Book Review: A Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October was brought to my attention by io9, which has an excellent review of it here. Since I know we have both animal lovers and Lovecraftian horror people in our midst, I read it and I absolutely intend to add myself to the ranks of those who read it one chapter a day every October. It’s horror, not romance, although there’s a bit of a romance, sort of, and a lot of comedy.

The setting is a village outside of London in the late 19th century. Our narrator and sole point-of-view is Snuff, a dog. Snuff is the companion of a man named Jack. Jack suffers from a curse that makes him have to “do much of his work at night to keep worse things from happening.” Here’s Snuff on page one:

We are the keepers of several curses and our work is very important. I have to keep watch on the Thing in the Circle, the Thing in the Wardrobe, and the Thing in the Steamer Trunk-not to mention the Things in the Mirror. When they try to get out I raise particular hell with them. They are afraid of me. I do not know what I would do if they all tried to get out at the same time. It is good exercise, though, and I snarl a lot.

Snuff and Jack are players in The Game. We are dropped into The Game when it is already well underway, and the purpose and rules of the Game and its players gradually come into focus, some early on and some not until the very end. All of the human players have animal companions, and these companions are the focal points of the story. They are introduced little by little, but I think it fair to say that the characters, but not necessarily the players, are:

Jack and Snuff (a dog)

Crazy Jill and Graymalk (a cat)

The Vicar and Tekela (a albino raven)

Rastov the Mad Monk and Quicklime (a snake)

Morris and McCab and Nightwind (an owl)

The Count and Needle (a bat who is a Vampire Bat in the sense of the company he keeps but  Fruit Bat in the since that fruit is his preferred food)

The Good Doctor and Bubo (a rat)

Owen the Druid and Cheeter (a squirrel)

The Great Detective and a male human companion

Larry Talbot

The Good Doctor

The experiment man

Watching these characters emerge and play their roles with twists and turns and alliances and betrayals is remarkably delightful, especially since almost everything is revealed through the interactions of the non-human animals who make their own alliances. 

There are 31 chapters in the book, leading up to the 31st chapter in which All is Revealed. Thus the tradition of commencing the book on October 1 and reading one chapter a day until October 31. I was too impatient for that last year and I read the entire book in one day. Doubtless all first time readers will want to do the same. However, I rather look forward to this year, and to the slow unfolding of who is doing what and why, and the development of the pace and tone of the book as the chapters progress. Opening chapters are very short and generally humorous. Final chapters are longer and have more explicit, as opposed to implied, horror. 

While the animals are often in danger, no lasting harm comes to them. There’s a very scary chapter that animal lovers may wish to simply skip (October 23). The book develops a strange bittersweet poignancy as friendships between human and human (Jack and Jill are quite fond of each other) and animal and animal (Snuff and Graymalk become good friends). Because of the nature of The Game, people on opposing sides, such as Jack and Jill, can become close before they have to take serious antagonistic action – but it is well known that whoever loses The Game suffers.

I adored this book so much that it would qualify for Squee did it not have some outdated, offensive tropes. The word “Gypsies” is lavishly used, and they are not associated with the good guys. Snuff likes to hang out with them for the music. Also one villain and one hero cross-dress which may once have added to the general weird tone of the book but now just seems bewildering in a “what were they thinking?” way. No one ever makes much of it, it’s just there. The association of albino coloration with evil is also problematic, and there are only two female characters. The book was written in 1993 and while that seems like a million years ago one hopes that even back then we knew better.

I recommend this with reservation for animal lovers who are also fans of Lovecraftian-inspired horror and the Victorian horror classics. People who like a mystery with a slow build, very dry humor, and point-of-view characters who have a limited point of view may also enjoy this book. It can be hard to find but my library came through and Amazon has some copies.

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