I have a copy of Stephen King’s It beside my bed at the moment. I might read it but my usual fear with horror books and films is not that I’ll be freaked out, but that I won’t. Clowns? I don’t share that phobia. Cannibalistic serial killers? Not my problem. Teens running through the woods with a hand-held camera? Yawn.
Small satanic boy dressed in 1970s tweed suit with suicidal nanny about to ruin his birthday party? OK, that one got me.
But generally, you get the picture. I’m almost horror immune.
The book that I am reading right now has me gripped. It’s Driving to Treblinka, this year’s much-accoladed memoir by New Zealand journalist Diana Wichtel, who strives to untangle the mystery surrounding her late father.
Benjamin Wichtel was a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor, an intelligent, loving and complicated man, who died alone in Canada, estranged from Diana and the rest of her family who’d moved to New Zealand. She last saw him when she was 13.
Wichtel is well known as a brilliant and funny TV reviewer and she often brings that light touch to this story, which is nevertheless filled with longing and pain. And, as she delves into the war years of which her father seldom spoke, it becomes a story of horror and monsters, the very real kind.
Maybe it’s that – the uneasy knowledge of what our species is capable of – which explains our enduring need to create pretend horror that we can package as entertainment and control. Philip Matthews explores the genre on page 10.