Book-making

Needing Ghosts by Ramsey Campbell (1990): Dandy standalone novella about one incredibly bad, odd day in the life of a writer. Campbell’s command of the limited third-person voice is, as always, razor sharp in terms of working through the thoughts of a protagonist while maintaining a slight, objective distance.

Campbell’s recurring tropes get full play here: strange shapes just slightly off-centre, seen in the distance or through something obscuring vision; a reality which baffles the protagonist more and more as the narrative develops; cool or even hostile reactions from the people whom the protagonist meets. The story occupies a day in the life, but there doesn’t really seem to be any day as time itself (or is it just light?) bends and collapses.

Some of the fears explored here are indeed writerly. The protagonist’s attempt to speak to a writers’ group goes nightmarishly wrong, as do his attempts to find copies of his books in the baffling number of bookstores he stumbles across in close proximity to one another. But these are all yoked to more universal fears of bodily and mental disintegration, of fight or flight, of terrible and increasingly justified paranoia. It’s a lovely, dense little tale. Highly recommended.

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