18 thoughts on “The SeArChInG DEAD – Ramsey Campbell

  1. My previous reviews of Ramsey Campbell –
    https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/the-madness-of-dr-caligari/#comment-8578
    https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/ghosts-and-grisly-things-by-ramsey-campbell/
    https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/years-best-weird-fiction-vol-3/#comment-8337
    https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/the-weird-8/
    https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/beneath-the-ground-edited-by-joel-lane/

    ——————-
    ONE, TWO, THREE

    “The dead outnumber us by many billions, Mr Joyce. I can see no point in adding to them without a pressing reason.”

    I would have thought it was only millions, then? But I fully recognise the era of the 1950s from my own childhood experience, and relish the text’s touches of recall. But ‘text’ is too formal a word for my accompanying Dominic Sheldrake on his first day at secondary school after passing his eleven plus. The eccentric teachers in gowns, or seemingly eccentric in hindsight. But here Dominic recalls with deadpan assurance one teacher in an earlier chapter pushing something lowdown in a graveyard and now talking to something lowdown near the school.
    This reads like a library book from those wonderful days, especially with its mention of Enid Blyton, but it has the prose traction of Richmal Crompton. It feels like an old-fashioned library book in the hand. The skull on its cover is a bit off-putting, though. Decided to hide it below the desklid.
    Beyond my 1950s experience however are the references to the Roman Catholic Church in those days versus Spiritualism. But it all rings true, too.
    A good start. A great sense of the period just after the War. And the talk of its sadly dead.

  2. FOUR

    “It made me feel events had converged on me, as if I’d been singled out somehow.”

    Dominic is still naive or youthfully creative enough to feel he also needs to spell out the word ‘walk’ so as not to get Mrs Norris’ dog too excited about going for one. But the convergence of Catholicism versus Spiritualism accretes, converging possibly around that teacher mentioned above called Mr Noble, as well as many more evocative touches about the 1950s, now in the approach to Christmas. I am really being captivated by this book and I shall pleasurably eke it out – and hopefully continue to be abstemious with releasing too many details of its plot in my real-time review.
    With Mr Noble’s vision of Hell described to his class, it seems appropriate to me that the boy who provoked it had the surname Joyce.

  3. FIVE

    “Now I feel almost nostalgic for them — for rites that don’t alter the world.”

    I, too, contemporaneously ridiculed set behaviours of the 1950s, but now they seem so much more preferable than what new foul political rites are being stirred today. The book’s sense of time and place, 1950s England, is, I feel, beginning to absorb a magnified ominous effect upon itself, through the filter of what happens afterwards as a trend, if not exactly yet knowing what precise events are about to happen to Dominic in 1950s Liverpool. And I see this is the Christmas where the new Queen anticipates her Coronation in the following year during her first Christmas address on the tiny snowy black and white TV screens. Nostalgia needs to be earnt.
    Pidgin or pigeon, notwithstanding. Whether or not English words need to be spelt out for dogs and infants in prams. A dog called Winston, of course.

  4. SIX

    “…the hundreds of people drowned in the North Sea flood, a disaster apparently designed to remind us that God’s plan was too large for us to grasp.”

    Although I was only 5 in 1953, I can remember that event well, living in Walton on Naze as I did, and I can also relate to these 10 and 11 year old characters in that year, and the SF-type story Dominic wrote, and some boy hiding a horror comic under a desklid.. In fact the latter phenomenon seems to litter my memory right up to the Sixth form!
    This book continues to be a real treat for me.

  5. SEVEN

    “Some things can reach back.”

    A searing dead-hungry chapter, if you dig into it. Striking talk in front of Dominic and the other school kids by Mr Noble’s father who was in the First World War trenches where the school is about to visit. Striking implications, too, of Easter in a Catholic school, and the old man’s ‘lecture’ about lice, rats, missing toes,,,
    And this chapter also deals with the generality of possible retrocausality (not a specific word used in the text so far but one that has haunted me for the last few decades), retrocausality not only in the faith of religion taught at Dominic’s school – but also ‘afterward’ in real life? In Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’? And in gestalt real-time reviewing?
    I wonder if it is significant that ‘searching’ is a word we use a lot these days, aka ‘googling’ (googol: – a real word previously for those dead millions or billions?)

