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The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

The Beauty

by Aliya Whiteley

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11911159,855 (3.89)4
"Somewhere away from the cities and towns, in the Valley of Rocks, a society of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their history recounted by Nate, the storyteller. Requested most often by the group is the tale of the death of all women. They are the last generation. One evening, Nate brings back new secrets from the woods; peculiar mushrooms are growing from the ground where the women's bodies lie buried. These are the first signs of a strange and insidious presence unlike anything ever known before... discover the Beauty" -- Page [4] of cover.… (more)



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*An ARC was received for free via NetGalley for an unbiased review*

The Beauty was described as a novel depicting the bleak future of humanity after a catastrophic event wipes out all women and men are dependent on storytellers to keep their memories (and hope) alive. Yes, The Beauty is about that, but it’s also… more that detracts a great deal from what the reader expects going into the novel. Though this is how it begins, the plot quickly progresses into a sci-fi/horror story about strange creatures slowly invading the men’s lives.

It was then that I took a look at the notes section and realised that it was classified as New Weird. Now, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of that genre, as previously I would have simply classified a novella like this one as horror/sci-fi. New Weird works much better and is a perfect fit for The Beauty.

The writing itself is amazing and worth five stars alone. Whiteley’s word choice and structure is superb. Her word craft is exquisite and not something I expected to find when I started reading. In fact, there are so many wonderful, quotable parts to the book that I eventually had to force myself to stop highlighting passages because I would’ve highlighted everything. If you just want to read an amazingly written story, regardless of genre, then you cannot go wrong with The Beauty.

If you’re wondering, after reading the previous paragraph, why I reviewed the story at three stars instead of something higher, it’s simply because of the strangeness of the plot. If you’re a fan of Weird, then this has a good chance of becoming a four or five star novella. If you aren’t, then an almost four star review might be as high as you’ll get.

Readers learn early on that it was a type of fungal disease that killed off all of the women — in the world the men of the story speculate. A yellow fungus grew out of women, emanating from the womb it would seem until it consumed them whole. Now, six years later, the same fungus is seen growing on the graves of the women whose lives they took. Nathan, the narrator and group storyteller responsible for cultivating their history and the memories of women alive, is concerned and voices them to the de facto leader of the group, William, who dismisses his concerns. He then takes group cook Thomas to determine whether they are edible and they determine that they are likely poisonous. Finally, Nathan brings a sample back to Doctor Ben so he can study them in case they have medicinal benefits, or at least to discover if it is soon coming for the men. Once evening falls and it is time for the group to begin their storytelling, Nathan realises that a few people are missing. He goes off in search of them and instead finds himself in trouble when he comes face to face with a creature made completely of the yellow fungus.

The rest, well, you’ll have to read it for yourselves as I really don’t want to spoil the story for anyone interested. It is good, it is thought provoking, but above all it is weird, and we could all use a bit of weird in our lives sometimes.

Review first published on ByLuluWithLove ( )
  heylu | Jan 8, 2020 |
This novella is weird and twisted, but I loved it. It’s been a while since I had a dose of freakish literature, and this gender-questioning tale covered in mushrooms made me realise how much I’d missed it.

The story is set among a survivalist commune with a deliberately flat structure, without leaders; and the main character is their storyteller. When this novella opens, the Group, as they call themselves, have been forced to redouble their efforts at survival and society-creation because a fungus-like disease has killed off all the women. Soon, though, yellow mushrooms grow on the women’s graves, and unnatural things start to emerge, which the storyteller starts calling The Beauty. And at that point, the separation between natural and unnatural is up for a complete renewal.

One of the best features, though, is the writing: lush, lyrical, and it fitted the “time for a new world” aesthetic perfectly.

This won’t be for everyone, but do give this one a try if you can handle Weird Fiction. ( )
1 vote Petroglyph | Apr 4, 2019 |
Dark and Surreal

Wow, this is a weird one. Dark, surreal, filled with more questions than answers, but fascinating from beginning to end. The only complaint I could possibly muster is that I wanted more, but what is here in the pages is perfect; complex, twisted, and unique, very articulate and exceptionally emotionally resonant. Highly recommended. ( )
  michaeladams1979 | Oct 11, 2018 |
What is beautiful? Repulsive? Are you attracted to it? Are you beautiful, or unloved? These question resonate as one reads "The Beauty."

