Filler content with dead dreamers

Final review of the three that appeared in Dream #26 back in 1990:-

LIGOTTI, THOMAS – Songs of a Dead Dreamer (Robinson tpb, 275pp, £5.99)

For a number of years now the work of Thomas Ligotti has been appearing in such Small Press magazines as Dagon and Dark Horizons, garnering the author a reputation entirely inconsistent with public awareness of his work. Robinson’s publication of Songs of a Dead Dreamer, consisting of twenty one stories and an introduction by Ramsey Campbell, will hopefully gain Ligotti the much wider audience that he deserves.

Ligotti is unusual, even by the standards of a genre in which the unusual and the everyday are often seen as interchangeable, facets of the same reality. He writes like no-one else. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the Argentinean fabulist and poet Jorge Luis Borges, alas now deceased. But although Ligotti’s concerns may be the same and his methods similar, the vision that impels his work is infinitely darker and uniquely his own. A lineal descendant of Poe, Ligotti is a master of quasi-surreal fables that disturb and unsettle the reader, while at the same time delighting with an elegantly rendered image or turn of phrase. Not for Ligotti the lashings of gore and chainsaw writhing that seem almost de rigueur in splatterpunk circles. Ligotti’s appeal is intellectual rather than visceral, and ultimately far more alarming. He writes in the first person, adopting a quirky and often beautiful prose style to lure the unsuspecting reader in to the nightmare that is his tormented narrator’s only reality. These stories are at right angles to the world we know, using startling ideas and images to heart stopping effect.

‘Flowers sent out today in the early a.m.’ The story “Les Fleurs” opens with this deceptively innocent phrase, which by the story’s end has gained new and terrible significance, typifying Ligotti’s gift for transforming the commonplace into something strange and unreal. In the beautifully titled “Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes” a master hypnotist entertains the idle rich at a country house party. But during the course of the narrative there are subtle indications that all is not quite what it seems, and these culminate in a devastating denouement. The fiendishly clever “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story” tells its story by means of a lecture on the art itself, illustrating the various approaches a budding author might take with his material, and using this as a device to explore the murky depths of the writer’s subconscious. “Dr Locrian’s Asylum” has an entire town tormented and driven to destruction by the ghosts of its evil past. In “The Frolic” a criminal psychologist confronts a child molester with abilities that undermine his belief in the laws of cause and effect, offering new insight into the random nature of creation. A clinical analyst is the victim of paranoia in “The Dream of a Mannikin”. Or is he? Ligotti, as always, leaves us room to doubt.

These are only the most remarkable stories in a wholly remarkable collection, a publication that Ramsey Campbell lauds as ‘one of the most important horror books of the decade’. Ligotti’s work is not without flaw. He is still learning his craft, as the occasionally painful choice of words or plot obscurity reveals. Nor will it be to everyone’s taste. He lacks the accessibility of Stephen King’s prose and the raw power found in Clive Barker’s better work. But for those who prize the unusual and value beautiful writing, these stories will open up endless new vistas to the mind’s eye.



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