Noctuary by Thomas Ligotti (book review).

‘Noctuary’, the third volume of Thomas Ligotti’s short fiction, revised and published by Subterranean Press. Preceded by the excellent ‘Songs Of A Dead Dreamer’ and ‘Grimscribe’, this particular collection feels a little weaker in comparison. This isn’t to say it isn’t worth reading. Though I am starting to think the idea of the weird and new weird are both a little over-played now, if we accept they exist, Ligotti’s fiction is certainly amongst the finest of the genre. H.P. Lovecraft undoubtedly casts a long shadow across the horror and weird genres, I genuinely believe Ligotti easily surpasses him. Partly, this is because I am not comfortable with Lovecraft’s bigotry, but the poetry of Ligotti’s language sets him apart from so many of his predecessors and peers.


Much like the previous two volumes, ‘Noctuary’ is divided into a number of sections. In this instance, ‘Studies In Shadow’, ‘Discourse On Blackness’ and ‘Notebook Of The Night’. Though it is perhaps a little uneven throughout, I did find myself drawn a little more to the stories in the first two parts of the anthology. The stories in these are a little more substantial and while Ligotti’s skill is evident throughout the latter tales, brevity isn’t inherently a bad thing and they did tend to leave one wanting a little more or perhaps that was just me.

My favourite of the stories in ‘Noctuary’ is one of the longer in it, ‘The Tsalal’. I believe that this was an original story to the book at the time. Although, given a number of years have passed since original publication, I’m not sure it still has the shine of the new.

Anyway, ‘The Tsalal’ concerns Andrew Maness, who is the avatar of The Tsalal, a term I understand to be from Poe’s work, ‘a perfect blackness’. Maness desires that the world is divorced from the reason and laws which govern our lives. An unsettling and intellectual horror and one which represents Ligotti’s oeuvre quite well. The nihilism of the character and therefore the story is horrifying rather than lazy and encouraging of pointless violence, a feature of more than one horror movie of my acquaintance.

The other story I found particularly affecting was ‘The Strange Designs Of Master Rignolo’ in which an artist, fearful and obsessed with death and his own mortality attempts to immerse himself in his art. Of course, an artist can overcome their own limited lifespan by creating works whose beauty and timeless qualities can see that they are remembered centuries after their deaths. This being a weird story, Rignolo is less concerned with being remembered and seeks something which will maintain his essential being for longer than his allotted time. Naturally, he doesn’t succeed and we gain more of an insight into the nature of our own existence.

These are two of the stories which stood out for me and acquit themselves well alongside Ligotti’s best work. Where this collection, if not quite fails, but certainly tested my patience a little was with the third section, which is basically flash fiction. I always want more of Ligotti’s masterful prose and while he is certainly capable in this form, these stories just seem less important than those earlier in the book. They seem linked by their brevity more than any specific theme. There is, for example, a haunted house tale, a short story about work and careers and a number of passages which seem to be parts of a greater whole. Read one after another, as I urge you to do, they do create a certain uneasy feeling within the reader, primarily through Ligotti’s use of atmospheric and evocative language.

There are stories in this volume, mentioned above, which are fine example of one of our greatest living writers. However, I wouldn’t suggest this as necessarily the best introduction to Ligotti. The previous two collections are more consistent and some of his recent work is superb. That said, I do still highly recommend this. Even when not at his best, Ligotti is a writer to treasure.

Richard Palmer

December 2012

(pub: Subterranean Press. 207 page deluxe hardback. Price: $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-470-6)

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released: 31 July 2011

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