Through Splintered Walls contains three short stories followed by one novella. They're titled "Mountain", "Creek", "Road" and "Sky", which I think is a great set of names for within a collection. To me, the collection can easily be split into two parts, the short stories on the one hand, and the novella on the other.
The Short Stories
"Mountain" is about a ghost-haunted mountain and a woman who often drives over it on the way to the coast. The mountain and its ghosts hold many secrets, which they don't always share with passers by. But the main character has seen some of them and the reader learns a few more.
"Creek" is about quaking women who drowned in creeks. They claw their way through Australia's shallow creekbeds and call out, demanding to know what happened to their loved-ones. Olivia, our protagonist, first encountered them when she was young and has been haunted by them ever since. I loved the ending of this one, but I shan't elaborate because spoilers.
"Road" is a tale about an older couple who live at a black spot on the road (as in, a place where there are many accidents). They're quite used to injured people running up to their house and asking to use their phone (it's a mobile phone black spot too), and they always lay out a wreath for the accident victims. But is that all there is to it? You'll have to read the story to find out.
The Novella"Sky", unlike the short stories, is a somewhat less literal title. The story is named after the weird small country town, somewhere north of Sydney, in which much of the action takes place. The protagonist, Zed, is not very likeable at all (he is, in fact, a rapist — you've been warned). From when we first meet him as a child, seen through his school-teacher's eyes, to the main action when he finds himself in Sky, I didn't relate to Zed at all, but kept reading because I wanted to know what happened next. (Whereas with the short stories, I cared about the characters.)
Sky is a horror town in a classically dystopic way; everyone is employed because to get a job or to advance, they have to challenge the person currently holding that job and fight to the death. But Zed keeps being drawn there, for various reasons. I suspect his being a terrible person heightens the feelings of disgust the reader has towards Sky, since even he finds the place disgusting. The story is told in seemingly random parts which eventually come together in a coherent string of cause and effect.
I didn't enjoy "Sky" as much as the short stories. Not because it was bad, but because it made me uncomfortable in a less enjoyable way. If anything, it reminded me most strongly of Warren's Slights, but less horribly disturbing. Whereas the short stories are almost the kind of creepy tales you might tell around a camp fire at night.
I enjoyed Through Splintered Walls very much, despite reading the three short stories in the middle of the night during a bout of insomnia (I'm not sure why this seemed like a good idea at the time, but I suppose it could have been worse). I recommend the collection to fans of horror and creepy stories. There are a few dismembered body parts floating around in "Sky" but nothing overly gory on the page. Er, except for the bit with the cat food factory grinder. The collection is definitely in my top three of the Twelve Planets (along with Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti).
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2012, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: Twelve Planets number 6 (but there's no reason to read them in any particular order)
Format read: ebook
Source: Twelve Planets ebook subscription
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013, Aussie Horror Reading Challenge