As haunted houses go, an American IKEA knockoff called ORSK isn’t really the first place you’d think of, but that’s what makes Horrorstör something uniquely terrifying.
‘Store Partner’ Amy is a college dropout, barely scraping together a living at ORSK while she tries to figure what on earth she’s going to do with her life. Every day she battles with demanding customers, eccentric colleagues, and an over enthusiastic manager named Basil, who spouts corporate speak at every turn and can’t understand why Amy doesn’t make her job at ORSK her top priority.
In their branch, strange things have been happening. Merchandise has been going missing or getting wrecked at night, and something is leaving a disgusting smell around the place. Fearing a store inspection the next day, Basil ropes Amy into working a night shift with him, in order to catch the culprit. Behind on her rent and lured in by the promise of cash at the end of the night, Amy reluctantly agrees.
Horrorstör is very much a rollercoaster in terms of a horror novel. The ramp up is slow and subtle at first, quietly building up a sense of dread and unsettlement. As the night progresses, strange graffiti appears on the walls, and the long, twisting path through the showroom changes behind the protagonists. Like that rollercoaster though, once the book reaches the top of the lift it all goes downhill in a real hurry, and you’d better hope you’re strapped in.
What makes Horrorstör great is that it manages to pick out the real horror in modern everyday life, before there’s even a whiff of the supernatural. Amy feels trapped by her circumstances, trying to escape her trailer park past and uninterested parents, and she’s constantly running a treadmill with a better life always just a little bit out of reach.
‘The problem was the liars. They said she could do anything she set her mind to, told her that she should shoot for the moon because if she missed she’d be among the stars, they made movies tricking her into thinking she could do heroic things. All lies. Because she was born to answer phones in call centers, to carry bags to customers’ cars, to punch a clock, to measure her life in smoke breaks. To think otherwise was insane.’ – Grady Hendrix
When the traditional horror kicks in, it strikes the right balance between the believable and the downright insane that all good horror should. The characters dig themselves further into the insanity because they simply won’t believe what they’re seeing, as who would believe their big box retail store was haunted? A note, though: if you’re squeamish, the body horror may not be for you. It’s not constant, but it happens and when it does, it’s executed well. There was one scene that made me feel physically sick, and I’m honestly counting that as a positive reaction to Hendrix’s evocative writing.
Adding to the polish of the story is the wonderful way it’s published. The book resembles an IKEA style catalogue, complete with order forms, store maps, and chapter headings that take the form of product descriptions that get more and more threatening as the story progresses.
If you’re a horror fan, or if you’ve ever worked retail, I strongly recommend that you read Horrorstör. I promise you, you’ll never walk around an IKEA without feeling at least slightly uneasy ever again.
Siobhan Harper is a freelance writer living in Birmingham UK. She strongly believes in figuring things out as you go along, but only because she's pathalogically disorganised. You can follow her adventures in writing at http://wingingitsiobhanharper.blogspot.co.uk/, or her thoughts on early mornings and dogs on Twitter at @Beatrix_Plotter.