Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Grin of the Dark - Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell is a master of horror literature. And fans of Campbell will delight in his latest novel. In his typical style, he creates a dark narrative that draws the reader into the story. While I'm not particularly a fan of "clown horror," Campbell manages to win me over with unsettling, spooky scenes containing these notorious circus performers. But he does much more than this.

The story is centered around Simon Lester and his quest to write a book about the silent film star Tubby Thackeray. The task takes him to a variety of locations, all wonderfully filled with intriguing characters. As the novel progresses, the surreal narrative grows strong - as though there is something from the past awakening. The style works well with novel's subject.

As Lester continues to research Tubby Thackeray, things become more mysterious. There is little material to be found about a silent film star who rivaled Charlie Chaplin in fame. It is as though someone is intentionally trying to erase him from history.

With each passing page the novel grows darker, and yet maintains lighter moments - humorous elements that lift the gloom long enough for the reader to dive in again. At first glance, a novel about a character who is researching a silent film star, perhaps doesn't "sound" like horror. But when handled this well, the mystery and the horror unravel into a brilliant tale.

I would suggest that readers who are new to Ramsey Campbell start with one of his other books. The Grin of the Dark is stylish and well done, but it is perhaps not the starting point for acolytes. In this novel, he works with the prose, making the the writing as much a part of the story as the characters and plot. It is an excellent example of why he is a modern horror master.

3 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've found some Campbell to be excellent, especially some of his short stories. But most of his novels I find hard to get into. He did a sword and sorcery series once about a character named Rhye, I think, which were wonderful. They were in the Swords against Darkness series. I'd love to see more of those.

Jeff Edwards said...

William, are you familiar with the film Angel Heart, or the novel upon which it was based, Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg? I wonder if the Campbell book is in that vein.

-Jeff

William Jones said...

Charles - I enjoy Campbell's writing very much, although, I know a number of people for whom it doesn't "click." There really isn't a "one size fits all" fiction or writer.

Jeff - I think that's a good comparison, but I fear answering one way or the other might be a spoiler of sorts. :)