Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward - H P Lovecraft

When a freshly published copy of an H P Lovecraft book plummets on to your door mat you begin to wonder if the great man himself has managed to do what many of his characters do and raise himself from the great beyond!! He sure put the ‘nec’ into ‘romancer’. It wasn’t anything I expected, something of a horror in itself!

I am not a fan of horror fiction per se. I had an adolescent phase of avidly devouring the Pan Book of Horror stories, volumes one to umpteen and gave myself plenty of sleepless nights and I did progress to Edgar Allen Poe briefly. But my dalliance with horror as a genre to pursue more or less ceased there .

But there’s horror and then there’s H.P.Lovecraft which, like Poe, is a kind of literary horror. There are no extensive, gratuitous, gruesome descriptions offered for effect rather than any real story telling intent. Instead there is a slow, insidious, unnerving atmosphere palpably created that is auto suggestive of doom and uncertainty. 

This novella tells the story of Charles Dexter Ward who explores his family tree and becomes quite obsessed with one of his ancestors Joseph Curwen. Curwen’s history is recounted in the book and he appears to be a dark, occultish, alchemist type character surrounded by unsavoury rumours of necromancy. Ward’s obsession leads him down some dark paths indeed as he tries to replicate some of his ancestor’s activities causing his family and himself much distress to say the least. And apparently this book contains the first mention of an entity who appears in the infamous Cthulhu Mythos.

Objectively it ls a competent, solid piece of writing. Given that the original publication date was 1941 there’s a curious timelessness about it. Although there is a sense of the historic novel in terms of social customs and period descriptions. The characters are functional, you never really get to know them, you just get to know what drives them. The plot is the product of an imagination which defies imagination! And its one thing to have an usual imagination but that does not always translate to accessible, readable prose. It does here. It’s a very readable book.

I imagine that devotees of Lovecraft are familiar with this fiction. The intention of republication is, I imagine, to attract a new audience to his work. I suspect there are more volumes to follow if there haven’t been already.  

Although I don’t like horror I didn’t dislike this book. Its intelligently written. And I did find it curiously compelling. In fact I’m really scared that I am going to seek out some more of Mr. Lovecraft’s books!

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