Into Bones like Oil
"Dark, disturbing, visceral" (5 stars) —NB Magazine
In this gothic-styled ghost story that simmers with strange, Warren shows once again her flair for exploring the mundane—themes of love, loss, grief, and guilt manifest in a way that is both hauntingly familiar and eerily askew.
People come to The Angelsea, a rooming house near the beach, for many reasons. Some come to get some sleep, because here, you sleep like the dead. Dora arrives seeking solitude and escape from reality. Instead, she finds a place haunted by the drowned and desperate, who speak through the sleeping inhabitants. She fears sleep herself, terrified that the ghosts of her daughters will tell her “it’s all your fault we’re dead.” At the same time, she’d give anything to hear them one more time.
Praise For Into Bones like Oil…
"Protagonist Dora’s children are always at the back of her mind, at the fore. She has her eccentricities and multiplicities, and grave faults. As in all Kaaron Warren’s delightful but grim stories she borrows from something relatable. She reaches for the uncanny in the everyday, makes it stranger yet. Into Bones Like Oil is no deviant from this ingenious author’s modus operandi—she finds the fear she wants to explore, here taking a parent’s panic and extrapolating it. Warren is a mother who learnt to steal time standing at the stove cooking bolognaise sauce, stirring with one hand, writing with the other—she understands parental instinct and lures you with it. Narrated from Dora’s perspective, the text is clear, patient in its scene setting. It doesn’t draw attention to horror, but it is there: a haunting at the back or fore of your mind, inside a sunken building full of dilapidation. The house sat quiet at 6am—there is a strong sense of place. Dora’s room is so tiny, it’s like a grave. Corridor walls are full of shipwreck paintings. Everything is pale or sickly coloured. And even here, the author charms you, hoodwinks you. At your most ease, as you snuggle into your cushion, Warren tenders a fresh perspective to horror: It is not the sight of a severed hand or a head full of seaweed lolling on the ground. It’s the gazing at a house next door, the one with a curled cat on the wall. And there’s a child’s tricycle asunder by the flowerpots. And walking boots out the door that’s ajar. Sounds of washing in the kitchen. A waft of pie… But you blink and you’re not sure it’s a memory, because all you see is a sealed-up well smothered with moss. Warren stirs awake an everyday fear that comes at you one hundred and one ways. And it’s not a premonition because it is realised a billion times in a heart full of love. An accomplished story that is most unsettling." — Eugen Bacon, Aurealis Magazine
"A grieving mother is haunted by ghosts from her past in this dark, ethereal novella by Warren (The Gate Theory). Insomniac Dora, mourning the death of her two young daughters, comes to the Angelsea, a beachside rooming house, to escape her troubled life—but the Angelsea is anything but a peaceful respite. The ghosts of those drowned in a shipwreck visit each night to speak their last words through the mouths of the inn’s sleeping inhabitants. When the Angelsea’s owners pressure Dora to become a vessel for a ghost, she worries that she will encounter the spirits of her girls and that they will confirm her worst fears by blaming her for their deaths because she failed to protect them. No one in the small, eccentric cast of rooming house boarders is without their faults, and despite Dora’s flaws, readers will sympathize with her struggle to find forgiveness. This grim portrait of broken people in a broken setting reckoning with trauma, paranoia, and grief will especially appeal to horror readers who appreciate melancholic and atmospheric stories." — Publishers Weekly
"This haunting story starts with Dora’s arrival at The Angelsea. To her relief, there’s no one at the reception desk but she finds the key to her room where the landlord had told her it would be, in a lock box that wasn’t locked … “It looks locked and that’s the main thing.” By the time I’d reached the end of the very short opening paragraph I already knew that this was going to be a story in which nothing would be as it appeared on the surface, and that I needed to be prepared for the unexpected and the disturbing. The rooming house is dilapidated, cramped and rundown and it is inhabited by people who are, in one way or another, equally broken. All are seeking an escape from their past experiences and actions but there is also an acknowledgement that the past is something they should neither talk nor ask about. The Angelsea’s reputation as a place where it’s possible to “sleep like the dead” is a powerful draw for those who cannot sleep, but they discover that when they achieve the sleep they crave, it is populated by ghosts. Many years earlier there had been a shipwreck on the coast, with all lives lost, and the spirits of the sailors, needing their voices to be heard, use the sleeping inhabitants to tell their stories. Dora’s quest for peace, understanding, forgiveness and justice takes her on an unexpected, horrific and at times surreal journey, a journey which drew me into the story in an unrelentingly powerful way. The pain and confusion of her grief, guilt and desperation were compellingly conveyed throughout the telling of her story, making her a character it was possible to feel empathy with. However, equally finely drawn and vivid were all of the other characters, each of whom had a story which demanded attention and recognition. Considering how short this story is, I think this is a mark of the author’s remarkable skill at being able to make every single word count in her creation of convincing, memorable characters. This isn’t a story