by Thomas Ligotti
Cover Artist: Aeron Alfrey
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596064706
Date: 30 June 2012 List Price $45.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Thomas Ligotti writes what is probably the most consistently dark and pessimistic horror fiction out there. Each of his stories explores a different angle on the hopelessness and meaninglessness of life, and of reality itself. Ligotti pursues this task with inspired prose, haunting imagery, and devastating subtlety. Subterranean Press has been reprinting Ligotti's classic short story collections, and the latest of these is Noctuary. While Ligotti’s grimness may not be for everyone, for horror aficionados or anyone willing to stare into the abyss for a while, this collection is an absolute must.
Ligotti excels at building up atmosphere and mood, both through his elegant prose and through his often surrealist plots. The stories are neither particularly plot driven nor character driven. Instead, they are structured around epiphanies. These epiphanies are always dark, and they are conveyed with such conviction that they are impossible to ignore. His stories carry you along inexorably, wrapping you in their own bizarre logic. They often possess a dream like, or nightmarish, quality, and just like a nightmare you are incapable of questioning it while in its midst.
These are unmistakably horror stories, but the horror tends not focus on threats of physical violence. The chills these stories evoke is more philosophical in nature. Whatever supernatural or uncanny events take place are used to illustrate the horrific nature of the world around us, rather than to directly threaten the protagonist. However, while the threats Ligotti's tales evoke may be less direct, they can be all the more haunting for that. Several of the stories lingered in my mind long after I put the book down.
The collection is split into three sections. The first two, Studies in Shadow and Discourse on Blackness contain four moderate length stories each. The final section, Notebook of the Night, contains twenty very short stories, many of them only two or three pages long. These short works are extremely powerful. Ligotti is a master of suggesting whole paragraphs worth of description with a single sentence, allowing even his shortest stories to pack a punch. These twenty stories range over a variety of themes and approaches, and allow this slim collection to display a surprising breadth.
Ligotti is a truly unique writer, who puts his considerable talents to work expounding one of the bleakest philosophies ever put to paper, in a style all his own. I am extremely grateful to Subterranean Press for making Ligotti's short fiction available again, and while I suspect that the appeal of his brand of horror is somewhat limited, those for whom it resonates should not pass up this collection.