There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Reviewing: The Seven Days of Cain by Ramsey Campbell (2010)

The Same Man

In 1981 I started reading Ramsey Campbell's short stories. I only took the plunge and read one of his novels once: Ancient Images, in the summer of 1993.

All credit for reawakening my desire to read Ramsey Campbell (after a hiatus of twenty years) goes to Matt Cowan and his Horror Delve blog. Horror Delve is the only place I have found online for serious discussion of classic international and contemporary supernatural fiction. There is no jargon or clickbait to Matt's posts; they show him to be a patient, curious, and thoughtful genre connoisseur.

In the last two years I have read nine of Campbell's twenty-first century novels with excitement and deep pleasure.

Pact of the Fathers (2001)
✔The Darkest Part of the Woods (2002)
The Overnight (2004)
Secret Stories (2005)
The Grin of the Dark (2007)
Thieving Fear (2008)
✔Creatures of the Pool (2009)
The Seven Days of Cain (2010)
✔The Kind Folk (2012)
The Last Revelation of Gla'aki (2013)
Think Yourself Lucky (2014)
Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach (2015)
The Searching Dead (2016)
Born to the Dark (2017)
The Way of the Worm (2018)

This experience has shown me just how many recurring themes drive Campbell's artistic project. Plots of many of these novels turn on questions of descent, parenting, and family obligation. Characters in crisis discover, when mounting contradictions peel away a thin crust of hard-won normality, that familiar people, landscapes, memories, and even language sabotage action, cohesion, and sanity. Bosses and neighbors change from punchlines for everyday absurdity to venal menaces, though not nearly as looming as the cops.

Many characters find that artistic ambitions or intellectual obsessions of their youth, long assumed painlessly buried, have uncanny ways of returning.

Local mages from ages past (Thackeray Lane, John Strong, Roland Franklyn) have sown the region with their demoniacal dragon's teeth.

The Seven Days of Cain (2010) turns on questions of identity. Against a liminal landscape (urban, coastal), Andrew Bentley's career, marriage, and place in society begins to disintegrate. Colleagues, clients, and spouse start appearing as daydreams of solipsistic ideation. (We readers know Andrew's antagonists have an independent interior life: Campbell craftily demonstrates that Andrew cannot be living in a "matrix.")

The solution to this existential contradiction may also be the solution to a series of gruesome murders, fires, and seemingly random accidents.

In the end, solutions to supernatural and criminal enigmas may leave Andrew a sadder and wiser man, but also a man whom the uncanny has marked for its own.

1 August 2019

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