The Outcast Hours edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin
Solaris, pb, £10.99
Reviewed by Megan Leigh @m_leigh_g
The strength of an anthology like The Outcast Hours, arguably, comes from theme. Jared Shurin and Mahvesh Murad’s previous collection, The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories, stuck to a simple, strong thread throughout – djinns from across the world. Their follow-up is unfocused and fails to live up to its predecessor.
The Outcast Hours has a fairly loose thematic core compared to Djinn. All the stories centre on the night, the hours where darkness reigns, in perhaps more ways than one. But ‘night’ is a big topic. While it can be fun to read a thematic collection that shows a wide range of interpretation, this is so wide as to be meaningless.
Genre also comes into question with The Outcast Hours. Those who are familiar with Murad and Shurin – like myself – may well approach the collection with speculative fiction in mind. The first story (and arguably the strongest in the entire anthology) bears that out. But realism also finds itself rubbing shoulders with the fantastical. Many of the realist stories had a lot of merit, but this variation across genres further muddied the waters of the collection. Expectations are an important aspect of the book–reader relationship, and my expectations were not met.
Then again, perhaps thematic coherence isn’t as important as individual story merit. Here, at least, we are on surer footing. These are solid short stories, as I have come to expect from Murad and Shurin. Short stories collections are interesting beasts, however. There will always be some stories that speak to you more than others. A firm editorial hand in an anthology or a disciplined author goes a long way to keep the reader’s attention throughout, but this collection is far too meandering.
The Outcast Hours has a churning cycle of peaks and troughs. The very first story in the anthology was incredibly strong – inventive, kept me guessing, blurred lines of morality, unreliable narrator – while the handful following it failed to capture my interest. With every story that is just okay, it is a struggle to care about carrying on. While one incredible story is done in a flash, the next invariably did not deliver on the same narrative high.
Verdict: The Outcast Hours contains some solid stories but the lack of strict thematic coherence and reliably arresting concepts failed to live up to my expectations.