it’s possible to pick up and put down at leisure. Rather like the ghosts, it demands to be listened to and to be heard, whatever the horrors it uncovers, whatever the unpleasant truths it reveals. It’s dark; it’s disturbing; it feels visceral in the way in which it taps into a deep fear of not having our voice heard, our history recognised, our feelings taken into account and our motivations understood. Yet it is also a story which offers the chance of redemption, forgiveness, justice and, eventually, cathartic resolution. As I wasn’t able to write my review immediately after I’d finished reading this brilliant, perfectly-paced and controlled story, I decided to reread it so that it would be really fresh in my mind when I came to reflect on it. Even though I’d retained very vivid recollections from my first reading, its impact proved no less powerful the second time around and I’m now left with the feeling that it truly has “seeped into my bones like oil.” I feel in awe of Kaaron Warren’s ability to write a story which feels simultaneously other-worldly and yet entirely recognisable, as well as to create so many unforgettable characters in such a short novella. This is the first of her stories I’ve read, but I’m determined it won’t be the last." — Linda Hepworth, NB Magazine
"A strange and compelling novella that plays with the reader's expectations, bending the narrative and its themes until its thought-provoking final page. Dora has lost everything a mother and wife could lose. She blames herself for these tragedies, and her low self-esteem and lack of confidence has turned her into a shell of a person. We meet Dora as she checks into the Angelsea, a rooming house in a nameless watefront town with almost no belongings, money, or purpose. The Angelsea is dilapidated, meager, cramped, and populated with the lost and forgotten people that society would rather sweep under the rug: ex-convicts, the mentally unstable, and a handful of other guests who silenty agree that one never talks about the past. The inn is also rumored to be a conduit for supernatural occurrences. Kaaron Warren is an accomplished, award-winning author with dozens of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories under her belt. Her talent for deftly weaving through these genres is on full display here. Although many of these characters are given little time in the spotlight, they are crafted with enough depth and dimension to bring about a understanding of their histories and motivations. The story culminates in a hazy, dreamlike catharsis that had me re-examine how I viewed the story from the beginning. Into Bones like Oil an unusually effective tale; hard to define, and harder to forget." — Adam Weller, Fantasy Book Review
"Most Anticipated Upcoming Horror and Weird Fiction" — Signal Horizon
"2019’s Most Anticipated Blood Curdlers" —High Fever Books
"Warren delivers a tale of creeping dread. Dora is in a house that we all know and despise from travelling, but where the guests are used as conduits. For Dora the haunting by her past may be worse than anything supernatural and in Warren’s hands the horrific encroaches inexorably on the familiar. Recommended." — Tade Thompson, author of Rosewater and The Murders of Molly Southbourne
"Beautifully written and profoundly disturbing, an evocative meditation on sorrow and loss, a ghost story in which the most terrifying specters come from within." — Tim Waggoner, author of The Forever House
"Into Bones Like Oil is an impressive, dark novella by one of Australia's most imaginative writers" —Colin Steele, The Canberra Times
"Into Bones Like Oil is sinewy, disorientating, and devastating in the way all the best ghost stories are." —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World
"Kaaron Warren’s ghosts—numerous, garrulous, plaintive, soaked in seawater and old sins—are only matched for creepiness by her mediums and her hauntees. In this fever-dream of a novella, a loose community of broken souls searches for answers that only the dead, their dead, can bring. The classic setting of a rooming-house on a shipwreck coast is anything but staid in Kaaron’s hands. Bodies of all shapes, ages and degrees of abjection fume and leak, intertwine, yearn towards and repel each other, against a background of thickly shadowed histories and grumbling curses. Deeply unsettling." —Margo Lanagan, award-winning author of More
Meerkat Shorts, 9781946154422, 90pp.
Publication Date: November 12, 2019
About the Author
Kaaron Warren's stories have appeared in Australia, the US, China, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, and have been selected for both Ellen Datlow’s and Paula Guran’s Best of the Year Anthologies. Kaaron has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She has published five novels (Slights, Walking the Tree, Mistification, The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone) and seven short story collections, including the multi-award winning Through Splintered Walls. Her most recent short story collection is A Primer to Kaaron Warren from Dark Moon Books. Her novella “Sky” from that collection won the Shirley Jackson Award and was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. It went on to win all three of the Australian genre awards, while The Grief Hole did as well in 2017. In 2019, she has three Aurealis nominations: Tide of Stone, A Primer to Kaaron Warren, and Crisis Apparation, a novella. Kaaron was a Fellow at the Museum for Australian Democracy, where she researched prime ministers, artists and serial killers. In 2018 she was the Established Artist in Residence at Katharine Susannah Prichard House in Western Australia. She was Guest of Honour at World Fantasy Convention in 2018, New Zealand’s Geysercon in 2019, and Stokercon 2019.