When I can, I aim to review outstanding horror books and films on the blog. Here’s a fuller review of Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter, I’m reviewing in conjunction with those excellent book lovers sites:
www.bookdagger.com, www.bookhugger.co.uk, www.bookgeeks.co.uk.
A Dark Matter by Peter Straub
I’ve been privately dismayed and hard on some of my favourite famous authors of late, who have published some unaffecting novels, that are too digressive and flat and seem to have been produced too quickly. But I’d say this is one of the most complex and ambitious novels of weird fiction I have read in recent years. Ambitious because the writer interprets nothing less than the meanings of good and evil and of time through a long series of interconnected mystical journeys festooned with occult imagery. Complex because he actually creates a process or system like a Tarot in his investigation of the nature of good and evil, but does so in his own vivid poetry that draws upon the medieval occult and alchemy. The experiences of the characters who dabble with ritual magic in the story, are nothing short of a tremendous work of the imagination, that only a great writer/poet is capable of realising. So in that matter alone, I think this is one of the great works of the supernatural in fiction, now in the canon.
This novel will take a patient reader; it’s as much of a literary novel (in that it makes up its own rules and employs highly sophisticated language), as it is a genre novel, so to borrow a phrase from a reviewer on Amazon: “There are no zombies chasing cheerleaders here.” It has the speculative and surreal feel of a David Lynch movie and often reminded me of the intent and the weird imagery of his best film Fire Walk With Me. In terms of a narrative structure, it is constantly innovative and surprising.
Of those I have read, it’s my favourite Straub novel to date. Like most of his work the novel can be enjoyed for vivid descriptive language and wonderful turns-of-phrase – the one scene featuring a description of the writer’s face and body while haunted by suspicion and jealousy in a hotel is particularly evocative. If I had to pull any threads, the mystical elements in this story, and the suggestions of unbearable dread just out of sight, is so absorbing and surreal at times, when the story reverts back to the real world I did find the lead and well-heeled author character a tad fussy and self-satisfied, and once or twice I found my cold blood and stone heart a bit impatient with the sentimentality in some scenes, but that is a matter of taste and these are minor quibbles. I’ve sat riveted to a chair for the best part of two days transported by this book, that displays a real writer at the top of his game in a river of novels that increasingly resemble film treatments and arcade games.