Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Kind Folk by Ramsey Campbell (2012)

The Kind Folk by Ramsey Campbell (2012): Campbell's newest novel comes with what initially appears to be a fairly innocuous cover -- until you realize that it's impossible to duplicate what the person on the cover is doing with his hands. Unless, maybe, you're double-jointed. I didn't check on that.

At the taping of a British talk show much like The Jerry Springer Show, soon-to-be-30 Luke discovers that his father isn't really his father, and his mother isn't really his mother, thanks to DNA tests. His uncle seems to know something about this, but he dies of a heart attack before he can tell Luke much of anything. As Luke starts to delve into what his uncle knew, using that uncle's strange journal as a guide, more deaths and disappearances follow.

Luke's expecting his first child with his partner Sophie, a classical guitarist. Luke himself is a rising comedian who specializes in an act that's an odd combination of mimicry and commentary on the foibles and failings of people. Luke's always been a terrific mimic, and was incredibly precocious in a way that seems like a sly homage to the precocious, early-reading H.P. Lovecraft, whom Campbell emulated early in his own precocious writing career.

And Luke was plagued by nightmares as a child about vaguely human-shaped things creeping into his bedroom to watch him at night. Now the nightmares have returned. Soon, they're no longer nightmares: they're what Luke sees in the daytime.

In what is Campbell's shortest novel in decades, a fabulous blending occurs of some of his own mythologies (references to other Campbell works span almost his entire writing career, from "The Franklyn Paragraphs" of the 1960's through The Doll Who Ate His Mother of the 1970's to The Grin of the Dark from 2004) and an assortment of myths and legends about fairies in the British Isles. "The Kind Folk" is just one of the terms used by fearful people to curry favour with fairy, who were not traditionally known for their kindness.

Luke's quest is extremely personal, though there are potentially apocalyptic ramifications to his quest to understand his origins. His uncle mapped out hot spots throughout the British Isles where another world seemed to be leaking through into this one -- and when Luke visits these places, very odd things start to happen. And people other than himself start to see the figures from his childhood, and not simply in dreams.

It's a solid, understated effort from Campbell, one whose chills are often existential, and whether or not the myths and legends of Fairyland herein are 'real' or invented by Campbell, they possess the haunting quality of real legend. Highly recommended.

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