HORROR AND THE INTERSECTION OF MOTHERHOOD

AN ARTICLE BY LOUISE WORTHINGTON

The horror genre is a perfect vehicle to look at the challenges and complexities of motherhood by taking fear and danger to the extreme, subverting the norm and breaking taboos.

As a mother myself, I’ve experienced the anxieties of raising a child and become aware of taboos around motherhood. I’m also a keen reader. The mother who rescues her daughter in Angela’s Carter brilliant retelling of Bluebeard, The Bloody Chamber, and the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper had a lasting impression on me because of the fear the protagonists experienced by being trapped, and of being rejected by challenging their prescribed role.

One of the antagonists in my latest novel is a child, Rosie Shadow who is so weird and so vile, even her mother rejects her – a taboo right there. Single mother Elly is a sympathetic character because Rosie is one creepy, scary kid and being a parent to her is terrifying. It’s usually the child who lies awake in the dark, who imagines monsters creeping into their bedroom, hurting them, killing them – but not this time; it’s the mother, Elly, and the bogeyman is a child. Her own.

At six, Rosie is still insistent on breastfeeding and takes great pleasure in clamping her teeth down onto her mother’s nipple and biting down. Elly hates her saggy breasts and dark, misshapen nipples, a kind of body horror resulting from a one-night stand. Her deformed breasts are a permanent reminder of the demon-child she gave birth to and the taboo she breaks and has to live with by leaving Rosie permanently in the hands of a foster carer. When Elly packs her bags, she wishes she could unscrew her breasts, like a lightbulb, and leave them behind because she will not be the victim any longer. It’s often the mother who worries their parenting will scar the child for life. The horror genre is perfect for inverting these common anxieties.

Rosie Shadow, book one in the Black Tongue series