REVIEW: Monstrum by Lottie Mills

Lottie Mills’ debut collection Monstrum is mind blowing. As the title hints, these stories explore what is monstrous, why we perceive someone as other. The collection is an open letter to society advocating for a re-examination of deeply entrenched expectations. Each story is haunting, thought-provoking and beautiful. And every single one is strong in its own right, unique but connected through an overarching theme of disability and the monstrous – because being different doesn’t mean worse or bad. Monstrum is on the very literary end of genre fiction, but worth the reader’s effort. Their appeal to a grimdark audience is clear in the stories’ examination of monstrosity, though it should be noted that Monstrum isn’t for every reader. While all of the stories in this collection are brilliant, I have picked out those that resonated especially well with me for further discussion.

MonstrumOne of the stories that stuck with me most is “The Mirror”, where a young girl does the shopping for her supposedly monstrous mistress. Through small acts of kindness, she forges a relationship and throws any notion of monstrosity out the window. There is a sapphic element to it too, and a bittersweet ending. I was very impressed with how it dares to eschew the obvious ending – and how it manages to use the mirror theme as a cornerstone of the story.

In 2020, Lottie Mills won the BBC Young Writers’ Award award for the opening story of this collection. “The Changeling” sticks with the reader long after they finish. It’s a slow, atmospheric story about physical change and deformity, about the expectations of normalcy. Mills’ clean prose and evocative writing stands out, as does her ability to take her time. At the centre of each story is a person, and they themselves are the point of the story. There is little convoluted plot, instead leaving the stories space to breathe freely. There is no rush as Monstrum as a whole aims to get the reader to think about its themes rather than focusing on quick wins.

The story “The Body” has a particularly polemic approach to disability. It is set in a world where you can apply (and pay) to receive a new body, a “whole” one. The main character in this story, however, finds it hard to let go of her old self. She struggles to cope with the physical changes that come with a non-disabled body – it is particularly jarring when she uses her old wheelchair for plot reasons. Her “whole” body no longer has the muscle memory her original one had, so she is forced to relearn much of what was second nature. I found it impressive how Lottie Mills doesn’t ever take the easy way out. I imagine all of us who have had brushes with disability have fantasised about having a new body that is “normal” – I know I certainly have. In “The Body”, Mills examines how it’s not an easy solution but what struggles it brings with it. The main character is confronted with the sentiment of “of course you did” when others find out about her original body, which further illustrates the complex relationship she has with her disabled body.

These are just a few of the stories included in Monstrum. It is an impressive debut collection and shows Mills’ infinite potential as a writer. I can’t wait to read more of her work and see her grow into an even stronger writer. I particularly recommend these rather literary stories to readers who have enjoyed John Wiswell or Lee Mandelo, who love the slow, atmospheric examination of what is monstrous – or maybe just different.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

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