Reviewing: Geoff Woodbridge's "Something Weird, Something Strange"
To begin with, from the very first moment that I read Woodbridge's fiction, I was struck by how rare and delicious it is to find a contemporary horror writer with such sharp wit and colorful realism tempered by old-school restraint -- especially an up-and-comer who might be tempted to overplay his hand.
His stories smack very strongly of the great Robert Aickman, with strong elements of Arthur Machen, Neil Gaiman, and William Hope Hodgson, all the while undeniably steaming in Lovecraft's venomous atmosphere. The modern master Ramsey Campbell himself even rates it as having “some of the finest prose in the genre,” (here by the way, Machen’s influence on his writing is undeniable) and I thoroughly agree.
Best of all, however, is the heavy noir element that breathes fresh life into its lungs. His stories frequently feature lost loners with grungy dispositions, taunted with the often-deadly temptations of red-lipped femme fatales and haunted by hinted-at traumas. While M. R. James had his moldering abbeys and Lovecraft had his New England hermits, Woodbridge’s engaging stories loiter in seedy motels and bachelor apartments.
Relatable, realistic, and engaging, they stray far afield from the traditional settings of classic weird fiction, inhabiting the jaded, urban universe of the 21st century. Unlike James (though very much like Aickman), sex and eroticism dominate his protagonists’ libidinous minds, and the difference between a piece of saucy pulp fiction and a Machen-esque tale of erotic horror comes down to the last few paragraphs or even a few phrases towards the end. His stories are thoroughly grounded in postmodern materiality, and feature seedy vlogs, old pizza boxes, 1958 Fender guitars, oversized bags of chips, smoky, seaside pubs, sweaty nightgowns, buzzing TVs, and dirty bathtubs.
Though he is English and writes within the bullshit-averse, blue-collar, English milieu, it teems with a rockabilly, American energy that reminds me at turns of the music of Meat Loaf and The Cramps, the films of David Lynch and Brian De Palma, and the stories of Dashiell Hammett and Stephen King. Overall, one strongly suspects that if they had a smell, they would be resinous with cigarette smoke, sour with the breath of empty whiskey bottles, and bitter with the incense of old coffee being warmed back up.
In full disclosure, as the editor of our weird fiction journal, "The Yellow Booke," I had the honor to publish four of these excellent stories years ago in two separate volumes, and since that encounter, I have followed his career with enthusiasm.
If you enjoy clever weird fiction with a truly sinister but capably restrained edge, I will eagerly recommend his work to you. It certainly has haunted me every time I've read it, and as a lover of weird horror in all its solemn bitterness and neo noir in all its twisted, dry humor, I only wish that more contemporary writers would follow his lead.