Monday 13 October 2008

Book Review of:
(Leisure Book/ Dorchester Publishing Co. –
November 2007 - $7.99 – ISBN 0-8439-5494-9)

‘This seems like a dollop of muddle because life’s like that – a muddle of events, of intimacy, fear, anticipation, blood, bacon-wraps eaten too fast because you’re late for the bus, answering e-mails, washing clothes, bedtimes, broken nails, the dog whizzing on the rug – all that stuff you deal with…’ The problem with Simon Clark, if problem it is, concerns innovation. With his fiction, there’s no story-arc of inter-related mythos that readers can latch onto as recognisably Simon-world. Each novel forms its own mythos. And uniqueness can be a problem too. When he writes vampyrric, it’s no vampire Buffy would ever recognise, but something deep into his own definition. His reanimated corpses have nothing to do with George A Romero either, and people tend to like what they know. If they ever get around to doing the movie of a Simon Clark novel – and they should, it would not be dumbed-down multiplex splatter-core, but more a considered scary creep of human off-the-wall dimensions. The kind that genre franchises don’t do. And whenever you feel he’s written his best, and he’ll never equal the ambition or reach of what he’s already done with, say, ‘The Fall’ or ‘King Blood’, he throws a ‘London Under Midnight’ at you… or a ‘This Rage Of Echoes’. With this novel he returns to his familiar north of England haunting-ground, in the guise of the town of Tanshelf. And this time, it’s Echomen. Not exactly a pod-people ‘Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers’ – but something pretty damn close that turns people into exact replicas of you, who then try to kill you. For the victims, ‘they’re hunted by versions of themselves. Their physical echoes’. Identity theft at its most extreme. ‘I’m the photocopied man’ protests main-protagonist Mason Konrad, ‘I’ve been pirated’. It’s a phenomenon described as ‘a biological eruption. Dormant genes have just gone KERRUMP!’ But if the premise is science fictional – as the cosmic dénouement has the intensity of Olaf Stapledon spliced with subatomic particle theory, the text evidence is genre horror. Even the reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Telltale Heart” acknowledges its lineage. And there’s a nastiness in its tortured detail. Each entrail-bloody atrocity is teased out to painful flesh-ripping detail. It’s unwise to develop too much affection for characters – such as the chocolate-loving Gollum-alike Eddie, because Simon kills them off without warning. As if signalling that all are expendable. So what about Mason’s trusting half-Echo companion Madeline? Will she survive, will she prove to be a spy for the Echo-people, or will she turn on him and attack him when he – and the reader least expect it? The narrative momentum never lets up. Personally, I can’t do convincing Horror. I’m too rational. Fear is real enough. Genuinely supernatural fear is an irrational thing you have to believe in to write convincingly. Not necessarily believe believe, but at least find deep-down disturbing. To Simon Clark, ‘bathrooms are other worlds’ and ‘tuna smell like dead people’. He knows all about the ‘muddle of events… all that stuff you deal with’, and the spaces between that swallow up the unwary. This novel is further evidence, as if further evidence were needed, of his absolute mastery of Horror fiction.

Publishers website is
The official Simon Clark website is “Nailed by the Heart”

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