Aliya Whiteley's THE BEAUTY offers a compact dose of weird fiction, body horror specifically, in which humanity is evolving into mushrooms. Expect a mashup of William Golding 1954 Lord of the Flies and P. D. James' 1992 novel The Children of Men: a cluster of men survive in a dystopian future where all the women are dead (no hope for reproduction). The Beauty is saturated with philosophy on "what is beautiful?" and "what is humanity?".

Bob Milne's Beauty in Ruins Book Reviews led me to this wonderful story. This edition has two parts, the first half is the titular story, and the other half is a bonus shorty story called "Peace, Pipe."

Some may think 100 pages is too short, but for a weird fiction shorter is often better. Each sentence of "The Beauty" is packed with meaning. Don't expect any fluffy filler. This style is not suited for mega-tome page epic-fiction! Instead, it begs to be read aloud, like a poem... as the protagonist would tell a story. The best way to communicate the style is with Excerpts (see below). No worries, I left out any mushroom/human romance.

Don't let the intellectual narrative fool you, there is plenty of action. Each section ramps up the tension dramatically as Nate and the other men are confronted with fungal manifestations of women, and they struggle with repulsion and attraction. With the future of humanity on the line, and the desire to reproduce, there is much at stake. Jealously and murder ensue. Incidentally, my son and I are playing Dark Souls 1 (remastered) and Dark Souls 3, and the vision of the Parent/Child Mushrooms from Darktoot Garden and Ash Lake were evoked. Imagine if you were encouraged to start a family with those!

In summary, The Beauty offered everything I expected and desired: a mysterious adventure, evocative prose, and unique storytelling. It is deep, but thrilling.

PEACE, PIPE, is a bonus story that is 50% of this book. An alien diplomat chronicles its exploits (having accidentally started a war on Demeter) while quarantined and communicating to a pipe (which speaks as water flows through it, and evokes the sounds of a flushing toilet). Again, the themes of storytelling and communication are foundations, as well as an invitation to the reader to change perspectives on different cultures. No body horror in this one.

Excerpts from "The Beauty":
"There are signs, I don't care what William says. There are signs of change, of regeneration, and I saw the first mushrooms in the graveyard on the morning after U ripped up the photograph of my mother's face and threw the pieces over the cliff, into the fat swallowing folds of the sea..."

My name is Nathan, just twenty-three and given to the curation of stories.I listen, retain, then polish and release them over the fire at night, when the others hush and lean forward in their desire to hear of the past. They crave romance, particularly when autumn sets in and cold nights await them, and so I speak of Alice, and Bethany, and Sarah, and Val, and other dead women who all once had lustrous hair and never a bad word on their plump limps...Language is changing, like the earth, like the sea. We live in a lonely, fateful flux, outnumbered and outgrown."

"When [William] told me of his journey, that was how he finished it--he fitted there. I find this to the strangest of expressions--how does one fit in with other people, all edges erased, making a seamless life from the sharp corners of discontent? I don't find anything that fits in such a way. Certainly not in nature. Nothing real is meant to tessellate like a triangle, top-bottom bottom-top. The sheep will never munch the grass in straight lines."

"[Doctor Ben] told me diseases were like people. They fight and fight and throw themselves around to escape the walls of tighter and tighter boxes."

"They were found in the graveyard, springing from the decaying bodies of the women deep in the ground, and they were found in the woods, spreading themselves like a rug over the wet earth. The Beauty were small at first but they grew and took the best qualities of the dead. They sucked up through the soil all the softness, serenity, hope, and happiness of womankind. They made themselves into a new form, a new north, shaped from the clay of the world and designed only to bring pleasure to man.

But the Beauty knew form the many experiences of the women that had gone before, that men did not always love what was good for them. Men could attack, hurt, main and murder the things that came too fast, too suddenly, like love...." ( )
  SELindberg | Jul 28, 2018 |
Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.

The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?

Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?

Out January 16, 2018


I was provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Bizarre, speculative fiction, weird, creepy, horrifying, insane, disturbing, sick, terrifying, provocative, gross, hideous, monsters, creep factor, fascinating, brilliant, innovative, strange and enthralling, creative, astounding, unpredictable, thought provoking, fantastically conceived, surreal, complex and twisted, descriptive and perfect, original and dark, outlandish, haunting, emotional rollercoaster, inferences, gender questions, equality issues, gender role swapping, sexually disturbing, sad realism...
A bizarre book deserves a bizarre review. ( )
  JLSlipak | Apr 3, 2018 |
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For H.C.M.W. who proves that change is possible
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There are signs, I don't care what William says. ("The Beauty")

The word that gets me through the first two days is home. ("Peace, Pipe")
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