  6. EIGHT, NINE

    “We were impressed most by a field where unmarked crosses stretched to the horizon as if the throng of unidentified dead were erasing the landscape.”

    A characterful school trip to France, one so typical of the 1950s, with teachers often prying if not preying on the kids as well as other apparent eccentric behaviour, here with Dominic and his pal in turn spying on Mr Noble visiting a French battlefield after dark where its trees seem to be averse to where they have grown for centuries. The adventurous innocence of Richmal Crompton or Enid Blyton but as if infected from where we sit today.
    On the Channel 4 news today, we’re told that the 1950s were the last time wages truly grew and where that growth is now in 2016 collapsing faster than ever, not so much in hindsight as in backtowards motion, I sense. Thinking aloud. Brainstorming. Me, not the book. But the book has ominously stirred these thoughts in me. While Dominic dreams in tune with what he thinks he saw….
    “The dream might have been lying in wait for me, ….”

    • While Dominic’s gang with Jim and Bobby has elements of both Just William and the Famous Five, Bobby (a girl) has shades of Evadne Price’s Jane Turpin (arguably the era’s female William).
      But now we reach a wonderful evocation of watching the 1953 coronation on TV….

  7. TEN, ELEVEN, TWELVE

    “Ambulances rarely used their sirens in those days. You might think they were showing respect for the sick.”

    And indeed, the experience of re-experiencing the 1953 Coronation live TV broadcast via this book has been spot on…
    as have, in the terms of this book’s plot, its aftermath amid one of the street parties. The political incorrectness of that age, the mindsets on politics itself, religion as superstition or faith or a means to spirit away fear of death by replacing it with fear of the dead, social class, economics. One wonders if all this were Brexit in utero….
    and then we have the school open day for parents to see teachers, accompanied by their kids, and the aftermath of the French trip and the dreams it spawned, the commoners’ biteback against authority in (prospective if not retrospective) utero…
    the need for Latin and the oddly accentuated fingerprints, notwithstanding.

  8. THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN

    “They felt as if they were enticing me to read more — as if the book was hungry to be read.”

    …as if, too, the words – as the book itself states here at its midpoint – are reaching inside my skull. Hard for me to thus eke it out suitably. I sense something important, something darkly transcendent beyond the book’s wilily evocative, sometimes workmanlike, prose and its sporadic mockery of neatly configured, almost child-like, handwriting – literally!
    I thought it highly significant today that it was the fourth anniversary of my salvaging a quote about the Malebolge from John Cowper Powys (Facebook alerted me to this), a quote which I had subsequently been reminded was a reference to Dante’s levels of the Dead… and for those interested, here is proof of that: http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?p=131178#post131178
    Meanwhile, Dominic’s experience at school and his own clear sight as to the hypocrisy of his Catholic teachers and of others are well portrayed, a hypocrisy and naivety so typical of (what Mr Noble also refers to as) the ‘masses’, not only in the 1950s but also, in different competing politically correct and incorrect forms, today.

    “…how difficult it is to maintain that sense of self in the great dark.”

    “I wouldn’t learn until much later that many writers don’t speak the way they write – that writing lets their true selves speak.”

  9. FIFTEEN, SIXTEEN

    “Laughter needs a mouth.”

