One of the many joys of reading is the experience of coming across an author for the first time and connecting immediately with the writing. There may be a brief moment of self-flagellation for not discovering the writer sooner but this is soon overwhelmed by the enjoyment of the reading itself and also by the realisation that a back catalogue is already there, waiting to be devoured.
Such was the case when I read The Nameless Dark, a collection of stories from T E Grau. This is his first collection and I have to say it’s an extremely impressive showcase for his undoubted talent.
There are fourteen stories in the book, employing a variety of locations and set in a range of time periods. Here you’ll find stories set in the Wild West, during the Beat Generation and Colonial era America amongst others. Three of the stories have children as their main character but the writing in each (and all of the other stories) is assured, authentic and of the highest quality with each story – and the characters therein – having their own distinctive voices.
It’s a collection of horror stories but there’s wit here too, a dark humour that threads its way through the stories, raising smiles amidst the shudders. It’s there in the dialogue, in the descriptions of the characters populating these tales – a description of someone being “the shape and consistency of a potato” made me laugh out loud.
The spirit of HP Lovecraft informs many of the stories here, his mythology looming above the narrative like a shadow over Innsmouth. Anyone who thinks the Cosmic Horrors conjured up in the Cthulhu mythos have been done to death need look no further than this collection to see that new life can be breathed into it with nine of the fourteen tales referencing it directly and placing it in new contexts and environments to brilliant effect. The stories here are set pre-, post- and during the moment at which the stars become “right” and the two most effective for me fall into the latter category – The Screamer, with its banshee-like eponymous creature heralding the apocalypse in a beautifully written slow-burner of a tale that builds to a truly horrifying climax and Twinkle, Twinkle – one of the shorter stories in the collection but which brilliantly frames the end of the world in a poignant and moving tale.
It’s testament to Ted’s skills as a writer that the tropes never become worn out or repetitive, filtered as they are through the variety of narrative styles he employs. The other five “non-Lovecraftian” stories provide entertaining interludes and here you’ll find riffs on Kafka, Fairy Tales and Werewolves, Jack the Ripper and a novel way of fishing…
I feel I can’t recommend The Nameless Dark highly enough. The stories and characters created here are worthy of the highest critical acclaim and the writing itself is a joy to read. You can (and should) buy it here.