Molly Southbourne Novellas
by Tade Thompson
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
1. The Murders of Molly Southbourne
2. The Survival of Molly Southbourne
Trigger warning for self-harm.
"Every time she bleeds a murderer is born."
That blurb gave me a slightly mistaken notion about what to expect from The Murders of Molly Southbourne. I wondered, is the murderer an entity Molly creates by bleeding, or is it someone else unconnected to her? Is it something she does intentionally, or a result she cannot control? Is someone else doing this to Molly to create the murderers? Is the murderer the entity that is created, or is it Molly herself? Is it all a fever-dream fantasy or is it real? If so, how and why? My confusion also stemmed from the fact it had been nominated for three very different awards: British Fantasy, British Science Fiction, and Shirley Jackson (Horror). Turns out it is a mix of all three genres, with the SF element not being introduced until the end. The story actually begins toward the end, with a woman chained to a concrete wall in a basement or bunker. She can't recall how she came to be there, or even who she is, although she is surprised she has a few random memories. Is this Molly Southbourne, or is it the other woman who comes into the room later? The other woman starts telling her a story.
Molly Southbourne lives on a small farm in the English countryside. It's isolated, and she is home-schooled, so she has no friends, only books, and TV, and things her parents teach her. She is very young when she first learns about the danger of bleeding. A few days after an accident, after her mother had cleaned up the mess, she spies another young girl, naked, sprawled under a tree in their back yard. The girl looks exactly like Molly. She takes the girl into the house, up to her room to play. When her parents find out, they take the molly outside, and shortly after a gunshot is heard. Her mother teaches her what to do with the blood, cleaning with bleach, burning and burying any clothes and cleaning supplies afterwards. It is easy to assume they have had to do this many times before, but Molly has no memory of it. Later, her father teaches her how to skin and dismember an animal cleanly, with the least chance of mess and spilled blood. Her mother teaches her self-defense, with and without weapons. It is clear her parents know much more than they are telling, but Molly is intelligent enough to listen to their instructions and not ask too many questions. Things get more problematic when she begins menstruating. She runs away from home, but is found and returned by her father. She meets a boy, discovers sex, wants to leave the farm, all the while having to defend herself from other mollys when they appear.
It's less of a horror tale than you might assume, mainly because the narrative is dispassionate, as if told from a distance by an uninterested party. I'm still not sure how I should rate it, but it is somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. To detail either the positives or negatives would involve spoilers. Even some of my guesses might be considered spoilers by some. There are things implied about Molly's psychological outlook, or at least things I surmised from her actions. With the dangers she is well aware of, why would she intentionally cut herself? Is it because she is lonely and wants companionship? Does she think another molly might have attributes and qualities she lacks? Does she feel guilt for the many mollys she's had to kill? Does she want another molly to kill her instead? Did another molly kill her, then carry on the persona? Each reader has to decide those variables for themselves. Sometimes it is good for a story to leave you guessing, other times it is frustrating. This is a novella, just a little more than 100 pages, but I wanted more. Especially more information about Molly's mother. Did the same thing happen to her before she learned how to deal with the blood, or was she just a carrier of the condition, passed down to her daughter? Is Molly her daughter? I doubt we'll ever know, not unless the upcoming The Survival of Molly Southbourne is at least partially a prequel, not just a sequel. It comes out in July, and while this was not a totally satisfying read, it was intriguing enough to want to follow the story.
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