Sunday, March 15, 2015

when those demons you're looking to purge just might be your own: Nazareth Hill, by Ramsey Campbell.

Tor, 1998
383 pp


No, S.T. Joshi, this book does not "rival" Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, but it is certainly a good one. It's an incredibly well-balanced novel where the supernatural provides a backdrop for an intense psychological examination of a man as he sinks into his own madness.

Outside the market square, beyond the park gates on a hill in the village of Partington, there lies an old ruined house on Nazareth Row.  It is known to the locals as Nazarill,  but to eight year-old Amy Priestley, it is "the spider house."  Maybe it has something to do with the idea that "its ominous stillness reminded her of a spider crouching in its web," but more likely because
"...since she'd glimpsed her father's fear of spiders despite his efforts to conceal it from her, it somehow stood for fears of her own that she would rather not define."
At the time, though, she "hadn't the words to express that idea." Regardless, dad Oswald decided to teach her a lesson about conquering her fear, and makes her look into the window, so that he can prove to her that there's nothing there. Later we find out that at the time, he's actually more worried that Amy might be showing symptoms of her maternal grandmother's mental illness, so he tries to make her realize that there is absolutely nothing to fear from the house. Unbeknownst to Oswald, he's just made a huge mistake -- Amy does see something there, but so as not to make her parents upset, she hides the panic it causes and never says a word. After a time, she forgets, but it all comes back  seven years later when Amy and her father take up residence in their  newly-rebuilt Nazarill upscale condo. All seems to be going well until strange things start happening at Nazarill -- including a death -- and Amy becomes convinced that there's something more there than meets the eye.  Looking for any kind of answers, she starts researching Nazarill's history.  The more she digs, the more she finds, but in trying to persuade Oswald into believing her that there is weird stuff happening here, she only manages to convince him that there's something terribly wrong with her -- and that perhaps her grandmother's mental illness has caught up with her. Things take a very wrong turn when Oswald refuses to listen to her and she decides to call in and tell the truth on a radio talk show, which only makes things worse and alienates her from the conservative locals. Their complaints to Oswald, her resistance to her father's growing tyranny,  and Oswald's own increasing paranoia lead him to take some pretty drastic and horrific measures to rid her of the demons he thinks are plaguing her.

I must say, I read Campbell's Ancient Images not all that long ago, and Nazareth Hill makes that one seem like the work of an amateur.  This is a great book -- it is a drama based in the real world that finds itself played out on the stage of the supernatural.  It is a look at a man's descent into utter madness and how it affects others around him. The big question, I think, is whether or not what ultimately happens in this book has its roots in Nazarill itself, or would Oswald's decline have eventually happened no matter where he and Amy lived?   It seems that whatever is inside Nazarill has the ability to isolate, understand, and then magnify the fears of its inhabitants. After all, it's not just Amy and Oswald who have issues -- other people in the Nazarill  building have seen and experienced strange things (one even manifesting itself in a group photograph).  But sadly for Amy, Oswald has a number of issues he's internalized (including his arachnophobia) so if you opt for Nazarill,  he's a particularly susceptible candidate for the house's influence.  What's really and truly frightening to me, though, is how calm and caring he appears to those on  the outside, seen to all as a father who wants to help his little girl. The problem is that  no one really understands how far into his own delusional paranoia he's fallen, and even worse -- because of things Amy's done to rock the boat in this little conservative community, no one will listen to her when she begs for help.

I don't understand the negative reviews of this novel -- some people didn't find it scary enough, some thought it was too long and too clunky in terms of how Campbell writes here. I mean, each to his own, but I found it exceptionally frightening on a human level. And while I'm a huge fan of the author's short stories, he manages to keep the tension flowing and building throughout the entire length of this book. A lot of authors I've read can't make that transition and do it well, but in this case, I was hopelessly lost in this story until the ending.  Actually, the ending was kind of what I found not so great about this novel, but for me it's usually about the journey anyway. I have zero qualms recommending this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say what you will, but do it in a nice way.