I was excited about reading the duo that is S. L. Grey and The Mall was no disappointment. Set in a shopping mall in South Africa, The Mall is like reading a computer game. Rhoda, a black English coke head, and Daniel, a white emo bookshop employee, get lost searching for a boy Rhoda was meant to be minding for a friend. They think they have found themselves in the unfinished basements and grounds of the mall extension, but soon realise they have entered a new world of subterranean filth, through which they are instructed and threatened by text messages to their phones that no longer have signal or battery. Chased by some heavy breathing monster, they eventually make it to what their messages call the market, a new mall in which the rules of the game are once more reinvented.
This mall takes the modern consumer world to its extreme. Beauty enhancement is no longer simply about large breasts and six packs, it’s about amputation. It is fashionable, and encouraged by management (the texters), to be painfully thin or grossly over weight – the easier option given the food, which has greater sugar, salt and fat content than any fast food of our world. Salespeople or Customer Care Officers, are happy to be chained to their cash registers and have an implant in their brains that enhances their helpful attitude. Shoppers literally shop till they drop, shops competing over their custom. There are a small number of those that chose to flaunt the system, but they live miserable, mad lives hidden in warren like tunnels, breedings rats and sleeping next to their own shit.
Despite the gripping nature of the plot and the intriguing changes that both Rhoda and Daniel undergo individually and together, I think I had hoped for something more dramatic, but in fact, the surreal differences of the new mall are more challenging than overt horror. There is a structure to the mall more coherent than anything in ours: everyone knows their place, their world is limited and their expectations managed (even famous celebrities have paunches and saggy breasts). I might have wanted the new mall to make our own consumerism seem closer to the brink of that level of exploitation (which of course it is but in different ways), or to seem more free in contrast, but comparing the worlds is more complicated and perhaps more brilliant than that. The Mall makes us ask whether contentment is best found in constraint and these uncomfortable thoughts make The Mall a haunting read without even stopping to question what management gets from it all.
If you like horror that pokes a few fingers at modern life, The Mall is for you.
This coming week I am taking a sneak preview at Wounding by Heidi James and the following week I will be reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, a book that’s been on my reading list for far too long! Any further suggestions for future reading would be very welcome.