Monday, January 16, 2012

Audio Book Review: H.P. Lovecraft Volume 1

HP Lovecraft: Volume 1 (Audiobook)
by H.P. Lovecraft

Synopsis: An anthology of some of H.P Lovecraft's shortstories;

The alchemist ****
The festival ***
The beast in the cave ***
Beyond the wall of sleep *****
Facts concerning the late Arthur German and his family ***
The descendant ***
The hound ****
From beyond ****
Cool air ****
The white ship ***
The call of Cthulhu *****

This audiobook has stumped me, It wasn't a personal purchase and I actually don't know how it came to be on my iPod! My last laptop died so I'm currently without itunes so I can't hunt through my files for more info, and because Lovecraft is such a prolific short story there are hundreds of anthologies of his work and I simply can't find this particular one. What I can say though is that many of the stories in my mystery anthology were also part of an anthology titled The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird StoriesThat anthology was made up primarily with Lovecraft stories which were first published in Weird Tales, a fantasy and horror pulp magazine. One of the few details my audiobook did provide me with (other than the story title) was the date of publication, and while some weren't actually published in Weird Tales, they were written or published in the same era of his career.

Before I even begin to talk about the stories themselves I want to discuss Lovecraft's distinct writing style, or to be more exact his mastery at wordcraft. Lovecraft has an unbelievable ability to write an attractive sentence. I'm not talking about the actual content of the sentence here, simply the sound and the rhythm the words make. Rich and thick like syrup they swirl around your head in the most exquisite of manners. They trip off the tongue with ease and yet they hold such weight. It was extremely hard for me to pay attention to the stories because just listening to the lyric/poetic like quality of his word choices was almost all consuming!

On to the actual stories, overall I found them to be rich and exciting tales that captivated my attention and were filled with that exciting and suspenseful Gothic style horror. All the stories built up their suspense so quietly and so neatly that I would be startled when I realised my heart was beating faster or that I'd stopped wiping down the bathroom counter and was instead frozen listening intently. Of course considering the age of the stories some of the 'twists' and final reveals were almost comical to me but even if I found the end of some (The Beast in the Cave) a little silly or over-dramatic (which may have been the fault of the audiobook narrator) the build to that conclusion was still quite fantastic. As I was reading a few reviews on websites about Lovecraft and these stories for this review I came across a sentence by a Lovecraft scholar named Peter Cannon that I thought perfectly described the tales (though it was written specifically about The Call of Cthulhu), it said the story was "ambitious and complex...a dense and subtle narrative in which the horror gradually builds to cosmic proportions."

 There is a real struggle with the self present in the stories, present I'd imagine because they are all told from the first person perspective and most seem to take a confessional tone. All the narrators confess to a momentous struggle they once fought through or in some cases are still fighting against. The nature of the struggle changes, in some instance it's an actual fight with some form of supernatural being while other times it's a more internal struggle, where they have to fight against the science and reason they've always adhered to which has now been shattered by their sighting of a demon or conversation with an alien. While much of the actual story takes place in the physical realm, the real story takes place in the mind of the narrator, how he deals with it, how he communicates, how he fixes on certain details.

My favourite story was Beyond the Wall of Sleep, in which the narrator was an intern at a mental hospital who relates to the reader his experiences with a particular patient, John Slater, weeks before the man died. During his sleep Slater has fits during which he rants about things that can't possibly be found on Earth, and a mysterious being who wants to hurt Slater. As Slater approaches death the narrator hooks them both up to a two-way telepathy device and finds that a being supremely made of light appears to be using the body of John Slater as a medium for communication. What I loved about this story was what happened next (which I won't describe in detail for fear of spoilers) as the alien/being of light communicates with the young intern narrator which such profundity and emotion that I was completely transfixed. Again I have to return to Lovecraft's use of language, a similar story in the hands of someone who can't manipulate words into such heavy, lyrical and emotive sentences most likely would have failed.

My only real complaint has nothing to do with the actual books but the audiobook narration. With each monster/alien/creature came  a new 'voice'. Some of these voices were fine, they were deep or reverberated but were easy to understand. Others were insanely difficult to understand even the smallest of words. The worst was probably the voice used in Beyond the Wall of Sleep which sounded like a possessed Scooby-Doo, I couldn't understand a word of it, and actually had to re-listen to the last half of the story about 3 times before I got the gist of it. Because the monster's speeches are often quite profound and some of the most interesting parts to the story it was a real shame to not be able to understand everything they were saying, especially when what they were saying was also crucial to the plot (or that was the feeling I'd get anyway). I had wanted to physically read the stories anyway since so much gets lost when you listen rather than physically read but because of these voices I'll definitely have to read them so that I can piece together a couple of the stories that don't seem to make complete sense to me.

It is easy to see the impact these tales and Lovecraft himself had on horror writers like Clive Barker and Stephen King and listening to these tales gave a great insight into the foundations of the horror genre as well as being extremely captivating and enjoyable. I highly recommend these to anyone who enjoys horror but isn't necessarily looking for a scare, for while the tension builds and there are frightening images they most likely won't stop you from getting to sleep at night.

4.5 out of 5 calls from Cthulu I won't be returning.