspired, because it is something that we’re all aware of, a shape, a being, a thing that we can all comprehend. Just like guilt in that sense. But, we will have different images – from what we’ve seen in books, on tv, in real life, from different forms and songs; and isn’t that how it is with guilt? An emotion that everyone knows but is like all emotion is different from person to person, adopting different forms and creating different reactions – and Durston has taken and played with it masterfully here, we can see different physical manifestations of guilt in the body horror, different ways of coping with guilt in the adoption of religion or trying to ignore the situation, and simmering beneath it all is a creeping awareness that guilt is one of those emotions that can’t be escaped. And that we as humans don’t know or understand as much as want to believe, and Durston has stripped that back to reveal the gnarly insides.
The writing style is easy and approachable, and while not lacking in description (especially where the horror was involved), it’s almost stripped back, allowing the ideas to speak for themselves. It works to great effect, and Durston has a way with language, that captures the otherworldly with the mundane, the emotional with the logical.
This is a hard book to review, because as with any book that pushes you to ask and answer questions, and which breaks down boundaries in the process, it is very much one that needs to be experienced. Each reader will find different questions to ask, and different answers to the same questions. I will say that there wasn’t a weak story in the collection, although there were some like ‘What Guilt Wants’ that stand out more than others, and some that didn’t work as well for me on a personal level. But, it’s also a collection that grows in strength when considered as a whole, each individual story is poignant in its own way, but it’s the context of the whole that really lends it power.
Chronicles from the World of Guilt is a collection that pushes the boundaries of genre and possibility, and it treads the borderline between fiction and philosophy, without falling too far into the latter and losing the entertainment value. Each story is strong in its own sense, but with a throughline that lifts the collection to a whole other level, and it’s certainly a book with a high re-readability factor, because there are so many layers, and questions and answers to be found. If you want a book that will challenge you, that treads between philosophy, sci-fantasy and horror, and which pushes the boundaries of what it means to be human, then this is one you should be picking up. I’m going to be nabbing a physical copy for my shelves, because this is one that I will be revisiting.
Chris Durston is a writer, editor, and occasional musician from the South West of England, where (like everyone else who lives there) they spend their days scrumping, their nights cow-tipping, and the intervening periods hiding from irate farmers. Their debut novel Each Little Universe was self-published in April 2020 and republished by Skullgate Media in October 2021; their short stories appear in half a dozen or so other places. Future projects (as of the time of writing – with any luck, at least some of these will now be in your present) include work on storytelling card game Woad: Stone to Stone, more novels and whatnot, and Cthulhu Dreamt 2, a collaborative multimedia project including a metal album, a novel, and a role-playing game
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.