Ramsey Campbell’s First 3 Novels: The Doll who Ate his Mother, The Face that Must Die, and The Parasite

I figured it was about time to give this Ramsey Campell fellow a read. Here’s his first 3 novels.

The Doll Who Ate His Mother
Legend Paperbacks – 1989 (Originally Published 1976)

When I was looking at Campell’s bibliography on wikipedia, I saw a note beside the title of this novel that said, “(1976; revised text, 1985)”. I try to avoid reading anything about the plots of novels before I read them and so instead of risking a spoiler by figuring out which version of the text was better, I read both the 1976 and 1985 versions of the text side by side. Doing so was a bit of a waste of time though as the two versions are identical aside from one small paragraph near the conclusion of the book dealing with how one of the characters dies. I reckon the updated ending is a bit more cohesive in the context of the story, but it’s nothing huge, and if you’ve only a copy of the original version, I wouldn’t be rushing out to replace it for that single paragraph.

The story is pretty good. It’s about a sick freak who abuses animals and steals limbs off corpses. There’s a bit of black magic thrown in too. I enjoyed this book the whole way through, and it left me happy to read more by Campbell, but I chose this as my introduction to Campbell because of its inclusion in Stephen king’s Danse Macabre. It’s a fine first novel, but I’m not sure if it really deserves to be on the same list as The Haunting of Hill House and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think its inclusion there might have had more to do with Stephen King wanting to include something more modern (or British perhaps) on his list of influential horror. Still though, this was a good read.

The Face that Must Die
Star – 1979

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it felt very a bit like a sequel to The Doll Who Ate His Mother. It’s about totally different people, and there’s no supernatural element to this one at all, but the writing style and setting were so similar that it almost felt like a continuation. These two novels would make good episodes of some kind of horror series set in Liverpool.

The Face that Must Die is the horrible story of an insane serial killer who likes slicing people (especially if they’re gay) up with a razor. I don’t feel much need to say anything else about this novel. It’s pretty straightforward and very dark. There’s nothing to laugh about in this book, but there is some interesting insight into mental illness. In a sad and lengthy introduction Campbell explains that his mother suffered with severe mental health problems at the end of her life, and these problems seemed to give him ideas to fuel a serial killer. This book is fucking grim, but I liked it.

Like The Doll Who Ate His Mother, there are also two different versions of this novel. I read the “definitive” 1983 version, the author’s restoration of the original text.

The Parasite
Tor – 1989 (Originally Published 1980)

Of the three Ramsey Campbell novels I have read so far, The Parasite contains the scariest scenes. There’s a couple of parts in this book that actually left me feeling frightened. I occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis, and some of the stuff the protagonist goes through felt very familiar. Reading this before bed gave me nightmares.

This is the story of a film critic who starts developing psychic powers. Along with these powers, she also gains a mysterious bald stalker. Her newfound abilities start ruining her life, and by the end of the book she finds herself in the middle of a Lovecraftian nightmare of cosmic proportions.

The story itself is great, but the telling is scattershot. There’s a bunch of unnecessary characters, journeys and description. The Parasite is almost 340 pages long, and I reckon it would be a better book at 250-300 pages. In an afterword Campbell acknowledges as much himself. He even admits to including “some occult history and related bullshit to attract the Dennis Wheatley brigade”. Haha, in truth, I became very attentive when I got the the occult history paragraphs, but they’re not hugely important to the story. It was kind of cool to make the antagonist a member of the Golden Dawn.

Also, one of the most tantalizing parts of this story is a booked called Astral Rape by Hugh Willis. It’s first mentioned alongside some real occult texts, and I had already tried to track down a copy before Campbell made it clear that the book was fictional. I’ve had to file it alongside The Necronomicon and Megapolisomancy in the Library of the Unreal.

Despite its shortcomings, The Parasite was really good at times. If Campbell considers this his worst novel, I will be more than happy to check out more of his stuff in the future. Oh, and like the other two novels reviewed here, there are two versions of this book. They’re the same apart from the endings. I read both endings. I don’t have a favourite.

I have more of Campbell’s novels on my shelf, but I think the next thing I read by him will be his early Lovecraftian short stories. I’ve been meaning to get back into that kinda thing.

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