June 14th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Books |

The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell

by Ghastly McNasty

Darkest Part of the Woods Review

I’ve just finished a good read from Ramsey Campbell, a unusual combination of Lovecraftian mythos and English folklore.

Its plot concerns the Price family who live in a small English town near a sinister wood called Goodmans wood, and how they are inescapably drawn in to it by the entity that exists there.

The family consists of Margo, an artist, and Lennox, a professor who is now in a local mental hospital because of his experiences in the woods. Their adult children are Heather, a solid, ‘unimaginative’ type, and her sister Sylvia, who is in many ways her opposite. Sam is Heather’s 23 year old son.

The woods themselves have a history of local folklore concerning the “Good Man”, although as Sylvia points out, “It’s often placatory, that kind of name.” At night, local girls see the “sticky man” outside their windows. And at the centre of the woods lie the remains of a mysterious tower torn down by the locals generations ago…

Throughout the novel, the woods are frequently described as if they are actively moving by themselves, rather than passively being moved by the wind or lit by the sun. Actions are implied and motives for them are suggested. It isn’t too long before you start asking yourself: “What are the trees? What are they, really?”

Campbell heightens this effect by using the somewhat unreliable nature of human perception. It’s a very persuasive technique (since this is what tends to be behind “paranormal” experiences in real life) and works well as we see the woods through the eyes of the characters.

The way in which these strange sights affect their emotions as the story unfolds is also handled very convincingly. At the beginning of the story, the characters only think they see something. Was it just a trick of the light, or was something there? About halfway through the story the characters start to want to deny those perceptions…and towards the end, Heather, the least imaginative one, desperately wishes for the time when she could actually doubt her perceptions.

The Lovecraftian aspects of the story are very nicely done. The woods display intricate patterns and colours which are tantalisingly just beyond the human mind, objects that seem to lack one dimension, and other subtle spatial dislocations. There’s also the fate of one unfortunate mage who, while travelling through the void, is reduced to a disembodied spirit which has suffered some kind of unimaginable damage “… that now cry’d out sans Voice for it import’d not what Manner of Bodie in which to procure its own swift Death”.

I found the conclusion to the tale satisfying, as the woods finally drop the pretense and reveal the sheer size and scope of the entity that was using them to “reach for the world”. There’s also a nice twist as things return to “normal” at the end, and an unexpected use of theme of the crazy person who understands the truth of what really went on…

Recommended 9/10

Read it with some trees around 🙂

by Ghastly McNasty

Theatre of Terror

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