Filler content with a bookstore

There may be quite a bit of filler content between now and the end of the month, as your blogger-in-residence is very, very busy.

So I guess it’s just as well that I have thousands of reviews in the back catalogue, albeit only a portion of them are fit for public consumption.

PS Publishing have recently reissued this beauty as a mass market paperback, so reprising my review from The Third Alternative #42 seems appropriate.

Here it is exactly as it appeared back in 2005, minus any editorial changes that might have been made but which I can’t be arsed to look up.

And when you’re done with the review, tell me what your favourite Campbell book is. If you have one, that is.


Tor hb, 396pp, $24.95                                                             

Fenny Meadows, as the name might suggest and a local historian who wanders in and out of the story cryptically informs anyone who’ll listen, is a location with a dubious past, in former times a marsh, the scene of conflict since ancient times and where at least two previous settlements have been lost. In the present day it’s a Retail Park, and the action centres on Texts, the UK flagship for an American chain of bookshops. The store is beset by problems, not least of which is the blanket of fog that has descended on Fenny Meadows and appears reluctant to relinquish its grip. With Christmas fast approaching, a dearth of customers and a visit from head office on the cards, American manager Woody decides that desperate measures are called for, and asks his staff to stay overnight and sort out the store’s problems, which is when all the chickens come home to roost with a vengeance.

Conceptually, Campbell’s latest novel doesn’t have much new to offer, is just a return visit to the ‘cursed ground’ plotline beloved of a whole generation of hack writers and schlock Horror film wannabes. But of course indifferent material can be transformed by the touch of a master, and that is the case here, with Campbell mounting a barrage of effects that bounce off of and reinforce each other, deftly laying the groundwork for the chilling tour de force that is the overnight itself, the attention to detail and careful build-up of atmosphere creating the sense of verisimilitude that distinguishes the very best fiction of this type. Inexplicable accidents, incidents of vandalism, unruly behaviour by the customers, malfunctioning machinery etc, are calling cards by which the numinous announces its presence and demonstrates that its intentions are far from benevolent, and as the overnight progresses ever more outré events occur, exacerbating the strained atmosphere between the employees, until all that remains is to see who will make it to morning. The way in which reality unravels, the carefully placed clues and pivotal events, such as the two fat men who are always sitting in the store, the employee’s loss of literacy, the changing videos, the constant fog, the failing lift, the mud patterns and stains on the carpet etc, all contribute to a mounting sense of unease, a certainty that something has gone very wrong with the fabric of this world.

The other central plank of the novel is characterisation, with Campbell utilising a dramatis personae of some fourteen different people, each of whom gets a turn in the driving seat, so that events are filtered through a whole gamut of individual perspectives, with the reader the only one to witness the terrifying gestalt that emerges. To juggle so many characters is an ambitious undertaking, but Campbell never looks like dropping the ball, with each person deftly drawn, given a distinctive voice and traits that make them memorable to the reader, the character blur that might occur with a lesser writer not at all evident here. And having made these people real to us, Campbell then uses them to rack up the tension even higher as they interact with each other, the thing that infests Texts feeding off of the friction between various members of staff, as petty differences are exacerbated by the unnatural conditions and erupt into open conflict, as lone gay Jake plays on the fears of manager wannabe the uptight Greg, and Jill’s resentment of Connie, who is seeing her estranged husband, bubbles over into outright hostility, to give just two examples out of many. Overseeing it all is one of Campbell’s most memorable creations, the indefatigable Woody, the very personification of American business philosophy, with his happy clappy managerial style disintegrating as the night goes on, until he is just a gross caricature of some sitcom managerial type, sitting in his office with a permanent grin on his face and bawling orders to all and sundry over the intercom. And there’s the suggestion that this madness is Woody’s last line of defence against something even more terrible.

The Overnight is a slow but assured novel, one that builds carefully to deliver the maximum of drama, as human shortcomings place its characters at the mercy of an entity that feeds on our negative emotions. It may not be Campbell at his very best, but it’s still far better than most of his contemporaries.

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2 Responses to Filler content with a bookstore

  1. That sounds fantastic… The only one of his I’ve read is Thieving Fear, and I loved it.

    • petertennant says:

      Not entirely sure, but I don’t believe I’ve read “Thieving Fear”. My favourite is “The Grin of the Dark”.

      I was quite slow to discover Campbell. The first one of his that I read was “Ancient Images” and I seriously disliked it, to the point that I wouldn’t try another for years.

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