Meat by Joseph D’Lacey
Abyrne is a decaying town, trapped by an advancing wilderness. Its people depend on meat for their survival. Meat supplied by the processing plant on the edge of town.
Meat is sanctified in Abyrne, a precious commodity eaten with devout solemnity by everyone except for a handful of people who won’t, who suspect that the town is evil, rotten to its core.
A feud smolders between the town’s religious and secular powers – whoever controls the food supply controls everything.
But the townsfolk are hungry, they must be fed.
They must be fed.
I thought wormed its way into my brain while I was reading Meat. I realised that it is quite rare that an author, and their writing, has properly freaked me out. I read a lot of what is described as horror, but I think in all honesty a lot of it is more horror-lite. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading it, but it is somewhat lacking when it comes to proper chills. I suppose most modern horror novels just aren’t that horrific. They might offer the odd shock and a bit of gore, but nothing that is what I would call genuinely unsettling. Meat is though, Meat is proper stomach churning horror.
Richard ‘Ice Pick Rick’ Shanti is the novel’s protagonist. He is the top slaughter-man for Magnus Meat Processing (MMP). He is the man responsible for stunning the cattle as they move toward their slaughter. He isn’t just good at his job, he is like a machine, and he is considered a legend by colleagues and townsfolk alike. When Ice Pick Rick is working, the kills are always swift and efficient. As the novel begins, Shanti has started to realise that something is inherently wrong with the society he lives in. He is beginning to question his place in the grand scheme of things.
Shanti is a fascinating character, like Guy Montag or Winston Smith, this is a character that is fundamentally at odds with himself as well as all those around him. He meets a man called John Collins who offers the promise of another way and the possibility of escape from an existence that is killing him by degrees.
There are a host of other great characters in Meat. The owner of MMP, Rory Magnus, is a truly Machiavellian villain. Driven by a thirst for power Magnus is a loathsome beast of a man. Psychotic and scheming, he is involved in an ongoing feud with the head of the local church, the Grand Bishop.
Meat is at times a graphic and harrowing experience, please note that I mean this as the highest possible compliment. If you are used to horror-lite and are happy with that, then this novel may not be for you. Characters in this novel suffer greatly and the entire story has a sinister undertone that permeates every page. D’Lacey is a brave author and attacks societal taboos likes nobodies business. Organised religion, the case for vegetarianism, cannibalism and even bestiality are explored.
At its heart though, I think that Meat is a novel about power and greed and how it corrupts. The townsfolk greedily consume all that MMP produces while the Grand Bishop and Rory Magnus vie for power between themselves. Initially only Richard Shanti and John Collins are the only two people that can see that something is just drastically wrong with how everyone is living.
I mentioned on Twitter the other day that after reading the first fifty pages of the book that I was the closest I have ever come to becoming a vegetarian in my life. I think in hindsight that only fifty percent of me was joking. This novel is most definitely not for the faint of heart but if you can stomach its darker than dark subject matter, this is an utterly engrossing and thought provoking read that may just change your outlook on life.