13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 May 2012
Teatro Grottesco, a collection of short stories, is split into three categories: Derangements, Deformations and the Damaged & the Diseased. This is the first time I've read anything from this author (whom I've heard so many goods things said) and I'm really enjoying it so far. I find his style very easy to read (although he does belabour the point sometimes) and he successfully manages to weave a haunting atmosphere in a most indirect way.
What particularly drew my attention to Ligotti is that people said he wrote in the tradition of Lovecraft with subtlety generally lacking from many modern writers of horror. He unsettles the reader not by regaling us with explicit acts of violence or terror, but instead by weaving a mood and atmosphere with his words and the way he tells the story.
With Lovecraft, his themes often centered around an individual uncovering a mystery that led the protagonist to discover ever more unsettling and disturbing things about reality that threatens their sanity. Humanity and it's sense of order and being the dominant species are undermined and belittled by the discovery of beings that were they not somehow dormant or absent would swat us away like we would an insignificant insect.
Ligotti seems to pursue this theme but in a different way. There are malignant and supreme forces at work in the universe that defy all comprehension by us mere mortals. As the reader, don't expect to understand the these mysteries any better than the protagonists of the story. The torment/suffering of the human victims in Ligotti's stories are often almost incidental to the central but unknowable goals of these malignant forces/beings. Or else extra-ordinary lengths seem to have been gone to in order to inflict the most subtle and minute of torments upon a victim, as if more for the pleasure of the obscurity and peversity of the act than the suffering it causes.
There seem to be several recurring themes throughout this book (and throughout his other works for all I know); the illusions of the self and the soul, the way our lives and the lives of others are just a side-show distracting us from the "real" nature of existence, and the way infections and pain (particularly of the gastro-intestinal variety) can induce delirium that may enable us to penetrate these illusions (that we otherwise desperately cling to). Often the protagonist in his stories is an artist, a friend of an artist, or in a circle of artists/intellectuals who are searching for ultimate form of artistic expression.
I've never quite read anything like this before and Ligotti most definitely brings something new to the table. This won't be to everyone's taste. Many of the stories are difficult to make much sense of, and his pervading view on the nature of our existence is not particularly comforting.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2011
Teatro Grottesco is a collection of thirteen short stories (give or take (some include `micro' narratives inside themselves)), in the horror genre. What kind of horror, precisely, is difficult to say, because while Ligotti doesn't conform to any of the basic slasher-gore, paranormal, supernatural, serial killer (etc.) genre types, he doesn't ignore them either. Instead he offers a subtle convergence of all of these ranks of horror (and much more besides), while simultaneously corrupting and distorting them from their more classic/familiar incarnations. For example, Ligotti's conception of viscera isn't a hyperbolic focus on blood `n' guts, but a half-glimpsed suggestion of mutation, tumorous growths and sick, malformed bodies. In the opener `Purity' I see a fetishising of the latent horror implicit in extreme body types - from the incredibly obese to the deathly emaciated or over-tumoured; the reader is unnerved not by any explicit focus on blood/bile/organs or the other inside aspects of the body which commonly dominate horror, but by an external grotesque which, mostly hidden in shadows or shooed away, is all the more disturbing for its malformity - such bodies cannot exist without something having gone drastically wrong. In this aspect, Teatro Grottesco is strikingly Lovecraftian: the body isn't a healthy temple which spills its secrets when sliced from the outside; it's instead an internally corrupting, treacherous, sickly and unhealthy shell liable to bloat itself or shrivel or grotesquely mutate: unreliable and frightening.
Similarly, Ligotti's approach to the supernatural is unconventional. In the title story `Teatro Grottesco', an elusive, never-seen theatre company drains all ambition and creativity from any artist precocious enough to enlist their services. Not only is this a bizarre re-imagining of Vampire mythology (the sucking away of lifeblood), but it also functions as sarcastic metaphor for what Ligotti clearly sees as a rampant lack of creativity in his own genre and, on a more pernickety level, a grotesque manifestation of the author-centric fear of writers' block. Elsewhere the supernatural is less explicit, such as in `The Red Tower', which is a brief description-piece about an abandoned factory that used to produce and ship creepy artefacts. Underneath this factory, however, sleeps a more disturbing and surreal manufacturing work of the grotesque. So it is with much of Teatro Grottesco's supernatural moments: they occur off-camera - conjured via suggestion and narratorial guesswork as much as by explicit description or explanation.
