Monday 11 July 2016

The Fisherman

The Fisherman is the new novel from John Langan and is published by Word Horde. I’d heard a lot of good things about this book, from people whose opinions I respect so was very much looking forward to reading it myself. Having now finished The Fisherman, I can honestly say that it was one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve ever had. I loved the time I spent immersed in its pages, swept along by the narrative and wallowing in its perfectly created atmosphere. The old cliché of enjoying a book so much that you don’t want it to end absolutely applies here, the world which the author has created was one I didn’t want to leave.
Opening with a lovely riff on the first line of Moby Dick (a passage from which provides an epigraph) The Fisherman begins as a first person narration from Abe, recently widowed, his wife Marie succumbing to cancer, telling of his re-introduction to fishing and his meeting with Dan, a fellow widower whose wife Sophie and their children have died in a traffic accident.
Together, the two men find a kind of solace, a way of coping, in their shared interest of fishing and these opening passages are a masterclass in the depiction of grief and loss. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Dan suggests they try a new location to go fishing – Dutchman’s Creek – a river that can’t be found on any map, a place of mystery and intrigue which carries its own legends…
The author cleverly introduces the back story of Dutchman’s Creek, and the legend of the Fisherman by having it narrated by the owner of the diner in which the two men wait for a torrential downpour to end. This story makes up part two of the book – the bulk of it, in fact – and is entitled Der Fischer: A Tale of Terror. Which is about as apt a title as I can think of because the journey this tale takes the reader on truly is terrifying. Some of the imagery conjured up here will take your breath away – this is epic story-telling, encompassing huge themes. It’s in stark contrast to the intimacy and emotion of the opening section and – possibly – all the more powerful for that. Special mention here to whoever chose the painting (Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, 1870 by Albert Bierstadt) which has been used for the book’s cover as it perfectly reflects the narrative within, men portrayed as insignificant against the immensity of nature.
The writing here is perfect, deeply atmospheric and creating a world which is utterly believable, despite the strangeness and horror on display. It’s one of the best passages of horror fiction I’ve read in some time. The horrors which unfold herein are not so much foreshadowed and hinted at in the opening passages as directly referenced – teaser trailers if you will – and it’s a technique which works brilliantly, the pay-off more than fulfilling expectations. The writing throughout is of the highest quality.
Needless to say, Abe and Dan make the journey to the creek despite the story they’ve just heard and this results in an extremely satisfying conclusion which maintains the level of horror already established whilst at the same time revealing more about the characters of Abe and Dan.

I can’t recommend The Fisherman highly enough. It succeeds on every level – an intimate and personal character piece and an epic horror fantasy all at one go. I feel it is destined to become a classic of dark literature.

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