Tubby Thackeray's stage routines were so deranged that members of his audiences were said to have died or lost their minds. When Simon Lester is commisioned to write a book about this notorious music hall clown and his riotous silent comedies, his research plunges him into a nightmarish realm where genius, buffoonery and madness converge. In a search that leads from a twilight circus in a London park to a hardcore movie studio in Los Angeles, Simon Lester uncovers a terrifying secret about Tubby Thackeray and must finally confront the unspeakable thing he represents.
Praise for The Grin of the Dark
(Ramsey Campbell) has a genius for infusing horror into the everyday, piling up small moments of dread and confusion and fear until they become insurmountable. - Tim Pratt in Locus
Campbell's most ambitious novel to date... extremely disturbing. - Poppy Z Brite
"Call me Smilemime..."
Erm, one or two of you may have noticed that I'm quite a fan of Ramsey Campbell's work (no, really!) so its pretty obvious I'd enjoy this one anyway - but I have to say that this has got to be one of the best horror novels I have ever read. Seriously. It is one of the creepiest, most disconcerting things I have ever read. It manages to keep up a level of strangeness and anxiety which you usually get in much shorter fiction for over 300 pages. Every thing is wrong, and it is getting worse at a steady pace. Even the events and conversations that have an air of reality about them are only one step away from nightmare.
Saying that, it is also incredibly funny, in a cringeworthy way. For instance there is a scene where the narrator suggests getting naughty with his girlfriend, only to find that it is in fact his partner's mother who has just walked in. Also, there are a couple of restaurant scenes which more than a little amusing - RC seems to have a bit of a running joke in his last few novels where he invents increasingly ridiculous themed eateries. To top all that, almost every conversation that takes place is a minefield of misunderstanding and accidental innuendo. And the characters the narrator has to deal with.... boggling, but horribly realistic.
Simon Lester is asked to write about almost forgotten silent film star (Tubby) Thackeray Lane. Information is scarce, and the snippets he does track down are not always as helpful as they first seem. Simon is confronted with internet trolls, videos which play once before only producing static, bank problems, dope paranoia in Amsterdam, tempting porn actresses, his partner's ex and her bloody horrible parents, friends who seem to be more trouble than they are worth and the strange powers of Tubby himself (or whatever used him).
It transpires that before starting up as a music hall comedian, Lane used to be a professor of medieval history and judging by some of his notes that still remained at his university, he also had interests of a more sinister kind. This, combined with the pervasive powers and dangers of the internet, seem to bring about the disintergration of Simon's world.
Like Ancient Images and The Parasite (aka To Wake the Dead) there is a whole bunch of film lore to be found here, into which Tubby fits without the joins shown at all. Also, the internet scenes are particularly well observed, and are an intergral part of the story, not just tagged on for the sake of appearing up-to-date. The detail is incredible (for instance all the chapter headings are made using only letters found in the narrator's name) and the air of paranoia and wrongness is superb. This, alongside Incarnate, Needing Ghosts and The Overnight is some of RC's weirdest writing. Definitely worth a read.
Okay, overenthusiastic ramble over. It's safe to come out now.
Super review, Sean - and, no, I don't think anyone's noticed that you're a bit of a Ramsey Campbell fan! In fact, I wonder if anyone's noticed that I am too?
I have to agree with your comments here - alongside Needing Ghosts this is definitely his best novel ever. It really draws you (the reader) in, so that the paranoia grabs you (well, it did me anyway - but maybe I'm just paranoid?).
A brilliant book - and now there's a cheaper mass market version available, no-one has any excuses for not reading it ... ;D
Agree wholeheartedly - The Grin of the Dark is easily one of Campbell's best novels - it has one of the best titles, too.
I know Tor have been reprinting his PS novels over the last couple of years, but I also agree that it's great news that a British publisher (Virgin does qualify as a British publisher, right?) is making them available as well. Let's hope Virgin also end up reprinting his next PS collection - the more Ramsey Campbell books out there the better.
Thing is, I knew I couldn't wait for the reprint of his new novel Thieving Fear, so I've grabbed a copy of the PS edition...
Post by H_P_Saucecraft on Dec 3, 2008 23:37:03 GMT
Just finished reading this, extremely good, I didn't want to put it down (I ended up reading all night). It stays with you for a while after reading & Natalie's parents in this, are truly horrible characters, you just want to kill them & spend all their scenes wishing someone would pull them up on their comments.
This isn't a criticism, far from it, it only shows how effective the book is. Being a member of IMDB, I can certainly vouch for there being characters like smilemime about (I never post there, only a member to read threads).
The book also succeeds in being quite unnerving, but as Sean says also very funny at times (especially when the narrator finds his intended words coming out as something else), the clown & circus scenes have both.
With the horror section of bookshops & libraries turning evermore into pretentious corner, I'm pleased to say this is a breath of fresh air. Certainly Recommended.
What a fantastic novel, and I don't get to say that nearly as often these days as I'd like. I read this a month or so ago and then completely forgot to put up a little review here. Hopefully you'll forgive me if I(more or less) copy/paste the little review I put on goodreads at the time.
It's very rare for me to get a really creepy feeling from a novel these days but this one did just that for me. All the way through it gives you a feeling that there's a lot more to life than just what's on the surface, and that it wouldn't take very much at all to draw it to the surface. Clowns, of course, are automatically creepy but here we have a very intelligent reworking of the creepy old clown story. Tubby Thackeray is actually a comedian working in the silent black and white film era, while Simon Lester is a writer employed by a publisher to do a kind of biography of the man and his films. Unfortunately for Simon there's a little more to it than just a publisher offering a writer a project and things soon turn very weird indeed for our protagonist.
I'll be leaving it a couple of years and then re-reading it, which is something I rarely do what with there being so many novels I'd like to get to, but this is truly deserving of that future re-read. Do yourself a huge favour and pick this one up ASAP. I can say in all honesty it's the best book I've ever read.