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The Night Land

The Night Land - William Hope Hodgson Millions of years into the future when the sun has ceased to shine and most of the world is overrun by strange demonic beasts, the remnants of mankind hold out inside a mighty pyramid fueled by the "earth current" in which the beasts cannot enter. No one who ever ventures out ever comes back and since they have all they need inside their redoubt, not many bother.

At first this seemed to be a story about a man who is telepathically contacted by a woman who he remembers from a former life, and was his beloved. She is however not located within the mighty pyramid but in another lesser pyramid somewhere out there in the night land, and it's earth current is failing. Eventually he decides to go out, on his own, to try and find his soul mate. He must venture out and brave the unknown terrors of the night land with only a general idea of direction and no idea how far. Can he defy all odds, find her and bring her back alive?

Actually though, the story is not about the above, it is in fact the protagonist's very poorly written account of these events. To start with, the protagonist writes with a seventeenth century English prose and is no natural story-teller. The narrative is in the first person with large amounts of exposition and no dialogue. Rarely is the reader able to feel that they are put into the story, instead is constantly reminded that they are reading about the story after the event. The tediousness of his journey is exacerbated by the constant dwelling on the daily routines of walking, sleeping, drinking water and pill popping. And on his return journey, the narrative becomes dominated by the childish behaviour of two love-sick "teenagers" in which they are constantly smiling at each other, kissing, teasing and upsetting each other. Remember, there's no dialogue. Just when I was looking forward to relieving the monotony of the first half with another character for protagonist to interact with, I found that it was instead replaced by something even more infuriating.

The prose is not archaic in a good, Eric Rücker Eddison kind of way. It instead feels clumsy, repetitive and ugly. If I'm being unkind I would say that Hodgson was very bad at archaic styling and if I'm being generous I would say that he most skillfully constructed a character whose prose was appalling. Indeed, I ended up feeling that all the flaws of the book were intentional, part of Hodgson's deliberate styling. And I know full well from reading his other work that this man could write really well when he wanted to. What he was trying to achieve in this book I will never really understand but whether it was deliberate or not, I didn't enjoy it.

This is a long book, coming in at just over 500 pages. The blurb on the front boasted this was the "complete and unabridged version" and I found myself wishing it wasn't. At various points I was on the verge of giving up but just managed to force myself to carry on until the end. My advice to anyone considering reading this is to only do so after reading some of his other work and if you really feel you just have to have more of this otherwise wonderful writer whose life was cut tragically short.