Book Review: ‘The Grin of the Dark’ by Ramsay Campbell

Acclaimed horror writer Ramsey Campbell’s novel, The Grin of the Dark, represents a host of missed opportunities. When he cranks up the creep factor this book is chilling and unnerving with the imagery he creates. But when it’s off it is a tedious chore as the readerbookcvr practically yells at the unreliable narrator to get to the point. The novel is about film critic Simon Lester who is out of a job and dealing with relationship troubles, when his mentor offers him the chance to write about the long forgotten silent film actor Tubby Lane. As Lester delves into this research he becomes more mentally unstable as clown imagery and the specter of Tubby Lane haunts him.

The book starts off well as Lester our narrator/protagonist is clearly established and fleshed at as the kind of man who invokes sympathy from the readers due to his streak of bad luck both professionally and personally.  It is in these opening chapters that he takes his girlfriend’s son, Mark, to a circus which nothing short of pure nightmare-fuel. The way Campbell creates this scene, filled with demented clowns is one of the most chilling things I have read in a long while. Sadly once we delve into the meat of the book, this fear factor is gone and we are left with Simon Lester travelling the world doing research and arguing with an internet troll. This is a part that gets truly old, as someone who writes online, I learned the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore them and let them have their shining moment under the mask of anonymity. Thus having pages upon pages devoted to our lead character arguing on an IMDB message board gets incredibly old, but you feel an obligation to read these parts lest they have something to do with the ending of the story. It is during this part that the mental status of Lester begins to crack, and Campbell uses this to truly mess with the minds of readers in a way that will either be loved or hated.

Sadly the ending is bound to leave many disappointed as many threads are left untied and a few subplots ended up not going anywhere. The Grin of the Dark has plenty of elements that fans of horror will enjoy, yet it becomes such a tedious chore to reach these points that some may not even feel it is worth it.