ARTICLE – (REVIEW) August 2018

Tale of Holiday Hell That Defies the Usual Traps

Waiting For the Rat by Megan Taylor

Reviewed by Clare Ramsey

AS an ingredient in horror fiction I might not be alone in thinking that rats have been – how can I put it? – overdone.

Stories of the lamer variety seldom limp by without one or more of the rodents raising a snout, flashing some teeth or twitching a tail. And as for all of that gnawing and clawing…

So when Megan Taylor’s new tale ‘Waiting For the Rat’ dropped on my doormat forgive me if my pulse didn’t exactly start speeding.

Fortunately, in the latest addition to a chapbook series produced by The Short Story to which story-tellers of the likes of Matthew G. Rees and Sean Lusk have contributed, Taylor  (with three novels to her name plus a story collection: The Woman under the Ground, 2014) serves-up a worthwhile read that steers clear of the usual traps.

We join a couple on a holiday island (the territory might be Spanish or Greek) whose stay is being disturbed by the sound of scratching in their apartment.  The noise begins to play on – and with – their minds.

The woman seems to see something rat-like everywhere – in the body-hair of her partner, the leaves of the trees ‘that are more like fur than foliage’ and the ragged nails ‘like tiny claws’ of the apartment’s less than welcoming landlady.

Meanwhile the guy  recounts a story from his youth about a botched attempt to kill a mouse, allowing Taylor to deliver some neatly-crafted lines: ‘… it tried only to swim, three twig-like legs cycling madly, the crushed paw waving a miniature, red flag.’

Taylor turns up the tension and the story begins to tread a nice edge, with the reader wondering which way it might fall.

We learn the apartment has a locked room. This, the man believes, is the source of the maddening scratching. But the woman wonders if the noise might not be inside her. We learn she has suffered a trauma: the loss of a child: a baby, it seems.

At the end of a wine-fortified supper the couple decide to act.

Story-writer Nicholas Royle, a reader in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, where Taylor took a master’s, comments in a cover blurb: ‘Airbnb reinvented by Freud. In an apartment-hire nightmare of noise, colour and secret rooms, Taylor’s protagonist discovers you can’t take a holiday from your own life.’

Certainly a strength of this story is its convincing contemporary feel, also that sense of irritability and disorientation that heat and settings a little out of the ordinary can bring.

There’s a last-page reveal. This is a device that can bury weak writers. Taylor pulls it off – another rat-trap negotiated.

This small book is worth the read: crisp and assured writing inducing moments of afterthought that tend to be the sign that a tale has hit the target. (Developing writers attempting literary horror in contemporary, realist settings might also find it useful.)

* ‘Waiting For The Rat’ is issued in numbered copies in a limited edition of 250. It’s published by TSS (The Short Story), of London, whose site is here: TSS