    This book seems expert – unique? – in summoning uncertain, but frighteningly provocative, visions through the special power (perceptively harnessed) from the growing minds of pre-teenage children in synergy with an experiential sense of living through the special power of the 1950s. I can vouch for much of this from my own experience, in the hindsight of now having read this book so far, something heretofore I have failed to harness.
    For example, these children adventuring into 1950s cinemas (evocatively conveyed) showing films just beyond your reach or your age to be admitted to it, blended with your naive childishness bordering on your future older ages radiating back at you, with shapes formed from amassed amorphous cigarette smoke and angled light, and in the Gents, the mirrors, and the images and sound of the film being watched.
    This parallels the hidden book (both hidden physically as part of the plot and hidden as a hidden text within the overt text), hidden that is within THIS book, written by the narrator/author or retold by him or simply transcribed without understanding.
    I would suggest all this IS unique, and would have been worth experimenting the marketing of it as a mainstream novel (hidden within or outside the one with a skull on the front?), at least partly tapping the many readers these days interested in reading literary not genre fiction about growing up in certain eras… also as a new form of nostalgia that goes forward instead of back …or rediscovering now hidden memories of events infected by the future…a darkness that is preferable to the inferior darkness of the future as we have seen it in the last few months?

    “….there was something it wouldn’t be wise to remember. How should I evade it if I didn’t know what it was?”

    “My dad says if you don’t try what you think you can’t do you won’t try what you can.”

  10. POSSIBLE UNINTENDED SPOILERS HEREAFTER

    .
    SEVENTEEN, EIGHTEEN

    “If my fears were responsible, could they bring it again?”

    Fears dissipate, at least, during a family holiday in Scarborough, a hotel where people still gather even today. Books developing as powers-in-themselves at this stage in Dominic’s life, while things and people from THIS book seem on hold, pent up, an aftermath perhaps as significant as what it is after? And the precociousness of Tina, to whom the hidden book is addressed, TINA an as yet obscure but synchronous acronym? Reaching into a sky where angels reach back? My thoughts, not necessarily the book’s, whether hidden or not.
    I wonder, too, meanwhile, if “the Christians are given feeble hints of the ancient rite of the three,” words in the ‘hidden book’, are intended to resonate with the Tremendous Three, this being their own group name equivalent to the Outlaws or Famous Five or Secret Seven for Dominic, Jim and Bobby? Bobby says something that I also imagine Jane Turpin echoing when she eventually reaches beyond agelessness in her own fiction book (as William surely reached beyond agelessness, too). Beyond the malebolge?

    “‘Maybe she’s how girls need to be,’ Bobby said.”

    [From the Wikipedia on Jane Turpin: “One significant difference in the two series is the absence of an analogue (in the Jane stories) to “The Outlaws” (in the William stories). While Jane has two close friends in Pug Washington and Chaw Smith, she does not command the kind of fidelity that William Brown commanded over the members of his gang.”]

  11. NINETEEN, TWENTY

    “TIna was leading the procession. I could easily have fancied she was directing it from her pushchair.”

    In spite (or because?) of the adept straightforward workmanlike prose and dialogue, with richer wordshots of horror image (like the poignantly desperate circumstances of the tram crash) which are very effective as a sort of punctuated colour, this book is very painterly. The scene of the pushed toddler actually leading as a motley group (not effectively being pushed at all?) clasping a grocery bag like a tribute, early Picasso? Also the punctuation of words bifurcated or unhealthily joined, like “Assertive” and “He was sort of”… Dom’s readerly interest in Robotics leading to thoughts of the Holy Trinity, semi-childish Secret Seven-like surveillance of adults, early sexual awakenings, a punctuated but obsessive pushing forward of fiction-like adventure and investigation into nefarious matters such as churchly mutation…the children themselves questioning whether they are in a story, one of Dom’s? Yes, painterly, but more real than if it had been left unpainted as frameless reality.
    Then Dom’s signal dream that seems more real after he wakes up from it. And I wonder what is pursuing them from the smug and often two-faced future wherein we live today, a demented but well-intentioned social justice or something more evil…?
    “There are too many people wanting to tell us what to think.”

  12. TWENTY-ONE, TWENTY-TWO

    “It felt as though too much in my life was eager to converge, though I could never have foreseen how it would.”

