Book Review – THIS ISN’T ANYWHERE YOU KNOW by Gary McMahon

Review by Jolly Goat

As usual, this is a non-spoiler review, so frollock freely my horned pals.

This isn’t the world you grew up in. The nice safe place where everybody loves you and nobody wishes you harm. It isn’t your familiar neighbourhood. Your street. Your Town. Your country. Your reality.

Instead, it’s a place that exists beneath the skin of the familiar, a dark, cruel zone where anything can, and will, happen. Here, films can haunt you, skeletons can walk and talk, puppets can love you, and there’s a bluebird in everyone’s heart…

This is not your house; these are not your family. When you look in the mirror, it isn’t your own face you see.

Nobody here even knows – or cares – who you really are.

Don’t just take my word for it. Look around. Take it all in.

This isn’t anywhere you know.

Before I go into the contents of this short story collection, I have to first comment on how beautifully the book is presented. The title is written in Priya Sharma’s (a wonderful author, if you are not familiar) elegant handwriting, and the edition in my possession is a glossy, gorgeous hardcover worthy of being presented on anyone’s bookshelf.

We start with a particularly frank and personal introduction that made me feel like I know Gary McMahon, the author, much better than I do. In fact, I actually don’t know him at all – but the sincerity of the opening few pages created a bond between author and reader, based purely on empathy. He talks of some troubled times in an entirely relatable way, and this goat right here appreciated the hell out of it. Writers do tend to bear their souls in their work, but in fiction you can never really tell how much comes from the writer’s imagination versus their own anxieties. Opening a collection with a personal piece of non-fiction like this is not only brave, but effective in setting the tone of the book.

The book is divided into three sections of stories: Sorrows, Eulogies, and Laments, and I guess I did pick up on a general tone in each section that linked the stories together.

The opening story, entitled ‘THE OLD CHURCH’ put a wide smile on my thin lips, let me tell you. It was right up my deserted, dimly-lit, creepy street. We follow Duncan (poor, unknowing Duncan) to a Christening. It is not your average Christening. I loved this story and knew that this was a collection I would continue to enjoy.

REMAINS is a weird story that I’m still not altogether sure I quite liked, but what I did like (love, actually) is Gary’s writing. I didn’t notice it so much in the previous story, because I was foaming at the mouth enjoying the plot so much. This story felt creepy and chilling and quiet, and I had time to notice how eloquently it is written.

SILENT WATERS, RUNNING DEEP was another home-run. It was just so weird and unsettling – I think it would even put a smile on Angry Goat’s lips, even though they usually prefer much more blood and guts. Get out of the water, is all I will say about this one.

SHE WHO WAITS is your more typical, classic ghost story. It gives a feeling of gothic melancholia, and progresses from there to very creepy.

LIFELIKE is one I had to read a second time because I wasn’t quite sure I understood it the first time around. I enjoyed both reads. Like the other stories, it’s so weird and creepy, and the building tension is wonderful.

DULL FIRE is the strangest metaphor for abuse trauma I’ve ever read, and it was great in the most unsettling way.

THAT NIGHT AT THE GRIEF made me suddenly realise that Gary McMahon is not only a wonderful writer, but particularly skilled at opening a story.

‘As far as I know we were the only people who fished there. Everyone else steered clear of that particular stretch of river, either by some unconscious agreement or because of the old myths and legends associated with the area. Whatever the reason, it was always quiet there, and we were always left alone.

My brother and I had been night-fishing that particular spot for a whole month before anything actually happened.’

Another odd tale that I enjoyed. Gary’s stories are so out of left-field that sometimes they almost fall outside of the horror genre, but then something bizarre and spooky happens and the story is firmly planted where it belongs, among its fellow creeps.

SOMETIMES EVERYTHING GETS SO WEIRD IT JUST MAKES SENSE is the story that made me think that this whole collection is full of metaphors about loss and the intrinsic sadness of the broken human condition. Or this story could just be an oddity about an ex-convict who’s lonely and gets attached to a freaky wooden puppet.

DIRTY STORY (great title by the way) is slightly confusing to me. Is it about suicide? I don’t know, but it certainly feels to me like it’s an apt interpretation of depression, but one that avoids the usual cliches. The character’s dirty hands reminded me of Lady Macbeth always wringing her hands, unable to wash away her dastardly deed. I absolutely love it and it’s one of my favourites in the collection.

IN THE DARKEST ROOM IN THE DARKEST HOUSE ON THE DARKEST PART OF THE STREET (another great title that reminded me of the opening to TRAP DOOR) is another favourite, containing some great lines. Two that I made note of are:

  • ‘As she passes from light into dark, I experience the sensation that I am losing something for ever.’
  • “I’ll go first.” She manages to get her knee up onto the window sill. Gripping each side of the frame, she pulls her body inside. I watch her as she is swallowed up by the intense blackness inside the house, and consider running away.’

THE CHUTE is scary and took me off-guard. I’d say that most of these stories so far belong in the Quiet Horror category, so I wasn’t expecting something nasty and terror-inducing. It absolutely screams of self-hatred, like the protagonist believes she belongs with the trash down the chute. It’s fantastic.

THE KITES … are evil! Evil, I tell you! This reminded me very much of the works of Joe Hill, but with the mean-spirited nastiness of Richard Bachman.

EVERYBODY FLOATS (as my favourite clown once told me) reminds me of Stephen King, and almost reads like it could be set in Derry as part of IT’s universe.

THERE’S A BLUEBIRD IN MY HEART depressed me. Angry Goat would probably love this story.

THE YELLOW FILM filled me with the same kind of joy as that old anthology show, TALES FROM THE CRYPT did. It felt like it could be a modern-day episode of that show, about the dark web. Massive horns up for this one.

AFTER THE READING closes the collection, and closes it in style. I was once again reminded of Stephen King, and in particular his short story WORDPROCESSOR OF THE GODS, but if it was written by someone like Adam Nevill. I can’t pay a higher compliment to Gary on that score, because King and Nevill are my two favourite writers.

I don’t usually bother to comment on the AFTERWORD, if one is included, but I do want to mention that this particular afterword is the most unique, creative, and thought-provoking afterword I’ve ever read.

I’m sure that stating I liked this book is unnecessary, but I liked it. I liked it very much. It’s most definitely not for everyone, but for sure it has its audience. I’d recommend this to those who enjoy a thought-provoking, empathic reading experience, and to those who love to get lost in gorgeous writing and slow, creeping dread. This was my first Gary McMahon book and will not be my last.

If you’d like to get your own copy, you can purchase one here:


If you’d like to learn more about Gary, you can visit his website here:


If you’d like to check out more works released by BLACK SHUCK BOOKS (I highly recommend browsing their books and authors – they’re an outstanding indie press), you can find them here:


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