I’m on record elsewhere saying that whereas I love the concepts Lovecraft created, I prefer it when other authors are writing about them. Lovecraft threw a fierce and unique imagination at his horror. He simply wasn’t content with the old type of scares, instead creating a new order which was rooted equally in science fiction and the evils of the past. While rarely leaving New England, his oeuvre is impressively existential and apocalyptic. The problem however was Lovecraft’s prose style: clunky sentences combine with a lack of authorly rhythm to kill some stories stone dead, even when there’s so much good in them.
Having said all that, boy, THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH is really, really good!
Of all the Lovecraft I’ve read, this was always the one which stayed strongest and strangest in the memory. But even so, I was surprised on re-reading it how astoundingly good it is.
A young man goes to the town of Innsmouth and discovers a town that is seemingly dying, a society crumbling. As the reason for this decay is gradually revealed the terror builds and builds. It’s a tale which begins disturbingly and piles on detail and suspense to become more and more horrifying as it progresses. True, in the chase scene towards the conclusion we can see the limitations of Lovecraft’s writing style – he really does suck the excitement out of that – but in the concept and the development, we have a grade A piece of mounting tension and non-cliched scares. Recommended for any horror reader or writer anywhere.
Man, if you put ‘Innsmouth’ into Google image search, you get some great stuff.
Immediately afterwards – in the zone, as it were – I read Brian Lumley’s THE TAINT. Now, Lumley is a British author who is hugely influenced by Lovecraft, and for my money is a much better prose stylist. THE TAINT is a Cornish set sequel to THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, and another tale I’d read before.
Now, if you asked me last week, I’d have said that Lumley’s was the better of the two stories, but actually that’s not remotely the case. This is a tidier story, it’s a cosier story (one that smooths out the most troubling part of Lovecraft’s tale, in that the creatures are no longer automatically a lesser species that all man should be frightened of). But there is none of the sheer tension of the Lovecraft tale. It’s a good sequel, yet a largely inconsequential one after the power and weight of the Lovecraft tale.
So, two stories I’ve completely switched my opinions on. And that’s why you re-read stuff.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free! A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!