Fiction Reviews

The Wise Friend

(2020) Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press, £20 / US$24.95, hrdbk, 247pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58404-4


How to approach a Ramsey Campbell novel?  With reverence, as he is described on the book jacket as a ‘master’ among writers?  Or as one who has overlooked among the ‘King’s’ and ‘Barker‘s’ of the horror world, as suggested by the blurb on the back of S T Joshi’s Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction (admittedly almost 20 years old now).

I first came to read Campbell through a little novella put out by the British Fantasy Society, and picked up in a second hand bookshop, called Through the Walls a psychological horror story, mentioned in the chapter in Joshi’s book entitled ‘Paranoia’.  I have to confess that it didn’t do anything for me, but everyone was recommending him, that I went on to try The Darkest Part of the Wood which I enjoyed.  There seems to be a compartmentalism in Campbell’s writing – the specifically psychological, and the supernatural.

So to this book, which revolves a man, Patrick, his aunt Thelma, his son Roy and his sons girlfriend Bella.  Thelma, an artist, had been drawn (no pun intended) to the arcane, and to particular locations where she collected specific objects.  After her apparent suicide, Patrick helps with a show of her work, and having found her journals goes seeking out the locations, accompanied by his son and girlfriend, who appears out of nowhere.  Things become more mysterious (I’m not giving too much detail, as I want you to read the book), and it begins to dawn on Patrick that Bella is more than she seems (Roy in the meantime is besotted, and will hear nothing against her).  And then the end comes, Bella ‘fades’ away, and the novel finishes.  I’ve left out oodles because  a) its difficult to explain (cop out) and  b) as I said, I want you to enjoy it.

Some of it was a bit obvious (the shortening of the girlfriends name to Bel, for instance), and some a bit unnecessary, but overall, I felt this a good amalgam of the 2 aspects of Campbell’s work that I mentioned earlier, the psychological and the supernatural.

The other aspect I enjoyed was the very ‘Englishness’ of the story, which comes out in most of Campbell’s writing.  I’m not saying that in an ‘little-Englander’ sense, just that I appreciate stories that are based in somewhere I recognise (I’ve been to Liverpool, I’m unlikely to go to Narnia).  It means that I can identify with it more; despite the horror, it seems more real.

Go buy the book and enjoy it.

Peter Young

See also Ian's review of The Wise Friend.


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