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The Overnight
Ramsey Campbell
Tor, 448 pages

The Overnight
Ramsey Campbell
Ramsey Campbell was born in 1946 in Liverpool, UK. His first exposure to horror fiction came at the age of five when he saw a copy of Weird Tales and began collecting them at ten. When Campbell was just 16, August Derleth published one of his stories in an anthology along with Robert Bloch, William Hope Hodgson and H. P. Lovecraft. Ramsey Campbell's first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake, was published in 1965, followed by another, Demons by Daylight, in 1973. His first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother appeared in 1976. He has also edited several collections including (along with Stephen Jones) the annual Best New Horror anthology.

Ramsey Campbell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
R. Campbell Links Page
Interviews: 1, 2
SF Site Review: The Darkest Part of the Woods
SF Site Review: Nazareth Hill
SF Site Review: Alone With the Horrors
Ramsey Campbell Tribute Site
Reviews of The Overnight: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

In 2002, multi-award-winning, critic-beloved Ramsey Campbell stunned friends and foes, kith and kin and anybody else, by taking on a job in a large British bookstore chain. It is this experience which informs his writing in The Overnight, a story of what occurs to the staff of an American style (smiles, smiles, more smiles) mega-bookstore situated in a drained fen (i.e., bog) with a genius loci that is rather inimical to amicable interpersonal relationships and whose "physical expression" is actively fatal to people.

Campbell does what he does best, write exquisite prose, develop atmosphere over blood and gore, and thereby develops a truly creepy and gloomy mood surrounding the store's staff and the sense of doom which overshadows them. The book is also interesting as each chapter is presented in turn from the point of view of a different character, so one gets, at times, multiples views of the same events. Other reviews have (see side bar at left) expounded on these qualities, and while I agree that the delivery is near flawless, I would propose that Campbell's type of horror writing inherently only lends itself very poorly to novel length works.

If one were to isolate the first 250 of 400-odd pages of The Overnight and present them to a reader, without identifying the author or genre, this reader might easily ignore a number of small incidents or explain them as the doings of a disgruntled employee, or chance. I realize that this builds the atmosphere, but I must admit to skipping paragraphs. The remaining 150 pages are much like the films Alien and more recently The Cave where the humans in an enclosed area are picked off one by one. To Campbell's credit he doesn't let anyone get away -- no Ridley to blow away the nasty beasty -- and portrays the claustrophobic atmosphere of the fogged-in store, beautifully.

I am a great fan of atmospheric/psychological (over blood and gore) horror as my comments in some other reviews (1, 2) will attest, but, in my opinion, with the possible exception of Dorothy Macardle's Uneasy Freehold (1941; a.k.a. The Uninvited), and perhaps one or two others, novel-length atmospheric horror just doesn't work very well. If one looks at the works that have made the reputation of atmospheric horror writers -- British (E.F. Benson, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, Oliver Onions, and more recently Robert Aickman) and American (Edgar A. Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and more recently Thomas Ligotti) -- it is their short stories or novellas at best. Who remembers Algernon Blackwood's novel The Fruit Stoners over his "The Wendigo?" Event-based, blood and gore-driven or supernatural horror has from the Gothic era been able to sustain the novel length, but expand the succinctness of an atmosphere-driven horrific situation/concept beyond its capacity and it simply becomes tedious -- even if it beautifully written.

Campbell's The Overnight is a work where the mechanics are well, even beautifully done, but placed in a form not best suited to it, something like placing a Ferrari F-1 engine in a school bus.

Copyright © 2005 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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