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Friday, 27 February 2015

FFB - 'Songs of a Dead Dreamer'

My choice for this week's 'Friday's forgotten book' is the first anthology of Thomas Ligotti’s short horror fiction, It originally appeared in a limited edition from Silver Scarab press in 1986. I read the revised Robinson (UK) version published in 1989 and this is the copy I’m reviewing.  Presently available is the 2010, ‘definitive’ collection.

In the 1990s Ligotti was popular, particularly in the small press magazines, notably in North America. He has since published over a dozen books. He has won several Bram Stoker awards.

The twenty stories that appear in my version are sectioned off into ‘Dreams for Sleepwalkers’, ‘Dreams for Insomniacs’ and ‘Dreams for the Dead’. A two-page introduction by Ramsey Campbell says of Ligotti: ‘He belongs to the most honourable tradition in the field, that of subtlety and awesomeness rather than the relentlessly graphic.’

Ligotti has a knack of suggesting terrors, most convincingly in ‘The Frolic’, a tale that takes place in the house of a prison psychiatrist: you may guess at the ending, but even as it hits you, you’re reeling at the sheer suspense and audacity of the writing.

For Ligotti is a stylist, an original voice. Even the story titles resonate with originality: ‘Dream of a Manikin’, ‘Drink to me only with Labyrinthine Eyes’, ‘The Lost Art of Twilight’, and ‘Masquerade of a Dead Sword’. His tales involve madness, insanity of a subtle kind, narrators in the first person talk to you convincingly, and then surprise you: the magician and hypnotist who can raise the dead – almost; a horror story in the form of notes on the writing of the genre itself; and each tale written in metaphor and with dark and light humour, playing with words as well as emotions. An experience that stretches the bounds of imagination and should increase Ligotti’s readership.

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