Friday, October 31, 2008

Ex Libris: Ramsey Campbell's The Overnight

Horror grandmaster Ramsey Campbell holds a peculiar place in the bookshelves of my mind in that my view of his work has been filtered by both the positive (andrew) and negative (karl). At first, my initial foray with Campbell didn't impress me much. Though Midnight Sun was well-written with high marks for its dark atmosphere, the pacing and the prose was craaaaawling. Ironically, I felt my reading was being weighed down and I kept thinking of Eskimos. Especially how they have 30 different names for snow.

Still, when I got a chance to get The Overnight-- Campbell's Lovecraftian story of a bookstore-- I thought it quite right to tag this particular book as Campbell's second chance. After all, it's a story about a haunted bookstore: for a bookhound, how gloriously appropriate is that?

Funny enough, the setting itself is reminiscent of Dilbert cartoons as Campbell shows the absurdity of work life in a bookstore chain. However, true horror slowly seeps into the store environment as fog continually blankets the store, one worker is killed and the rest slowly turn against each other. (On a side note, what's with Campbell and the weather anyway?) The penultimate 'overnight' occurs when all the employees must spend a night at the bookstore to shelve books and discover there are worse things in life than kiss-ass co-workers. Like say... something in the dark and fog that wants to do very, very bad things to you.

On the minus side, I had some problems with characterization as Campbell really wasn't able to differentiate the somewhat large number of viewpoints that carried the story. It was also strange to see some of the characters survive by sheer dint of ignorance, i.e. they didn't have a fucking clue that they had just escaped with their lives. On the other hand, Campbell's atmosphere of paranoia and fear was quite infectious such that I kept thinking of the book whenever I made my visits to a local bookstore.

andrew did admit to me that you need to be in a certain mood to read Campbell. Because of Campbell's efforts to evoke a certain kind of tension and subtle horror whenever you read his novels, I figure you have to make time to read him. So if you're the type who gets easily bored, I wouldn't recommend this. But if you're the type that has the time to savor such a read, you might like this one. Personally, I liked it except for the ending.

On a side note, I think my inclination to check out Campbell's writings is attached to the horror community's high regard for him and his work. This raises a question in mind whether genre canon has mileage to run or should its legs be cut off to begin with. (Rating: Two paws out of four.)


Don said...

have you tried tim lebbon's work?

banzai cat said...

Not yet. Is it good? Was thinking of getting his dark fantasy stuff but the first book never showed up on these shores.

Don said...

good? abso-fucking-lutely. scared me shit. haha. i have his novella collection Fears Unnamed.

banzai cat said...

Alrighty, will keep an eye out for his stuff.