Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
Thanks to True Detective [Season One], there has been a resurgence of interest in the work of Thomas Ligotti. This is attributed to the shared themes of dark philosophy, cosmic horror and anti-natalism that peppered both the cult TV show as well as Ligotti’s work.
Most of Ligotti’s work is currently out of print; and only available on the collectors market [as long as you have long pockets]. So it is delightful that Penguin Classics have released Ligotti’s first two collections of weird stories Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe in an affordable mass market paperback. These two collections date from 1986 and 1989 respectively.
This remarkable volume is opened by a thought provoking introduction to Ligotti’s work by the award winning writer of ‘The Weird’ Jeff Vandermeer. This lengthy essay is essential to those less familiar of the world-view and context of Ligotti’s work. It also warns the reader that there is little comfort to be sought from these tales which [to the thinking reader] will disturb at best, and distress at worst. Though not ‘crime fiction’ per se, there is plenty of mystery, and there is crime. Ligotti’s work casts a shadow over our existence, where the insane, may have taken over the asylum that is our reality. Ligotti and his short stories and novellas have been compared to Howard P Lovecraft, with their use of language as well as a sense of doom that pervades from the page, like a fog, like a disease.
There are many standout tales in this collection, stories that will provoke thought and make us view our reality, from a parallax, and from the shadows. It opens with The Frolic, a distressing tale of a psychiatrist, his family and the touch of a madman who may well extend his madness to other layers of reality that cloak our own. The same is true of Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes, where a magician’s act is far more sinister than it appears to the distracted audience, making one question the reality we are presented with, and how our senses provoke cognition in interpreting what we experience, which may or may not be real.
This is the fascinating aspect of Ligotti’s writing, which suffuses elements of magic realism, into the mundane tasks of living. Ligotti’s skill perhaps is most evident in the sharp edges that cut through the mind, with his highly acclaimed The Last Feast of Harlequin, a story complete with an unreliable narrator living in an unreliable world.
Though not for everyone, but a revelation for those whose reading tastes in mystery fiction, border on dark philosophy, and are intrigued why there were [unfounded] allegations of plagiarism [of Ligotti and his work, especially The Conspiracy against the Human Race] that accompanied the trumpets that blew when True Detective [Season One] aired last year. For those curious about the existential nature of reality, this book is essential, but a word of caution. Thomas Ligotti’s work has the ability to alter the way you think, and therefore view reality, if there is such a thing.