That Ligotti's narrators are all (without exception) unreliable, is simultaneously both problematic and beneficial to the portrayal of the supernatural. Where Ligotti is highly skilled in drafting incredibly varied, different horror stories, he conversely suffers from a singleness of style which colours all of his work with the same narratorial tone. Every story here is narrated in the first-person past tense, and each is told by an alarmingly disturbed individual; narrators who suffer from extreme anxiety, panic attacks, depression, schizophrenia, insomnia and self-imposed loneliness. While this forsaken identity gives the narrator a privileged position as social outsider, perfectly situated to recognise and name the supernatural for what it is, it also makes him an unreliable storyteller. Such obsessed individuals brilliantly unsettle the reader, as we see everything through the eyes of a very specific and disturbed subjective - but, as I've stated, this is also problematic, as any combination of madness with the paranormal begs that most boring of naturalist questions: is anything real? Is the narrator of `The Clown Puppet' really terrorised by a deformed, life-size wooden mannequin, or is the puppet merely a narrative manifestation of our mad narrator's internal psychoses? Such a focus on disturbed narrators has the double-edged-sword effect of giving the stories an unsettling point of view, while also throwing into doubt the very truth of the horror. Horror that, once dubious, loses much of its power.
Location, as well as narrator, also suffers from a lack of variety in Teatro Grottesco. Abandoned, out-of-the-way towns are the norm: and while this is a great setting for revelations of the uncanny and horrific, it gets a tad repetitive. Similarly, the locales of these short stories are all so idiosyncratically weird, and so intertwined with the narrator's identity, that I couldn't help but read many of them as a psychological construct - maybe our mad/anxious/depressed narrator has conjured up these grotesque towns from the walls of a mental institution in which he's imprisoned? Are the phantoms his nurses? The ghouls his fellow inmates? The locked rooms inaccessible hospital wings? In stories in which madness is so significant, it's difficult to ignore these questions. Unnerving in themselves, when they pop-up in story after story after story they begin to wear. As brilliantly disturbing as Ligotti is, the singularity of his approach came as a let-down. But maybe this is a failing of my own making. I recommend you don't read Teatro Grottesco as I did: cover to cover, like a novel. After all, many of these stories were written decades apart, in which case, it's probably a little disingenuous of me to highlight their uniformity.
A final note about style that I can't ignore is Ligotti's preoccupation with repetitious phrasing. In almost every story there are long phrases repeated in their entirety again and again, which eventually pound into the reader's mind like some kind of verbal hammer - reinforcing the concept of madness while concurrently boxing the reader into a claustrophobic space of constant, inescapable repetitions.
There's so much more I have to say about Ligotti, but I'm already running long. If I had to pick a favourite story, it'd be `My Case for Retributive Action' - set in a perpetually mist-covered American town, it's a quasi-comic and highly disturbing story about infinite working days, meaningless paper-work that's recycled endlessly (you can see the satire) and grotesque rumours about a deformed man-spider responsible for maddening sounds that haunt the town.
Ligotti's nightmarescapes didn't scare me as much as they left a lingering sensation that I'd been unsettled and disturbed. They're preoccupied with the individual's struggle to find meaning and definition in a hostile and increasingly repetitive world - and in this regard they're strikingly modernist: a space in which, to quote, there is "a killing sadness that feels as if it will never leave me no matter where I go or what I do or whom I may ever know."
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2011
Thomas Ligotti is a depressed genius who writes horror stories that mix Lovecraft, Poe, Kafka, Borges, E.M. Cioran, David Lynch, Thomas Bernhard and bunch of horror writers into a depressing, yet brilliant and surreal mix of short stories that represent nightmares better than any writer that I know of.
Some of the reviewers here in Amazon complain that the "plots" don't go anywhere, or that the stories don't make sense. Ligotti isn't about plots or stories that "make sense". His stories are about mood, atmosphere and dark, surreal truths about the world we live in. Mix of philosophical ideas and nightmares. Trying to "get" his stories is like trying to get what Kafka is about, or what the nightmare you had last night was about.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 2014
Amazing writer. His stories are not really horror in the usual sense of the word, but inhabit the realm somewhere between a disturbing dream and a full-blown nightmare. The best example of this is the opening story (and the best of this collection), where the gnawing unease is cranked-up by very subtle inferences. In fact, subtle is the word here, with each story insinuating itself upon the reader. Some of these tales have a nebulous structure, and just seem to float in suspension. The title story is a musing on life and society, and infers that this is a horror all of its own! This is all the work of a very special author.