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Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti

1/10/2011. Contributed by Richard Palmer

Buy Grimscribe in the USA - or Buy Grimscribe in the UK

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pub: Subterranean Press. 226 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-409-6.

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‘Grimscribe: His Lives And Works’ is the second in a volume of stories by Thomas Ligotti, revised in a new edition. They were originally published in 1991, though this is the first time that I have read them and so I have no direct experience of the changes made to the text. This will refer to the newly released volume and nothing more. Incidentally, I love the artwork on the cover of this edition. Definitely something to be enjoyed by fans of horrific cover design.

Ligotti’s debt to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe is oft remarked upon and not unreasonable. But to dismiss him as producing weak imitations of those masters of nineteenth and early twentieth century horror literature would be to do him a disservice. Ligotti is a master of the horror form. His work carries the same sense of dread and terror that is so often lacking in modern horror fiction but of which Poe and Lovecraft were masters. His mastery of language makes immersing oneself in these stories a real joy.

Though the title of ‘Grimscribe’ implies that these tales are linked, I think it would be wrong to interpret that as necessarily a single person telling a series of stories. Rather, they are linked by the themes of darkness and degeneracy that suffuse the text.

The volume is split into five sections: ‘The Voice Of The Damned’, ‘The Voice Of The Demon’, ‘The Voice Of The Dreamer’, ‘The Voice Of The Child’ and ‘The Voice Of Our Name’. Some of these titles should give the casual browser of the horror section of their local bookshop an idea of the flavour of this collection.

Ligotti’s rich and evocative prose is employed to explore the spaces in our heads and the evil that lurks in the out of the way places in our world. Many of the ideas and fears behind the stories will be familiar to all, even those who have never been introduced to the delights of horrific literature. The opening tale, ‘The Last Feast Of The Harlequin’, for example, plays on the well worn fear of clowns. It is also worth noting that Ligotti dedicates this excellent tale to the memory of H.P. Lovecraft.

A particular favourite of mine is ‘Flowers Of The Abyss’ in which the narrator explores a garden which is unlikely to be much of a draw at the Chelsea Flower Show. The flowers it contains are ‘like a great mass of maimed things writhing upon the shore of a beautiful dark sea.’ Another standout for me was ‘Mrs Plarr’ in which he tells the tale of his younger years and his somewhat unusual tutor whose lessons explore the origins of humanity and describe what are described as ‘visceral practices’.

Befitting the literary style of the stories within ‘Grimscribe’, there are nods to more than just Lovecraft. ‘The Library Of Byzantium’ is a grim exploration of collections of texts and ‘Nethescurial’ features a manuscript which chills the narrator and thanks to Ligotti’s skill, the reader. The final story, ‘The Shadow At The Bottom Of The World’, features a world where the rich colours of autumn are stripped away to reveal a deeper and more disturbing truth about the world.

This tearing down of the illusory walls of reality is at the heart of all the stories in ‘Grimscribe’. If it seems that I have been overly fulsome in my praise of the collection, I make no apology. Ligotti is a fine heir to the greats from which his work is derived. His mastery of English and ability to get to the decay and evil that lurks behind everything in his world and, I think often, our own.

For all that I am unreserved in my praise of this work, I would urge some caution. I noted above that the stories in it internalise and abstract the horror in a way that I feel is less prevalent in horror fiction, be it literary, filmed or interactive. There is certainly none of the physicality, shocks or gruesome horror that one might find in a contemporary horror film. As I hope I have made clear, I approve of this, but I realise that such an approach may not be to all tastes. That being the case, I can see that many others may have a different reaction to this work and not experience it in the same way that I have. Having said that, if this isn’t to your usual taste, I think it is of such quality that it is worth trying. You may be surprised.

Wonderful stuff from a modern master. Highly recommended.

Richard Palmer

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