I used to read a lot of what would be called horror novels as a youngster, but when I started reading Loss of Separation from Solaris books, I realised that- apart from Stephen King and Clive Barker- I had not read what you would call a ‘classic’ horror novel for ages.
For that reason, the opening chapters of this book felt like a visit from an old friend.
What I mean by that is that this to me felt like an old fashioned British ghost story. Conrad Williams manages to built a wonderful atmosphere through this book. I’ve been trying to think of who it reminds me of, and my mind kept coming back to Ramsey Campbell as I was reading- not, I hasten to add in the style, Williams is his own man- but in the all pervading aura of unsettling-ness that is evident (and yes, from now on, unsettling-nees is a word). But then as I started to type that last sentence I also thought of Phil Rickman and his awesomely atmospheric Merrily Watkins books.
But onto the book itself. It concerns itself with the story of Paul Roan, an airline pilot who has had a rather bad run of luck of late. He leaves the job after a near miss, gets hit by a car and wakes up from a six month coma to find that his girlfriend has gone missing.
This unfolds at a pleasingly sedate pace, reflecting the speed of life in that small English fishing village it takes place in. The cast of characters is small, but well written and Williams has a very good ear for dialogue.
That’s not to say I did not have problems with the book. One of these is not of the author’s doing, but is one that appears in a lot of fiction (mine own included). Here we have a lead character who is enormously resourceful and has as much money as he ever needs at his disposal. This is, of course, so that things like buying a train ticket don’t get in the way of story telling, but (and as I said, I have committed this act too) it does add a sheen of unrealism to the proceedings.
The other thing is some of the language that the lead character uses. He’s an intelligent man, that I can accept, but I don’t think many people would describe stones as 'pareidol', and living in the Highlands, I have never heard a Highland Cow referred to as a ‘kyloe’.
On the plus side though- I was quite worried while reading this that I knew where it was going at the end, and was hoping that I was wrong. I am happy to report that I was. And while, upon first reading, the ending appeared to be somewhat unsatisfying to me, on further reflection I think the ending is in fact superb. I loved the sense of ambiguity that I was left with as a reader, which is, I suspect, the thing that reminds me of the aforementioned Phil Rickman’s work.
Read this to revel in the sense of unease, and the creepy atmosphere that pervades the book