Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ramsey Campbell's The Influence

I read The Influence (1988) in yet another Tor edition with a great keyhole cover (recently I’ve had to resist an urge to collect books with keyhole covers – someone must do it).

In The Influence, young Rowan’s great-aunt Queenie dies, but doesn’t want to stay that way.  It appears she might be trying to use the little girl as a gateway back to the land of the living.  Queenie’s a well-realized character, a believably poisonous influence on others in life and beyond.  Can Rowan be saved from her malice?

Like most of Campbell’s work, The Influence is set around Liverpool, but the city doesn’t play a major role.  Instead, Queenie’s house, nearby Wales, and the routes between them are the locations.  As always, Campbell provides us with a lot of geographical details, so entwined with the story that the places are almost like characters themselves.

Campbell is skilled at providing his protagonists with mundane stresses along with the supernatural ones; Rowan’s dad is an underemployed electrician, there’s marital strife, and Rowan was a “mistake” who worries about burdening her parents.

Despite the familiar elements, The Influence strays a little from Campbell’s usual style; it has more of a traditional, almost old-fashioned feel to it.  The most memorable part of the story is Rowan’s solitary trip back from Wales to Queenie’s house after a series of traumatic events.  Campbell makes it lonely, bleak, and menacing.  The novel loses steam later on, but overall The Influence is an enjoyable chiller.

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