Book Review: The Repeater Book of the Occult // Tariq Goddard and Eugene Thacker

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With the global pandemic leaving many of us desperately seeking escapism, The Repeater Book of the Occult allows us to dip into worlds far more sinister than our own. Tariq Goddard and Eugene Thacker’s intriguing collection is an ode to tales of the supernatural and strange, reminding readers of the literary, philosophical and cultural value of the horror genre.

In an immensely informative and insightful introduction, Goddard and Thacker note that the horror genre is often dismissed, considered “empty of meaningful content or inherent value”. Indeed, whilst contemporary culture seems preoccupied with the supernatural, horror seems to be merely reduced to jump scares and a “stimulus response test”. The editor’s intention is to thus “take what scares us seriously”, to rebuff the dismissal of horror and to uphold its importance as a literary genre.

The Repeater Book of the Occult consists of ten seminal horror stories, ranging from Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’, to Virginia Woolf’s strange and unsettling ‘The Haunted House’. Each story is accompanied by an impassioned and erudite introduction written by a Repeater author. These introductions illuminate the shadowy depths of these stories, allowing the reader to explore every dark and elusive crevice.

These tales are strange, mystifying and captivated with the sublime, rendering stable minds uneasy with every turn of the page. Wavering between the boundaries of the real and the unreal, they inhabit the “liminal region of the apparent and the obscure”. In these times of uncertainty and fear, I found it cathartic to channel my anxieties into something tangible. By reading horror stories, we are able to control our experience with fear, to dip in and out of it as we wish.

One of the most striking stories in this collection is Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’, as chosen by Christiana Spens. A tale of madness and suspicion, Poe sinks deep into the depths of the human psyche. This classic tale depicts an inebriated man who begins to inflict violence on his pet cat. He reflects upon his once docile and humane disposition, which has gradually deteriorated due to his alcoholism, rendering him moody and indignant. Whilst the narrator admits his pets have suffered from his spiralling state, he still attempts to exude guilt, believing his cat to be taunting him- the main source of his emotional turmoil. In his introduction, Spens notes that the narrator’s projection of his insanity, blaming a cat, is an attempt to suppress his “feminine” characteristics, “his falling apart is a challenge to gender binaries and also the Enlightenment notions behind any equation of masculinity with rationality.” Spens dissects the fabric of this story with great diligence and a fresh, modern perspective.

The Repeater Book of the Occult proves that horror writing is saturated with complex ideas and is often deeply philosophical. Fear is an emotion which lays bare the fragility of the human mind, it being one of our most primal emotions. These tales are a testament to the significance of the genre; reading this dark, intriguing anthology will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of horror. It is a genre to be taken seriously, to be both feared and celebrated.

Words by Sylvia O’Hara

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