Another book from NetGalley, this one because I had never read H.P. Lovecraft. I had thought about it, of course, after reading works influenced by him (it's almost impossible not to) and a collection of his most relevant stories seemed like a great way to finally do it. I've previously mentioned here that I'm not a great fan of horror literature, but I must say that Lovecraft surprised me with stories more close to what we call weird than actual horror, which made this that much more interesting to me.
This collection starts with an excellent introduction by Roger Luckhurst that gives the reader some contextual information without spoiling too much and ends with some more explanatory notes. Luckhurst's contribution in one of the details that distinguish this from other Lovecraftian collections, giving it an almost academical component without ever being boring or over-thought. There is a real intention to help the reader understand the text as it was written. Towards that - another distinguishing detail - the works were reproduced as faithfully to the original writing as possible without the alterations made by the different editors that published them in the first place.
The book collects the following stories: The Horror at Red Hook, The Call of Cthulhu, The Colour out of Space, The Dunwich Horror, The Whisperer in Darkness, At the Mountains of Madness, The Dreams in the Witch House, The Shadow over Innsmouth and The Shadow out of Time. The is also an excerpt from his essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature.
If when it comes to cultural interest, this was one of the most important books I've read recently, my thoughts on the stories themselves aren't always as positive. On on hand, I recognize that Lovecraft is, to my knowledge, probably the most effective author generating an ambience of weirdness and feelings of intrusion and unpredictability. On the other hand, the amount of adjectives and their repetition - specially in different stories - become overwhelming and tiresome. I feel his style works best in short stories and probably read separately, as they were published. Given all I've just said, it's easy to see why the one I enjoyed less was At the Mountains of Madness, which in spite of being one of his best known works is also one of the biggest and ended up boring me.
H.P.Lovecraft focuses on a kind of fear that differs from the usual in the more traditional, religiously biased stories or in the contemporary ones, that focus on feelings of entrapment and enemies hidden in plain sight. The fear in Lovecraft isn't associated with any punishment or guilt or even anything necessarily human. It comes from the outside, from space, from other dimensions, it's external to our comprehension. The terrifying beings in his works have a near incredible description, such is the weirdness of their organisms. There is an association between these creatures (with whom he created a whole interconnecting structure that came to be called the Cthulhu Mythos) and cults or witchcraft contributing to the plausibility of the stories. The creatures have incomprehensible behaviour, live through ages which gives them a different concept of existence and have abilities far beyond ours. Common to every one of their appearances is the feeling of weirdness they cause to the narrator, as if his world was being invaded by something he can't understand and that, perhaps precisely because of that, terrifies him immediately. Lovecraft transmits, more that fear, this feeling of near insanity, through a mix of doubt and expectation associated with blurred and over-adjectivized information that gets the reader almost to nausea.
These are stories that assume we've left behind those fears associated with religious morality, with guilt, seducing or punishing devils, saved pious or doomed non-believers and because of that are dedicated to the exploration of the fears of those who question alien life, outer-dimensional life, time travel or who consider the possibility of there being other creatures with abilities similar or superior to ours and whose intentions are unintelligible even when we come across them. There is, on the other hand, an obvious preoccupation with racial and cultural purity which shows, to those who are alert, a prejudice that Lovecraft was openly supportive of - something that can spoil the experience of reading his work.
As it is, I recommend this collection to those who haven't read H.P. Lovecraft and have any interest in speculative fiction and horror or weird in particular, but also to those who have read one or other isolated work and wishes to read the original and more memorable ones. It will also be useful to those who wish to understand the author's context, a man who came to influence so much of what has been written ever since, and not just in horror literature.
This review was originally published in Portuguese and English on my blog