Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
February 2, 2018
Preliminary thoughts re: Ramsey Campbell’s The Kind Folk
Category: Books

Are any of you familiar with Ramsey Campbell? Apparently he "is perhaps the world's most-honored author of horror fiction" and "has won more awards than any other living author of horror or dark fantasy." (The Wikipedia article features even higher praise; in speaking of him, author S. T. Joshi apparently wrote, "future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood." Wow.) I'm reading his 2012 novel The Kind Folk for a horror book club I joined late last year.

It's... bad. Like, really bad. The writing isn't just amateurish or unpolished; it's not even simplistic in the way many children's books are written -- it's more like the writing a child (say, a fifth grader) would produce after a couple of revisions. So far (and admittedly I'm only four chapters in) the story is incredibly weak, too. Campbell is in the habit of writing very short chapters (generally 3-5 pages), which I assume is intended to keep the reader engaged -- it's easy to keep saying, "Oh, I'll just read the next chapter," when the chapters are so brief -- but each chapter could literally be summarized in a single sentence without losing anything essential or valuable because the writing is wholly lacking in sophistication and depth. It's so empty that I can barely focus on it; somewhere in the middle of the second page I had to flip to various other parts of the book to see if the writing ever improves. It doesn't.

Admittedly, I can be a bit different (and demanding) as a reader because I'm not especially concerned with story. Sure, I appreciate a good yarn, but I'm of the opinion that there are better media to tell stories than novels or even writing -- namely television and film. What writing allows for that those media don't (voiceover narration notwithstanding) are wordcraft (elegance, sophistication, and manipulation of prose for various ends and effects) and opportunities to broach topics and ideas that don't immediately follow from the details of the story itself.

For instance, The Kind Folk begins with the protagonist, his parents, and his father's brother (so, his uncle) on a kind of Maury Povich-style talk show -- apparently there's doubt over which brother is actually his dad. Given the context and genre, the result is immediately obvious (go on, guess), but the chapter might have been rendered more interesting by an exploration of how it might feel to be in this situation and how this particular character responds to that. Having seen more than my share of Maury episodes, I find it fascinating that real people bare their sizeable warts to a national audience in this way -- and for what? Nobody comes off looking especially admirable on these shows. What rationale compels these guests to so readily relinquish their dignity? Why would our protagonist allow his family to be publicly humiliated in this way? (Admittedly that question is sort of answered later, but it's not a particularly thoughtful or far-reaching answer.)

But there's none of that. There are descriptions of the characters and the setting, there's dialogue, and there's the action of the scene (so-and-so is in the green room, now he's called out on stage, the audience boos loudly), but none of it is terribly interesting. The one potentially intriguing reveal comes at the end of the chapter, and it was obvious from the start. So far every chapter has been like that -- though, again, I'm only four chapters in. I have no expectations concerning the depth of the writing, but I'm hoping at least the story will pick up soon. Presently, though, I'm baffled as to why Campbell is such a celebrated author -- unless The Kind Folk is one of his decidedly weaker works.

-posted by Wes | 10:54 am | Comments (0)
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