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Incarnate, Ramsey Campbell - a review

Ramsey Campbell wrote the first horror novel that I fell in love with. I was a teenager when I first read that one and it stayed with me. That novel “To Wake the Dead” aka “Parasite” not only started my love of horror, but also my interest in the occult. It is strange then, that I only read a second of his books this week. Having reread and loved the first so often, why did I wait over 30 years to read another?

“Incarnate” follows the aftereffects of an experiment on prophetic dreaming. It is full of characters and various points of view. All of the dreamers, the researchers, a stamp collector and a documentary director (at least nine characters) take turns narrating. This gives the reader a sense of the universality of the experience but can be confusing.

The first chapter takes place in Oxford during the abandoned experiment and the rest, eleven years later. It starts slowly, with a couple of side stories, some creepy happenings and confusing sinister relationships, while building disassociation and madness. From about half way through, it becomes extremely intense. Terrible and frightening things are happening to everyone and the reader has no way to escape. Shutting the book at this point becomes a matter of will and almost impossible. A book following a single character could never be this frenetic. We are certain at least some of them will die horribly and there is nothing we can do but keep reading. It is a harrowing ride.

Campbell can be hammy at times – the describing characters using a mirror technique and the first chapter that hovers over us waiting to be explained, but boy can the man write horror. I won’t leave it another 30 years before I pick up another of his books.

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