    You know, my memory of the 1950s entailed no street lighting at all in suburban side-streets (at least where I lived in Colchester, Essex) and, at the age of around 8 or 9, I often used a torch on dark evenings to reach, on my own, the Church Hall where Wolf Cub meetings were held… Foggy nights were particularly difficult, and scary! (Who could imagine a child today being allowed to experience such a journey?) A fogginess as scary as the night in this book, if with street lighting, with an era-transcendent imaginarium of dark painterly shapes beyond the methodical prose and ponderously extended nonchalance craftily textualised as the text masking another inferred text written by Dominic (or someone pretending to be Dominic, or vice versa?) so as to carry so evocatively such an imaginarium within us.
    Meanwhile, Dom reaches severe doubts about his own inculcated Catholic religion together with mixed feelings, fears if not doubts, about a different belief summoned by the ‘religion’ of the dark side of this book.
    Lighter touches of omelette whipping to convey another habit growing on Dom, and a teacher’s advice on which books to read if Dom is serious about his aspirational fiction writing.

    “…to conceal a meaning, however unintentional.”

  13. TWENTY-THREE

    The proof of the 1950s school dinner pudding is in the eating, and this book gave me a very fitful sleep last night – including dreams now hardly grasped – but also more conscious thoughts about the future infecting the past like a blight, until I thought of this book as having been effectively created in its own future.
    I shall try to finish this remarkable book today…

    “…or how threatened by the future…”

    “…as if it were holding back the future.”

    Some compelling passages about Dom’s reading of BRIGHTON ROCK by Graham Greene and repercussions about it at school. And the Tremendous Three in Mr Noble’s ‘church’, a disused Catholic one with confessionals….whence the three adventurers conduct a surveillance of a conversation…

    “The past and the present and the future.”

    “They’re the three which are one,…”

    And names like “Sir Pent” and “Daoloth.”

    As well as seeing the weeds that cringe like those earlier French trees….

    (One memory of the Brighton Rock film is a cracked record repeating itself – relevant to the children’s sporadic broken words (cf “Sir Pent”) … and that a bit of something sometimes is more important than the whole – a blasphemy for those of us who seek gestalts?)

  14. TWENTY-FOUR, TWENTY-FIVE

    (Wharton’s Way – is it significant I’m currently real-time reviewing Edith Wharton’ s book of ghost stories?)
    Provocative thoughts here on the difference between telling lies and telling white lies or fibs and just being economical with the twisted truth…
    And a characterful bus conductor spooling out his tickets from his portable machine on the top deck of a bus ride through Liverpool’s blitz-damaged streets…
    And Dom stepping out on his own ‘crusade’ without Jim or Bobby…

    “We should always be on the alert for an invasion of our shores, but we should never let that make us overlook corruption that is growing from our own soil.”
    — Dennis Wheatley (on a retrocausal Brexit?)

  15. TWENTY-SIX, TWENTY-SEVEN

    img_2654
    Dom’s Dad is called Desmond, by the way.
    A cinematic finale, now just experienced by me, with a spectacular suspenseful Hitchcockian feel, perhaps echoing retrocausally some of my thoughts and dreams about this book last night. Meanwhile, Dom’s chase on a bus to the church, and to the cinematic cinema itself where, in my own childhood, I often recall myriads of snogging or necking young humans in the darksome smoky back rows of 1950s and 60s Britain, who seemed to intertwine and snuffle like some of this effectively writhing cornucopia of the Pulp Horror and ‘Seed in the Sepulchre’ visions with which a Threesome-betrayed Dominic Sheldrake has to grapple on his own…after a backward conversation that never happened and a sorely personal emotional sight that did.
    This is amazing stuff and I will no longer feel the same when placing flowers on a loved one’s grave.
    Somehow, I do feel purged. But Dominic, I sense, has yet many more nightmares to transcend in the future of this remarkable book. Googols of the Sear Ching Dead.

    “My doubts hadn’t finished with me, however. Not many nights later I was wakened by a dream that felt composed of thoughts.”

    end

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