The Coiled Serpent by Camilla Grudova

Queen of the grotesque Camilla Grudova returns with a true-to-form collection of disgusting short stories

Book Review by Eris Young | 01 Nov 2023
  • The Coiled Serpent
Book title: The Coiled Serpent
Author: Camilla Grudova

Hot on the heels of her acclaimed debut novel Children of Paradise, Camilla Grudova returns at top form with a second collection of grotesque and inscrutable short stories. A pair of spa workers exact a cursed revenge on their employers. A group of computer programmers practise semen retention with disastrous consequences. Giant, sweater-clad creatures swoop from above, leaving remnants of their victims behind in the form of monstrous owl pellets.

Threaded throughout this collection is an abiding sense that each dilapidated miniature world depicted is on the cusp of utter collapse. The twin spectres of fear and precarity skulk on the outskirts, as protagonists navigate the timeless hellscapes of work, money, pregnancy and housing. Whereas its short story predecessor, The Doll's Alphabet, was concerned with the dysfunctional and often absurd relations between women and men, The Coiled Serpent widens its scope, turning a jaundiced eye towards labor and the conditions of the working poor, with depictions at once bizarre and uncomfortably familiar. Indeed, discomfort and familiarity go hand-in-hand as Grudova unfailingly finds the abject terror in our most intimate places. Foods, poisons, and bodily effluvia blend together in a foamy, dark concoction, and scenes of visceral cruelty are not leavened by hope but instead brought confrontingly close. These stories are not for the faint of heart, and reading them is as sharply satisfying as picking at a scab.

Atlantic Books, 2 Nov