The Lonely Lands | Ramsey Campbell | Rougeski Review

With The Lonely Lands, Ramsey Campbell shifts his focus from an anticipated examination of the unknowable cosmic realm to the unknowable and even more dangerous universe that secretes itself deep inside the human mind and the afterlife, or as the protagonist’s grandfather calls it, “The next place.”  A quote from Christian Noble of the marvelous Daoloth Trilogy sets the stage:

“The dead use our dreams to return.”

The story opens with the protagonist, Joe, spending time with his grandfather who appears to have been a follower of Christian Noble, a character Campbell’s fans will all remember with intense interest.

Joe is warned by his beloved grandfather not to think of him too much when he passes on, because doing so might bring him back.  Then he adds another warning to Joe, when he states that if he ever comes back, to be sure not to try to follow him back.  This prophetic warning sets the stage for the possibility of dangerous things to come.

Years later, Joe falls madly in love.  Unfortunately, his new wife is taken from him all too soon.  Before long, he falls into a deep well of grief and is tempted to ignore his grandfather’s dire warnings.

Campbell’s language is as wonderful as always, evocative, and lyrical.  Joe’s grief is clear and palpable.  His pain sets the stage for his complicated and heartbreaking yearning for his lost wife which might defeat his ability to resist the call of the next place.

 The characters are interesting.  Many of them are not what they seen on the surface.  Readers must agonize over what is real and what is madness.

The plot does not follow the usual straight line trajectory.  It is disjointed and convoluted, mirroring Joe’s unsteady state of mind, his inability to clearly see if he is in the here and now or lost in that dangerous next place.  Readers must, like Joe, let go of reality in order to follow him along his tortuous path toward a shocking ending.

One of Campbell’s most evocative lines states that “Darkness spreads like an infection.”  The tale posits the question as to whether it is possible that pain and grief may also spread like an infection.  In addition, readers may wonder if such an infection can be deadly.

The Lonely Lands is highly recommended, especially for those who may be tempted to gaze into the next place for a hint of what may lay in store for them.  It could also serve as a cautionary tale, a warning to readers not to follow in Joe’s irresolute footsteps.

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