This isn't the easiest review to write, for this is a book I really enjoyed, one I would recommend to nearly every horror fan out there, but one that, while leaving me happy during the ordeal, made me impatient nearly the whole way. How could this be? One simple word that means so much: pacing. Pacing is important, boys and girls, very important. In books, in movies, in stories passed around orally. Hell, even in emails. I'll repeat it now to make sure the message gets across, loud and clear: Pacing - is - important...important...important...
Tim Lebbon's Desolation starts out slow and never really speeds up, although in actuality much is happening in the mind of the main character. I love when a novel focuses on the internal conflict of who it is I'm reading about. However, based on writing how-to books, publisher guidelines, novel reviews, and author advice, this is usually a no-no when it's taken to extremes. To me, though, it works, as long as it's done right. Take Shirley Jacksons 'The Haunting of Hill House', for example. A very character orientated story, one that is convincing, addictive, stylish, yet one where the main action takes place between the characters, particularly through Eleanors head. Desolation is another one of these books.
When I began the first chapter, I was excited. I mean, come on, read that back cover blurb!! Cains going to the apartment building, it's all set in motion, there's some foreshadowing here, a little bit of back story to provide credibility, and then....and then, well, not much. I expected it to skyrocket like most books I read do, but it didn't. Cain gets to the apartment building, and there his mind activates, little else. By the time page 100 rolled around, I was impatient, wondering if I would even like the book, wondering if I really wanted to finish it. Then, something happened. I was hooked more than ever (although having a good time before, don't get me wrong) and just had to finish it. For a book that's slowed paced, this is quite a turn around. I read the majority of this book in one sitting, something I don't always do.
In other words, the pacing hurt the book during the middle, but not to where it killed it...and by the second half of the middle and the ending the pacing didn't matter, because my mind was so absorbed, so sucked into the page walls, that a bomb could have gone off beside my head and I wouldn't have blinked twice.
The characters, on the other hand, were mesmerizing and intriguing. Cain is a man with a childhood and background that would make Freud sit up and take notice. In the real world, psychiatrists would be itching to get a hold of this one. The dreams and memories he had, which kept occurring through out every chapter in the novel, were disturbing as hell. A modern day pied piper...a landlord with a hat- full of secrets....a werewolf type....a flying nun...what could be more bizarre than these people? And all have secrets one would NEVER guess, secrets that made my mouth drop open when I read them.
A reason Lebbon may have chosen this pace is because of the rich, bleak atmosphere he created. Note I said created, not tried to create. When I read this book I felt like I was falling down a spiral of darkness, zapped this way and that, my psyche being put on the hot plate and cooked on low heat. Excellent! One could really feel the angst and confusion of Cain because of all this.
Lebbon's style was so amazing it's more than good writing, it's a talent that deserves to be slapped on the wall and put on display. There were numerous occasions where I just sat back for a minute, stunned into reader silence, marveling at his way of writing. It came across as an artful type of prose, working well for me. Fangoria writes on the cover that "Lebbon's work is infused with the contemporary realism of Stephen King and the lyricism of Ray Bradbury" - lyricism is a great description for the way Lebbon is writing here!
The plot itself is breathtakingly unique, very heavy on the psychological side, almost alive with intense emotion and confusion. It's filled with heart-wrenching memories, strange as hell current events, strong mysteries from every side, indecision on the part of the reader on the road Cain should take, and some brutally eerie imagery.
This ride was worth the longer-than-normal wait - ignore the heat shining on your back, the annoying flies attracted to the crowds sweaty skin, the woman with the weird hat in front of you, the hour long wait flashing on the sign - once you get on this ride and reach your destination, you'll know it's worth it. I promise. If you turn out traumatized, I'm sure Cain can recommend some good therapists...