Thursday 8 January 2015

Book Review: Paul Roland – 'The Curious Case Of H.P. Lovecraft'

'The Curious Case Of H.P. Lovecraft'

No author of 20th century fiction inspires the same level of idolatry and devotion as H.P. Lovecraft. The bleak and often disturbing weird fiction of the New England native has continued to inspire generations of science fiction and horror authors and fans since his untimely death at the age of 46. The strange worlds and creatures he conjured have sunk into the fabric of popular culture and blurred the lines between the occult and fiction. Yet until very recently, serious academic biographies have been few and far between, and those that have seen the light of day (such as S.T. Joshi's 'I Am Providence' and 'H.P. Lovecraft: A Life') have often been to dense for popular consumption. 

This latest attempt to demystify the man behind the mythos courtesy of Paul Roland – author of more than 40 books on the subject of mysticism, crime and the occult – is perhaps the most well-rounded and accessible biography so far. Roland draws upon Lovecraft’s own correspondence, the forgotten memoirs of his estranged wife Sonia, along with other source materials, while personal sketches, letters, manuscripts and photographs from the full length of Lovecraft's life illustrate the text.

Roland's writing style is authoritative and accessible, and at 240 pages in length it isn't a daunting prospect for infrequent readers. This isn't a dry essay like exhumation, but a thoughtful and engaging portrait comparable to a rock / metal biography such as 'Dissecting Marilyn Manson' by Gavin Baddeley, 'The Beatles' by Hunter Davies and 'Strange Fascination' by David Buckley. As such, it can be picked up by anyone whether they're an avid Lovecraft reader, or just dipping their toe into.

The first nine chapters serve as the biography proper, while chapter ten looks specifically at Lovecraft's subsequant influence on popular culture. The book is then rounded off with an apendecies of useful first-hand sources. It may lack the in-depth footnotes of an academic publication, but Roland gives the reader plenty to follow up on.

One prevailing criticism of Lovecraft is in his deeply xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic views that often made their way into his writing. There are many who skate around this element of Lovecraft's work, and indeed while he was a product of the views of his time, they were still distasteful. Roland confronts these head on and makes no apologies for them. Instead the author presents Lovecraft in a fully rounded way from the beginning of his life to the end. The tone of the book may be one of empathy and admiration, but it doesn't detract from it's mission to uncover every aspect of Lovecraft's private life with a clear and unwavering purpose.

The book successfully cuts through Lovecraft's own personal mythos to reveal the influences, inspirations and events that shaped his mind and his literature. Lovecraft is revealed as more complex and fallible than any of his characters. His obsessive nature, lack of self-confidence, neurosis, and yearning to live the life of a baroque gentleman poet are pulled apart and examined alongside his own writings and correspondence as well as those who knew him personally.

'The Curious Case Of H.P. Lovecraft' will undoubtedly find itself as the new go-to source for Lovecraft fans and academics. It is a balanced and even handed “warts-and-all” look at one of the 20th centuries greatest writers and posthumous cultural phenomenons. And one that will stand the test of time.

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