These Foolish and Harmful Delights by Cate Gardner

February 28, 2020

I’m a fan of Cate Gardner’s writing so when her latest anthology was recently released, I figured it was high time that I dipped my toes back into the waters of short fiction. These Foolish and Harmful Delights features eight tales that explore the darker side of the human condition.

Here are a few thoughts about some of the book’s many highlights.

This Foolish & Harmful Delights – Imagine Punch and Judy are real. Now imagine that they have been sent to Hell because, it turns out, both of them are more than a little unhinged. The opportunity finally arrives for them to escape their endless torment and wreak some havoc of their own. In this first story, Gardner has morphed the already creepy traditional puppets into a pair of sadomasochistic grotesques who delight in making each other and everyone else suffer. It’s delightful alright, in a deliciously nasty way.

A Bleeding of Ink – A dark exploration of mental health seen through the eyes of Alice. I think this is my favourite story in the entire collection. I loved how the boundaries between fantasy and reality smudge and overlap. There is a sense of ambiguity to Alice’s predicament that I liked. Is Wonderland real or is she the victim of her own psychosis? Is she ‘that’ Alice or not? Extra points for featuring White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane. Trippy, mind bending and sinister, it’s a song that always manages to add an extra layer of creepy whenever it pops up.

When the Moon Man Knocks – A story that focuses on the horror of grief caused by an unexpected bereavement. Is it possible for Olive and Ben to reconnect when their lives have been torn apart? Perhaps the Moon Man can help? This may be the saddest story in the entire collection. Olive has been so destroyed by the situation she finds herself in, it was impossible for me not to empathise. I always find when I am reading short fiction collections there are always some stories that would lend themselves to being expanded upon. I’d love to know more about the Moon Man’s history.

For Those Who Dance by Rope or Dream – Can a prisoner keep her nerve when faced with the inevitable? Theodora is grimly determined to stay strong whatever the cost but as time ticks away the reality of her situation finally hits home. This story is the very definition of a short, sharp shock. There is an air of tension in the narrative that builds and builds right up until the final word. Just brilliant.

Guess what? That is only half the stories in the collection. There are another four for you to discover yourself. I am sure you will not be disappointed. The Dead Moth’s Weighted Wings, for example, has a genuinely thought-provoking premise. It is truly exceptional.

There is an introspective, almost intimate quality to each entry in the collection. Gardner’s powerful writing brings together tales of love and loss, rebellion and empowerment. These Foolish & Harmful Delights encompasses the full gamut of emotions. The stories delicately dance that fine line between dark fantasy and psychological horror. If you enjoy your fiction in the short form and are looking for something memorable, I can confirm that Cate Gardner is the author for you.

My musical recommendation to accompany this collection could not be more appropriate. The soundtrack to the movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich perfectly captures the dark, unsettling tone that the author’s writing evokes.

These Foolish and Harmful Delights is published by the good people at Fox Spirit and is available now.

Before I go, I should also mention that way back in 2011* I read and reviewed Theatre of Curious Acts also by Cate. It is still a firm favourite many years later. I strongly recommend checking that out as well. You can thank me later.

*Sweet merciful heavens! Has it really been that long? This makes me feel terribly old.

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