Top critical review
25 people found this helpful
on 16 June 2006
After hearing so much about this book, I finally tracked down a copy. Sadly, it is not what I expected. Out of ten stories, only five have links to 'The King In Yellow' and only one story is, I think, essential reading. Some of it is almost unreadable. Shall I break it down?
1. 'The Repairer of Reputations' - My rating (5/5) - The book starts off fantastically strong with this story, which mixes horror, madness, intrigue and sci-fi. Chambers sets his story 25 years in the future (for him, 1920). He gives a fascinating quick history of world events, of the appearance and suppression of the horrifying book known as 'The King In Yellow' and the story then begins on the day that the first Government Lethal Chamber is being unveiled in New York (Suicide has just been declared legal). Society is rather more utopian, world conflicts have been resolved and it is against this backdrop that we start to see the creeping evil that the book can bring. This is an amazing story, and everyone who's a Lovecraft, or horror fan, should check it out. It's also snappily written, and full of quirky detail.
2. 'The Mask' - My rating (4/5) - An interesting story which, again, involves the book, and also a strange scientific discovery.
3. 'The Court Of The Dragon' (3/5) - This story of a man stalked by a mysterious figure is good, but not as innovative as the first two tales.
4. 'The Yellow Sign' (3/5) - One of the most famous stories in the book. 'The King In Yellow' features prominently here. This is a good story, and my rating is more about personal taste - I like Lovecraft for his science-based horror, and dislike Poe for his more traditional graveyard-Gothic style. This is more Poe than Lovecraft.
5. 'The Demoiselle D'Ys' (1/5) - Sadly, this is the last story in the book with any reference to 'The King in Yellow' and the reference here is very tenuous. Also, this story starts to bring in Chambers' very sappy, over-the-top romantic style. It's also full of archaic French falconcry terms(?), and has a very standard ending. I found myself quite sickened by it.
6. 'The Prophets' Paradise' (3/5) - Very strange. This short piece is closer to poetry than prose. It's a series of linked scenes that are weird, atmospheric and very visual. I have no idea what it's about, but it's strangely intriguing.
(The next four stories are all set in Paris, are all about art students and there is no further mention of 'The King In Yellow.')
7. 'The Street Of The Four Winds' (3/5) - A short tale about a scrawny cat and a lonely artist. This is a good story that is notable for its excellent, affectionate descriptions of the cat's behaviour. Also, while it's not really horror, the ending is strangely creepy. I'm sure Lovecraft enjoyed this one.
8. 'The Street Of The First Shell' (4/5) - This is actually a really good story that gives a great feeling of living in a city which is under siege, and where shells whistle overhead constantly. Chambers gives us atmosphere, action and shows that he is capable of excellent writing. At the same time, there are some annoying lulls into inconsequential 'comedy' and there are some astoundingly clumsy paragraphs mixed in with the good stuff.
9 & 10 - 'The Street of Our Lady Of The Fields' & 'Rue Barree' (both 1/5) - The book ends with two incredibly tedious, annoying 'romantic' stories that I had to force myself to wade through. Page after page is filled with vomit-inducing dialogue and endless descriptions of chirping sparrows. I'm guessing this is indicative of a lot of Chambers' other output. Believe me when I say, it's very hard to read.
Summary: I'm confused as to how this was a best-seller for so many years, as it is such a mixed bag, swinging from atmospheric horror to the sappiest of romance fiction. It's hard to imagine that any reader would have enjoyed everything in this book. Also, after such a strong opening, where Chambers goes to the trouble of extrapolating a near-future setting and giving a history of 'The King In Yellow,' I do not understand why he so quickly gave up on the idea, and filled this volume out with a miscellaneous bunch of tales that had nothing to do with the reviled tome. Chambers is a mystery. Regardless, if you're a horror fan, seek out 'The Repairer Of Reputations,' maybe some of the other stories, if you feel like it. Leave the romance fiction well alone.