The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson
The person opens their eyes and they are bloody, chained and trapped in a room they do not know. A woman walks in—she feeds the chained person sometimes, makes enigmatic conversation always. At one point, the woman walks in naked and seems surprised to see the chained person. They ask themselves what is going on, should they know what is going on? One day, the woman walks in and says her name is Molly Southbourne and she will tell the person a story, and will you please pay attention, your life depends on it.
The rules are simple and instilled in Molly by her loving parents from a very young age:
"If you see yourself, run.
Blot, burn, bleach.
Find a hole, find your parents."
When Molly is very small, and she first sees herself standing there naked, she doesn’t think anything of it and even tries to befriend the other molly. But the molly soon turns bad, and Molly’s parents take care of it. A bit later, and Molly Southbourne has watched herself die more times she can count—every time she bleeds, a new molly springs to life and they always turn bad and try to kill Molly.
As the years pass, her parents intense training allows Molly to kill the mollys herself, before they kill her. But as she grows older – and wiser – so do the mollys. No matter how well she follows the rule (or how prepared she is for when she willingly breaks them for reasons better left out for now), the mollys always show up.
A perfect read for this year’s Halloween, The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson is a bloody, intriguing puzzle of a novella. It is also an incredibly intense narrative that continuously builds on both what we don’t know and what Molly doesn’t know—why do the mollys exist, where do they come from, how did her parents know what to do—always with a gripping third person present tense narrative that only serves to amplify the sheer horror of what keeps happening to Molly (or the things she needs to do).
Beside the narrative itself, the emotional toll of living such a life is the focus and as we follow Molly as she grows up and becomes a woman, we also see the confusion, the frustration and the ongoing attempt at finding a measure of control throughout her life. In that way, the ending is pitch perfect for the type of story that this tells, and the only solution for Molly.
I know the comparison I am about to make is way overdone by now, but The Murders of Molly Southbourne feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone and I could just imagine Rod Sterling introducing this one. In fact, this novella would lend itself amazingly to a visual medium—I would love to see it in comic or as an episode of Black Mirror (just to keep things more modern).
In Booksmugglerish: 8 mollys out of 10.