Archives of despair by Caleb Finn

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Caleb Finn, a young Melbourne writer is perhaps better known in social media circles, as a prolific creator across numerous platforms where he posts short horror, comedy, lip-sync and vlog videos.

His first book is a series of ten short ‘horror’ stories with a modern twist, for the 21st C teenager. Finn uses a variety of different styles; email, phone log, police interview and chat messages with redacted text, to give the stories a very contemporary feel.

The stories are connected by the appearance of the mysteriously menacing Bowler Hat Man who silently witnesses the characters’ often fatal predicaments as they appear and reappear in various situations and relationships. Emails relating to the Anomaly Restriction Committee also link the stories as they search for the anomalies in the stories; characters who are able to slip between time and place, drawing the reader with them.

Often the children become victims in bizarre circumstances; 'Wet Paint' sees Sarah pursued by shape-shifting figures that morph in and out of the newly painted walls. In 'Happy Birthday', a twin makes a life-altering birthday wish that she lives to regret. Several stories focus on families fractured in strange unexplained situations. Murderous mannequins, body-invading aliens, a jealous doppelganger and people condemned to live in Truman Show-like movie sets populate the stories.

Unfortunately, and surprisingly from an author who appears to be so in touch with a younger audience, the dialogue and interior monologues sometimes come across as stilted and not the natural speech of teens. It will be interesting to see if teenage readers are put off by this, or accept and overlook it, based perhaps on the connection they already feel towards a social media star.

Content warning, and helpline resources have been included, with Finn expressing his hope that the stories will ‘encourage younger readers to face their fears and persevere through confronting situations’, although hopefully no-one will ever experience situations quite as horrific as those in this book. 

Themes: Horror, Mystery.

Margaret Crohn