Review: “The Mall” By S. L. Grey (Novel)

Well, for the next book in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel from 2011 called “The Mall” by S.L. Grey. I first found this novel shortly after I’d finished reading Sarah Lotz’s excellent “Day Four” a few weeks earlier and decided to search online for other novels by the author.

And, given my fascination with abandoned shopping centres, this novel (co-written by Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) intrigued me enough to order a second-hand copy of it.

So, let’s take a look at “The Mall”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Corvus (UK) paperback edition of “The Mall” that I read.

The novel begins in Johannesburg. A down-and-out British woman with a coke habit called Rhoda is searching the halls of a large shopping centre for the child that she was supposed to be babysitting for her cousin.

Although the centre’s security guards aren’t exactly helpful, Rhoda eventually gets them to talk to a bookshop assistant called Daniel who she thinks might have seen the lost child. However, the incompetent guards mess this up and give Daniel the wrong description.

With suspicion falling on Rhoda, she flees the guards and lies in wait in a nearby car park for Daniel to emerge from the centre at night. When he does, she threatens him and eventually, at knifepoint, forces him to return to the centre to help her look for the child.

But, soon after they break into the closed shopping centre, they find that they cannot leave. Not only do parts of the centre look slightly different, but they both start receiving creepy text messages from someone who wants to play a game with them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it the first half of it is one of closest things that I’ve ever seen to a “Silent Hill” novel πŸ™‚ Yes, the story goes in a slightly different direction later in the book, but the first half or so of the book is like an awesome mixture of the shopping centre level from “Silent Hill 3” and the “Saw” movies πŸ™‚

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they are a brilliant mixture of suspenseful horror, psychological horror, surreal/paranormal horror, atmospheric horror, creepy locations, dystopian horror, realistic horror, unreliable reality horror, gross out horror and character-based horror.

As I hinted earlier, the novel’s horror elements are at their very best during the first half of the novel – where the characters find themselves trapped in the run-down parts of a deserted shopping centre. Everything from the creepy mannequins, to the “nightmare world” atmosphere to the menacing text messages reminded me a lot of both “Silent Hill” and the “Saw” movies πŸ™‚ Seriously, it’s really cool to see this type of horror in a novel πŸ™‚

The second half of the novel focuses a lot more on surreal satire, dystopian horror, bleak horror and more realistic drama. Although the story does something really clever with it’s twisted nightmare-world (which I won’t spoil) during the late parts of the novel, the second half of the novel is a bit more understated and less visceral than the earlier parts of the novel. These parts of the story are more creepy, bleak and/or disturbing than outright scary, if this makes sense.

I should probably also talk about the novel’s satirical elements too, since this novel is a satire of consumerism. About halfway through the story, the characters find themselves in an uncanny alternate version of the mall, where all of the shop signs are different (eg: parodies of shop names), the adverts are grotesque, everyone speaks a slightly weird version of English and the mall’s inhabitants are sharply divided between homeless people, inhuman robot-like employees and grotesque ultra-rich “shoppers”.

This segment of the novel reads a lot like an updated version of the dystopian fiction of the 1950s-80s and it is surprisingly compelling, not to mention both hilarious and disturbing at the same time too. And, although I’d have liked to have seen slightly more “Silent Hill”-style horror in this part of the story, it’s refreshing to see a modern version of this type of old-school dystopian fiction πŸ™‚

This novel is also more of a thriller than I’d expected too πŸ™‚ Thanks to the way that it is written and the clever use of mystery and suspense, this novel is a surprisingly gripping and fast-paced one. Although, like with the horror elements, this is at it’s best in the first half of the novel, the second half is still very compelling too.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written. Not only do both Dan and Rhoda get a lot of characterisation and character development – which turns them from unsympathetic characters into very sympathetic ones – but the weird love-hate relationship between them is also a really compelling part of the story too. In addition to this, the novel is also populated by an unnervingly odd cast of background characters who really help to add a bit of extra unease to the story too πŸ™‚

In terms of the writing, it is better than I’d initially thought. In short, even though this novel uses both present-tense narration and the dreaded multiple-first person narrators, it actually works surprisingly well. Each chapter clearly signposts who is narrating and, once you get used to the slightly weird present-tense narration, it really helps to add some extra intensity to the story.

The writing style in this story is more on the informal and gritty side of things and, although this means that it takes the story a while to really build up some atmosphere, it keeps things moving at a fast pace and really fits in with the general style and tone of the story too πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 312 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long and, although the first half is more fast-paced than the second half, both halves of the novel are really compelling πŸ™‚

All in all, this is a really innovative, creepy and compelling horror novel πŸ™‚ If you’re a fan of the classic “Silent Hill” games and/or old-school dystopian fiction, then you’ll really love it πŸ™‚ Yes, the narration is a bit weird and the first half is slightly better than the second half, but it is still one hell of a novel πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

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