Hersham Horror Books, £8.00
Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
It is mere weeks after a deadly infection has ravaged civilisation, and a small community must come together in order to survive. Protagonist Hannah leads a cleanup crew who go into the fields surrounding the village with the unenviable and almost fruitless task of removing seemingly endless piles of dead, infected bodies, to burn on a pyre in a nearby quarry. Every day Hannah and her sombre team have to endure the terrible realities of the infection, and its devastating impact on humanity, whilst coping and internalising the emotional residue this arduous work leaves behind. As thing aren’t already on the uphill, the team are held in silent contempt by the general community, who struggle with the ambiguities of a group of people who have to undertake necessary yet ultimately de-humanising work. Against this backdrop Hannah must come to terms with the deep horror, and associated philosophical challenges of life in a dying world.
As bizarre as this observation may seem, it is somewhat refreshing to read a post-apocalyptic tale in which those affected by a virus actually stay dead. Perhaps this is what makes Barber’s vision of World’s End so compelling. There is plenty of time for the characters, and the reader, to reflect on the fate of both victims and survivors.
The plot, such as it is, is simple but one gets the impression this is not, and never was meant to be, the book’s true purpose. In Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence Barber has masterfully crafted a morality tale; an expose on the fluidity of ethics in an ever changing social climate, the upshot is a book that is both exquisite and resonant. The narrative is smooth, the metaphors sublime. Barber packs a lot into the 150 pages this novella affords, horror and philosophy are natural bedfellows, and the reader is held firm by the message they impart.
Is this possibly one of the most powerful pieces of post-apocalyptic fiction in recent years? Most certainly. Is this novella worthy of Barber becoming a key name in modern British horror?
Well, that’s for the prospective readers of this fine piece of storytelling to determine. My mind, of course, is already made up.