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The House on the Borderland: William Hope Hodgson – a book review


I recently treated myself to a six-month subscription to The British Library’s Tales of the Weird, plus two releases from their back catalogue. So far, it’s been money well spent. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book I read – William Hope Hodgson’s The House of the Borderland, which was first published in 1908.


There are two separate narrative voices in the novel, both of which are first person and past tense. In the framing narrative, two friends travel to a remote part of Ireland for a relaxing fishing holiday. However, after finding a journal in a ruined house, half of which has collapsed into a deep, circular pit, they spend that night reading an uncanny tale.


The journal forms the bulk of the novel. Unlike modern stories, where we would expect some discussion between the friends while they read the journal – thus strengthening the connection between the two time periods – The House on the Borderland contains no such interjections. Nesting one story within the frame of another in this way was a popular literary device in the nineteenth century, so it is not surprising that the two parts are kept entirely separate. However, fashions have changed, and readers who are unfamiliar with older writing styles might find it disorienting.


Hodgson’s weird tale is ahead of its time with its threatening swine-headed beasts who display sly, almost human intelligence, and its cosmic mysteries, menacing old gods, and alternate dimensions. The author was admired by Lovecraft, and it’s easy to see Hodgson’s influence in the latter’s Cthulhu Mythos.


It’s an amazing book, and I enjoyed both the visceral threat of the pigmen who attack the house, and the hallucinatory journey to other dimensions and a far future after the sun has swallowed the Earth and become a dark star. I noticed none of the overt racism that makes Lovecraft’s cosmic terrors  such problematic and uncomfortable reads, and I am looking forward to consuming more books from The British Library’s Tales of the Weird collection over the coming months.


If you’re tempted to check out the collection, you can find it here – https://shop.bl.uk/collections/bl-publishing-tales-of-the-weird

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