Les Vacances by Phil Sloman
The Alchemy Press, p/b, £5.99
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
Solman’s subtle approach to the horror genre is well known. The British Fantasy Award nominated BECOMING DAVID and the critically acclaimed collection, BROKEN ON THE INSIDE are testament to a writer committed to telling tales with a nuanced narrative, with flashes of violence that are even more potent because of it.
With LES VACANCES, Sloman takes on folk-horror as apathetic husband and wife Frank and Elizabeth Dixon, hire a gite in a sleepy French village to counter the mediocrity that is their marriage. En route, the couple become temporarily lost. In the confusion, Elizabeth sees the image of a twisted old woman in the road, causing Frank to almost crash the car.
Things get no easier when they arrive at their destination. Lizzie is horrified to find their gite is built near a graveyard where a group of monks, burned alive centuries before, are now buried. To compound the issue, Frank is beguiled by Madeline their alluring host. Lizzie becomes increasingly suspicious about her husband’s flirtatious behaviour, not helped by bizarre dreams of hooded figures carrying torches in the night. These visions become more pronounced and begin to involve Madeline’s unseen mother. What follows is a rapid descent into mistrust and paranoia as the Dixons become enmeshed in the village’s esoteric history, and those who perpetuate it.
While the story is not going to be considered as breaking new ground, LES VACANCES is an interesting take of the folk horror genre. Sloman uses the concept of alienation to great effect, be that Frank and Elizabeth’s jaded relationship, the inevitable cultural divide that comes with holidays abroad, and the disintegration of Elizabeth’s trust in those around her as the story progresses. This is no more evident than in the bleak finale which will not be divulged here for fear of spoiling the experience for the reader.
There are also darker themes, especially around the Dixon’s dependence on familiarity as a means of avoiding the emotional wasteland that is their marriage. The deficits in their worn-out relationship become markers by which trials are placed upon the protagonists, underscoring where all the faults lie and leaving the reader to question if, had this couple been more cohesive, would they have been more resilient against the forces rising against them?
Again, Sloman has produced a brisk tale of love, loss, and yearning, with a resolute emotional core that is fast becoming his trademark. The tale would have probably benefited from a few thousand more words but still works, the emotional content retained enough for the reader to invest in the characters.
Overall, LES VACANCES is another solid entry into Sloman’s body of work and, unlike the Dixon’s holiday let, a good place to stop for a few hours.