Before I came to this, I have to admit, I didn’t actually know all that much about Lovecraft. I knew it was horror, I knew Cthulhu was involved somewhere, and I knew he was really rather racist*, even for the time at which he was writing. All of these have indeed turned out to be true, but very much not the full story.
Ok the racism fine, that is pretty much the whole story on that one. He manages to get comments in a heck of a lot of the stories, and it does rather get in the way of enjoyment. The most notable extent of this – as was pointed out to me on Facebook by a friend – is the story wherein at every tense moment, the cat enters the room and kills the tension by its very existence. The cat is called “N****rman”. Yeah. I’m not really going to make any arguments about this. Yes, he’s a massive racist. Yes, it gets in the way. Yes, he sounds like an awful person. There’s no getting away from it. But there’s some worthwhile stuff around the racism, if you’re willing to grit your teeth and power through.
I will admit also that I’m not a huge fan of the short-story anthology as an entity. Even by authors I love (like Gaiman) I get tired of dotting about the place, constantly changing what’s going on. But Lovecraft has a lot of overarching themes that tie everything together quite neatly. It still bugs me, but it mitigates the irritation a little, so it’s a niggle rather than a real nuisance. And he comes back to characters and ideas, building things up as he goes along. I believe the anthology is organised by the date of story writing, but I can’t check as I had to give it back to its owner. I’m sure he’ll correct me if need be. If it is, I think it’s rather nice how we get to see the progression of ideas and building up of themes throughout, as Lovecraft developed things over the course of years and the names dropped in earlier stories become fully fledged horrors in their own right. It helps such a lot.
So with all this in mind, I was never going to love this book. I knew that from the start. But sometimes a book is worth reading even though you know that, because there’s other stuff to be gained, and yeah, this was definitely worth reading.
For starters, I suddenly have the background to all the derivative works I’ve already read. I mean, most recently, the Laundry series. I don’t think I learnt anything that changed my view of them as books, but having read where it all came from is still pretty interesting. It didn’t change anything, but it did cast things in a new light. And that was worthwhile. It also gives me a grounding in a heck of a lot of jokes some of my friends make. Again, useful. And it was just… for all that I didn’t enjoy/approve of some of it, it was really really worth reading. I enjoyed reading it in the same way I enjoy reading a translation of Livy. It’s not that the writing itself is worth the effort, but the state of having read it definitely is.
And the writing… is not so bad as I’m making it sound, but by the end I was desperate never to see another adverb again. He has a very definite style, and it really works with what he’s doing… but I think I just got oversaturated. Maybe if I’d read the stories more spaced apart, instead of across less than a week (I think? It’s been a while now), I’d have been more forgiving, but I can’t decide if the consistent writing style building up to give coherence across the whole lot was worth sacrificing variety to keep the reader engaged for. I suppose it depends on how Lovecraft intended the stories to be read. If he wanted them taken as very separate entities, then this would definitely be the way to go, because the style similarities would hold it all together even when the stories were read ages apart… but if he intended them to be read in anthology format… eh… not so much.
Basically I’m pretty ambivalent on this. I am really really glad I read it, and I would almost certainly read more Lovecraft (I am pretty sure the anthology I read was not comprehensive) but I wouldn’t read the same one again, or not for a while.
*Lovecraft, not Cthulhu. I assume Cthulhu is an equal opportunities betentacled monstrosity.