on April 17, 2013
First of all, a review of this book cannot ignore the fact that it is published in a collection of "Lovecraft's library", so, independently of its intrinsic merits or flaws, most of its readers will be Lovecraft enthusiasts (or a least readers of weird fiction) interested in something that Lovecraft enjoyed and may have influenced him. If this is not the case, the appeal of M.P. Shiel's work may be harder to find, but still exists.
In fact, it could be argued that Shiel was a better writer than Lovecraft, or at least a better stylist. His profound knowledge of classical culture and his mastery of learned reference is obvious from the first lines. However, his retorical excesses and baroque style play against him and the average reader will be probably put off by some of the stories, specially the first one, "Xélucha". Actually, at some point Shiel himself seemed to realize this and, already a century ago when it still wouldn't seem so dated for so many people as it does now, decided to simplify his style and cut some of the verbosity of his prose, even going to the extreme of rewriting and streamlining stories already published.
This happened for example with the novel-lenght story that fills nearly two-thirds of this volume, "The Purple Cloud", but the editor has decided to include the older version because it was the one read and commented by Lovecraft. I don't know if this was a good idea, because I don't know the other version, but I guess that it is not. Of the nearly 200 pages, more than a quarter could probably be culled without the plot or literary merit suffering. The central part of the story is filled with repetitive descriptions, excesive wordiness and a plot that seems to go nowhere for dozens of pages, although the atmosphere and pathos are really haunting, and the first and last thirds did keep up my interest. A story difficult to forget once read for the atmosphere of sheer hopelessness and grandeur it transpires, but that gets really boring and long-winded in some parts. Overall, I doubt the theme has ever been dealt with with so much ambition and so much verbal excess.
The rest of the stories are much shorter (around ten pages mostly) and all fit loosely inside the weird fiction bag, although none of them (except the one that gives the book its title) will probably stick in memory very long, as I didn't find anything specially original about them. On the other hand, the author's style is always beautiful and evocative, and easier to digest in this shorter pieces.
The House of Sounds, one of Lovecrat's favorite stories, stands also above the rest, since it's a bit longer than the others (twenty pages) and is also quite atmospheric, although for all of Lovecraft's praise I wasn't so impressed with the plot, reminiscent of Poe's House of Usher. By the way, I have no doubt that Lovecraft found akin to his own some of the reflections at the beginning, about the Universe as a "Machine of Death". This is one of the stories that Shiel rewrote in a tighter style, and in this case the editor has provided the original version, called "Vaila", as an appendix (as a curiosity, a drawing of one of the characters is included).
As a final point: beware "Introductions" by S.T. Joshi in this or any other book edited by him (ditto with notes, though in this case there are none). They provide interesting commentary and details and place the work in context (mostly in relation to Lovecraft) but they are full of spoilers (including sometimes full summaries of the plot), so they really should be included as afterwords instead of introductions. By definition (and I don't say this only for Joshi's ones) an introduction should be a commentary that provides the context necessary to understand some work, specially when it is from other culture or time, not an analysis of it, that only makes sense when the work has been experienced (except for lazy students).
on March 5, 2011
While I agree with the first reviewers account of the purple cloud only an idiot judges an anthology by just one of its stories The house of Sounds is a work of haunting art the other stories include Xelucha, The Pale Ape, The case of Euphemia Raphash, Huguenin's Wife, The Great King, The Bride, and of course the novel The Purple Cloud. enjoy may the nightmares kill you in your sleep:)
on July 21, 2009
I just finished reading The Purple Cloud and decided to see what others had written about it. What did I miss, if anything, in my reading.
I missed nothing. What little merit the book brings (the discussion of two opposing forces - white and black - in the universe) is so buried in pointless, overdrawn, repetitive, monotonous, utterly boring writing that I am amazed that this remains in print much less on any serious horror or SF reader's "must read" list.
I cannot recommend reading The Purple Cloud for anyone unless they have a VERY good reason to slog through the pages. A reason like a PhD thesis or maybe a bet. It would have to be a serious bet before I would waste my reading time with it again.
I think H.P. Lovecraft was being nice when he wrote The Purple Cloud as "falling little short of actual majesty" and "a distinct letdown".
It must have been the little mention and use of poet Machen in the book which made Lovecraft be so kind.