Night Things

February 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

nightNight Things by Michael Talbot

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Part of me wishes I could have met Michael Talbot. That he wrote two books about real-world topics that have fascinated me for years (the bog bodies and the Winchester House) suggests that we might have had a lot to talk about, and it’s no surprise that I would be excited to read those novels. It’s just a shame that those two books were so disappointing.

Night Things is about a single mother and her son moving into a house modeled after the Winchester House, where staircases lead up to nowhere, doors open up onto empty walls, and some rooms are barely even accessible. They move there shortly after the mother marries a rock star (literally), and the tensions regarding these new relationships are carried over into this strange house. Of course, there’s more to the house than just being odd, and the story shows us how the three of them deal with this strange old house.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t all that good. It feels muddled, with the story jumping around from point to point, and the characters doing what’s necessary to keep the plot moving instead of acting according to their development. They’re one-dimensional, with the human villains coming across as more cartoonish than anything, to the point where I thought they were just acting to serve another purpose. No, they’re just acting the way Talbot wanted them to be, mustache-twisting and all.

This third and final novel by Michael Talbot is a sort of confirmation as to why he stopped writing fiction after this book. The Delicate Dependency wasn’t without its own issues, but it was still good. Talbot’s other two books are major disappointments, even if you don’t look at them in comparison with his first novel.

Started: December 17, 2017
Finished: December 20, 2017

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Childgrave

February 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

graveChildgrave by Ken Greenhall

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I devoured the other two Greenhall books I read earlier this year. Elizabeth was eerily reminiscent of The Haunting of Hill House, and Hell Hound was a fascinating look at sociopathy, so I was eager to read Childgrave, even before Valancourt Books reprinted it. Once the reprint became available, I bought it and started reading.

The story is about Jonathan, a photographer who becomes infatuated with Sara, a harpist, and invites her into his life. Once she befriends him and his daughter, he begins to see apparitions in the photos he takes of his daughter. Later, he learns that the apparitions are connected to Sara, but instead of driving him away, it only serves to draw him closer to her.

The story manages to be eerie without being creepy, so long as you overlook Jonathan’s harassment of Sara through most of the book. He’s convinced he’s in love with her, and goes out of his way to be with her, which is in and of itself pretty creepy. It’s hard to tell if Greenhall intended this to be unsettling (the book was originally published in 1981, when this sort of behavior wasn’t yet considered harassment), but looking at it from a modern eye, it certainly is.

Jonathan also serves as our narrator, and his obsession with Sara suggests he might not be a reliable narrator. At one point, he declares himself as “being an emotionally mature individual”, while confessing love to a woman he doesn’t even know, which made me question some of the events in the book. The thing is, he doesn’t come across as unreliable; instead, he just comes across as a narrator I can’t trust. I don’t think he’s lying to me about what’s happening around him, but I can’t believe everything he tells me, either.

The book is unusual in that it’s essentially two stories in one, neatly divided down the middle of the book. Interestingly, the second story is the one that reveals the significance of the title, so we spend a lot of the book wondering what, exactly, Childgrave is. It’s a long build-up, but it is necessary, even if it gives the book a disjointed feel. Again, I wonder if this was intentional on Greenhall’s part.

Childgrave reminds me of Charles Grant’s quiet horror, in that it has a slow build-up without much violence or gore. It doesn’t quite reach the standard Grant created with his Oxrun Station books, but it’s reminiscent enough to belong to the same class. Fans of that style of horror would do themselves a favor to read Childgrave, and then move on to Elizabeth and Hell Hound.

Started: December 1, 2017
Finished: December 12, 2017

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The Bog

February 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bogThe Bog by Michael Talbot

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I’ve been looking for years for the definitive horror novel set in a bog. Neither Rick Hautala’s Moonbog nor Phil Rickman’s The Man in the Moss quite hit the mark, and I was hoping that Michael Talbot’s The Bog — featuring the actual bog bodies and enjoying a reprint by Valancourt Books — would be the one. Alas, I’m still looking.

The story gets off to a good start, but it suffers for not being atmospheric and having weak characterization, and that the narrative itself feels very telly. The story also jumps all over the place, so that as soon as you start to get a handle on one part of the plot, Talbot introduces a different aspect of it and decides to make that the focus of his story.

It also doesn’t help that this is another book featuring a character with an eidetic memory, which makes this the fourth book in the last three months to feature one. This isn’t Talbot’s fault — if anything, this book has the earliest publication date of all four books — but it is a tiresome device, and one that’s still being reused. It just hurts that I’ve seen it so frequently in my latest reads.

Another aspect of the book that felt weak was the magic Talbot incorporated into the story. For me, what makes a magic system work is its rules; they have to hang together well, and the story has to be supported by those rules. Talbot explains all of the rules, but he doesn’t do so until nearly the end of the book, so for much of the story we’re wading about, trying to understand why things are happening the way they do. I think the story would have been stronger had we had those rules explained earlier in the book.

The Delicate Dependency was an odd book with fast-paced action interspersed with boring day-to-day minutiae, and I was expecting something similar with The Bog, Talbot’s second book. Instead, what I got was an unfocused mess with a few points in its favor, but not enough to elevate it to the classic status I was expecting from a Valancourt reprint. Maybe I just let my expectations get the better of me.

Started: November 21, 2017
Finished: November 30, 2017

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