MADI SCOTT | REPEAT OFFENDERS
I don’t do scary books. Or fantasy and historical fiction. For someone who reads quite a lot, I really stick to what I like; trashy rom-coms, YA fiction, detective mysteries and maybe a few thrillers. But, in an attempt to broaden my reading horizons, I have tried to read books out of my comfort zone this year.
And that’s where Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country comes in. Published in 2016, Lovecraft Country is nothing new. However, after stumbling across a trailer for the 2020 HBO TV adaptation, I was intrigued. Described as a mix of “historical fiction, pulp noir, Lovecraftian horror and fantasy,” the novel is definitely outside my usual picks.
Set in 1954, Lovecraft Country explores the conjunction between gothic horror and Jim Crow era America and consists of eight interconnected stories. The novel centres around Atticus Turner, a former Korean War soldier who heads north to find his missing father. On a road trip through 1950s Jim Crow America, Atticus, his childhood friend Letitia and his uncle George not only attempt to overcome racist monsters, but also supernatural horrors.
The storylines delve into haunted houses, portals to other planets, race-changing elixirs, ghosts and sorcerers. Every time I wrapped my head around one storyline, another appeared even more confusing than the previous one. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the novel; it just took a bit more attention to understand than my usual easy read.
Whilst the intertwining storylines are initially difficult to link up together (each could almost be read as a separate short story), the more you read, things slowly come together to form a surreal plot. Lovecraft Country’s weirdness creates an interesting parallel to H.P. Lovecraft himself, who was known for his uncanny, horror-idled stories.
Lovecraft himself was interested in humanity’s place within the universe, a theme that is central to Ruff’s novel. However, Lovecraft’s legacy has always been marred by his racist attitudes, which makes Ruff’s title choice interesting. Why name a story after a writer who argued for a strong ‘colour-line’ to preserve race and culture? Ruff cleverly employs Lovecraftian tropes as a way to examine race and racism in 1950s America, which are seen in the metaphorical monsters of Lovecraft Country. But they are not the traditional types of horror monsters. Instead, they take on a humanistic form, and that alone is what makes the novel scary.
Whilst playing with fantasy, magic and the supernatural, Ruff also bases the story within historical fact, which adds to the unsettling nature of the book. George Berry, the uncle of Atticus, is a business owner and publisher of the “Safe Negro Travel Guide”, which is strongly reminiscent of the real-life “Green Book”, an annual guidebook that was published from 1936 to 1966.
Whilst not as juicy as H.P Lovecraft’s classic stories, Lovecraft Country remains a really good novel, and I would definitely recommend it. Its themes, character development and interesting layout make it an unforgettable read. The slow burning plotline culminates into a satisfying finale and it makes me reconsider my narrow usual genre picks.