Review: Bread and Circuses by Felicity Dowker (AWW Challenge 2013 #7)

bread and circusesFelicity Dowker is the writer who made me see the potential of the zombie story. Previously, zombies had just been hulking, mindless brain-eaters, good as a metaphor for mindless mass threat (an analogy for overconsumption or the way humanity self-anaesthetises, or even the fear of Alzheimer’s) but not much more.

Then I read her short zombie love story, Bread and Circuses, and the whole genre changed for me.

I’ve read a lot of excellent zombie fiction since then, and tried my hand at a zombie story myself, but Bread and Circuses remains one of my favourites.

How good was it, then, that Ticonderoga Press scooped up this fabulous writer of horror (and winner of awards) to produce a collection – Bread and Circuses: stories by Felicity Dowker?

SO GOOD is the answer you are looking for.

This collection is replete, from start to finish, with tales full of rage, creeping horror and, almost surprisingly, the notion of love both as a destructive and a redemptive force. The eponymous Bread and Circuses and Jesse’s Gift most readily exemplify that particular theme, but elements of it arise in Red Delicious, To Wish on a Clockwork Heart and Us, After the House Came Back.

The settings for Dowker’s horror are often urban, revolving very much around the home, around children and relationships. Domestic violence features strongly as a theme, as does love and revenge. The whole is imbued with a sense of female power, as well as the consequences not only of abusing others but of willingly surrendering your autonomy (and therefore safety) to another.

Each story has its own voice too. While some names or notions may recur, there is great variety in the types of story being told. Some are drawn from fairy tales, others from mythology; yet others are very contemporary in their conception. Zombies and vampires are represented, as is the horror circus trope, but there are touches of steampunk, of traditional fantasy (dragons and wizards!) as well as urban myth and the great tradition of revenge tragedies.

Felicity Dowker is one of Australia’s best new voices in horror fiction, her powerful feminist approach giving the genre a good deal of…well, fresh blood. Be creeped out, disturbed, challenged and thoroughly (if sometimes unwillingly) captivated!