Ramsey Campbell Territory
Some years ago I read Stephen King’s fascinating study of horror Danse Macabre, which included a section on the work of two of the leading practitioners of Britain’s new wave of horror in the 1970s, James Herbert and Ramsey Campbell. I had already encountered James Herbert’s work through the novels The Fog and Haunted, but […]
Some years ago I read Stephen King’s fascinating study of horror Danse Macabre, which included a section on the work of two of the leading practitioners of Britain’s new wave of horror in the 1970s, James Herbert and Ramsey Campbell.
I had already encountered James Herbert’s work through the novels The Fog and Haunted, but King’s section on Ramsey Campbell’s debut novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother engaged me.
With my predilection for stories that feature characters who are recognisably very human, with all our faults and frailties (I always preferred the grim fatalism of Blakes 7 to the heroics of Star Trek), I was intrigued by King’s description of the heroes of Campbell’s novel as “truly little people, afraid, confused, often depressed: they turn inward to themselves rather than outward towards each other, and…there is no feeling about the book that Clare, Edmund and George must prevail because their cause is just”.
King also enthused on Campbell’s treatment of the novels setting, his native Liverpool, commenting that “the central character here is Liverpool itself, with its orange sodium lights, its slums and docks, its cinemas converted into HALF A MILE OF FURNITURE” and noting how Campbell “gives the reader the feeling that he is observing a slumbering, semisentient monster that might awake at any moment”.
Thus encouraged, I wasted no time in seeking out Campbell’s work on my next trip to Dublin and its bookshops. I’m glad I did. I have rarely encountered a writer whose work so unerringly perceives the horrifying banality and shocking strangeness of modern life (though I see a kinship to the work of M. John Harrison and the immensely powerful Factory novels of Derek Raymond).
Quite a prolific writer, Ramsey Campbell’s body of work comprises a substantial number of novels and short stories. What, for me, differentiates Campbell’s work from much else in the field is how the horrors which engulf his characters are arguably as much a product of damaged mental states, and the dismaying cruelties of the modern world (loneliness, isolation, heartless bureaucracy), as being due to uncanny intrusions or malevolent powers.
Campbell’s prose is utterly unique, his descriptions embedding everyday objects with impossible signs of life and dizzying the reader with a sometimes magnified sensation of reality, where we don’t so much perceive our environment as feel assaulted by it. His characters so often seem to strive against an alienation where renders even words untrustworthy and treacherous, more likely to sever us from those closest than to aid human contact.
Ramsey Campbell occupies a place in modern literature that is entirely his own. His novels and short stories guide us inexorably towards the depths of many of our own fears, known and unknown, where the horror may be lurking within ourselves, or so deeply embedded in the structure of reality surrounding us that we never noticed how it is with us, always.
Fingal Libraries hold a generous selection Of Ramsey Campbell’s works. To newcomers, I would recommend a fairly recent novel The Grin of the Dark, or, to try an earlier work, the brilliant Incarnate. Take a trip to Ramsey Campbell territory. It will be unsettling, it will be terrifying, and it may even be just a little familiar.
By Alan Dunne, Donabate Library