Next week sees the publication The Doloriad by Missouri Williams, which is to be published by one of my favourite indie presses, Dead Ink. As soon as I heard about this book, I knew it was one I had to read. As someone who has read their fair share of strange fiction over the years, often drawn to the weird and wonderful, my interest was piqued when I read the blurb of Williams’ debut novel, which promised a desolate world, and a fight for survival, involving a family that is unconventional to say the least…
What better way to distract from the chaos of the world and my recent covid diagnosis (here ends my shameless plea for sympathy) than to immerse yourself in a good book, I thought, for a bit of escapism. So this week it was time to pick up The Doloriad, a book which I had had my eye on for a little while, or rather, it had an eye on me as you can see from the unsettling cover art (shout out to Luke Bird for the excellent cover design as always) but the unnerving grin that looked over at me from the bookshelf proved to set the tone perfectly for my journey into this bizarre yet fascinating world.
Events in The Doloriad take place in the aftermath of a mysterious and devastating environmental event which has resulted in the majority of mankind being wiped out. That is apart from one family, who, descended from incest, are clinging onto life in this unforgiving landscape, all under the rule of The Matriarch who controls her family in her merciless manner, with dreams of giving humanity a new start. To enable this, one of her daughters is offered as a marriage partner to any potential survivors who may still be out in the world, although things do not go according to plan, and The Matriarch’s control over her family begins to weaken. From the opening pages I was hooked, and horrified by the world that was laid before me. The imagery from the offset was vivid, and Williams was able to describe a most unusual scene so clearly, and in grim detail, in such a way that I was instantly intrigued and left wanting to find out more. This is something that I found throughout the book as the story unfolds further, the absurdity of this tale is one that is shocking and often horrific to read, yet at the same time it is difficult to look away.
The Doloriad is undoubtedly a dark and unusual read and a story that is hard to categorise. There are many elements to this novel, with the ruined world setting giving the story a post-apocalyptic feel, with the family scavenging for food and supplies as they attempt to make something of this damaged earth. It also has the feel of a gothic fairy tale or Greek tragedy with its characters having a mythological air to them. And the feuding siblings, and the way that they pick on and at each other also has elements of a Shakespearean family feud, the ways in which they cared for one another, and the way they hurt each other. But what struck me most about it, and what I was left pondering after I finished reading it, was this feeling of resilience and the determination of humanity to continue, to move forward, in the face of the most extraordinary and devastating of circumstances. As I read of these siblings and their depravity, the cruelty and violence that was so vividly depicted, it was interesting to consider the lengths they would go to, to fight for something in such a state of disrepair as this particular world that Williams has forged. Through this wholly original story we see a commitment to life like no other, through the story of a truly unforgettable family.
The Doloriad is to be published on 3rd March 2022 by Dead Ink Books. With thanks to Jordan Taylor-Jones for providing a copy for review.