Hydra, debut literary horror fiction by Adriane Howell

11 March 2023

Hydra, by Adriane Howell, book cover

Before she lost her job, Anja sold antique furniture at an auction house in Melbourne, capital of the Australian state of Victoria. The pieces she prepared for sale though were more than mere objects to her. These aged items of furniture, and bric-a-brac, were possessed of intricate histories. Imagine the stories each could tell, were they able to speak.

Perhaps it was partly this fascination with the past that lead Anja to lease a ramshackle old cottage, on a naval base on the Mornington Peninsula, to the south of Melbourne. The cottage’s isolation makes for the ideal place to retreat from the world, something she is seeking right now. Being sacked is not the only misfortune to befall Anja. Her mother died recently, and her marriage also failed.

The cottage is in need of attention, and Anja thinks fixing up the old place could be the beginning of something new. It might also help her keep her sanity. Anja finds a new job, and goes about making a home of the cottage. But strange things seem to be happening, and Anja comes to believe she is not alone on the grounds of the cottage.

She begins looking for answers. Like the history of the antiques she once obsessed over, Anja learns the cottage also has something of a history, a somewhat dark one, at that. Do these alleged past events — which the reader is given glimpses of by way of classified defence department reports — have any connection to what Anja thinks is happening now?

But Anja is a troubled person, and may not be the most reliable of narrators. Hydra, published by Transit Lounge in August 2022, is the debut novel of Melbourne based Australian author and arts worker, Adriane Howell. Howell is also the co-founder of Gargouille, a literary journal she established with Sarah Wreford in 2014.

Hydra, which has been longlisted for the 2023 Stella Prize, has variously been described as mystery, thriller, and literary horror. Anyone looking for slasher variety gore though, may be disappointed. The real horror in Hydra perhaps lies in the protagonist’s struggle to maintain her sanity, and keep a grip on reality.


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