Nina Allan, one of my favourite contemporary novelists, is also a brilliant writer of short fiction. The recently published ‘Four Abstracts’ is a follow-up of sorts to the novella A Thread of Truth, focusing on the life of a reclusive artist suffering from an illness that may or may not have turned her into a spider. Her friend, the narrator, is archiving her work and preparing to present it to the public – the ‘Four Abstracts’ of the title become the framing device with which to explore the life of this solitary woman.
Like M John Harrison, Nina Allan is a master of a kind of banal British weird fiction that I find completely compelling. ‘Four Abstracts’ is a very human and downbeat story set in rural West Devon, full of references to the Arachne myth and other stories of women becoming spiders, like the Japanese Jorōgumo, but essentially a story of the hurts and difficulties life can throw at a person.
First published in New Fears, ed. Mark Morris, Titan Books, 2017