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The Influence

Ramsey Campbell


US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-02-521160-9

Publication Date: 1988

260 Pages; $14.95

Date Reviewed: 01-21-03  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2003



Horror, General Fiction

02-14-02, 03-25-02, 03-28-02, 04-15-02, 01-16-03, 01-17-03, 08-22-03

When other horror writers were cranking up the tension by delving deeply into anatomical and physical horror, Ramsey Campbell managed to do so by sheer writing skill. His 1988 novel 'The Influence' stands the test of time as an effective novel of horror and terror that achieves its effects with careful prose, truly imaginative plotting and a willingness to take his characters as far into psychological horror as the tale demands. His skill enables him to create a convincing heaven, an inevitable hell and flesh and blood humans to move between the two. Most importantly, he's able to use his language to create souls, then place them in mortal peril. Once he's done this, any supernatural effects he achieves are as palpable to the reader as a car crash.

As the novel starts, an unpleasant old woman named Queenie dies. Her niece Alison inherits the house, but it is Rowan, Alison's daughter -- and Queenie's "favorite" -- who is the most affected. Alison's sister, Hermione dies at Queenie's grave, believing that Queenie isn't all the way dead. Campbell layers the language and lets loose with scenario that is chilling because we don't see it from the outside but rather experience it from the inside.

Campbell is up to a couple of very interesting tricks in 'The Influence'. He offers the reader the chilling experience of seeing a soul stolen from the point of view of both the victim and someone who loves the victim. The effect is to double the terror as both Rowan and Alison witness Rowan's slow and certain displacement from our world into a convincingly portrayed afterlife that could be heaven, hell, purgatory or self-imposed prison of madness. Or the madness could exist solely in Alison's mind, since the choices she sees are increasingly insane.

Though Campbell's language is always evocative, here he balances his atmospheric tendencies with a taut plot that keeps the reader breathless. This is very much akin to what one might expect had Camus or Sartre ever written a supernatural thriller. There's plenty of keen philosophical and psychological thinking here, wrapped around a simple plot that is nonetheless more and more terrorizing. Think 'The Stranger' with a supernatural twist, or 'Nausea' honed down with a gleaming steel knife from the kitchen drawer.

As ever, Campbell does a bang-up job of conveying the tensions of ordinary family life, the bumps in the rhythms that make parents take notice of the sucking eternity that waits round the corner for any child. Worries about money, worries about jobs, worries about family perceptions all hover about like squeaking bats at twilight. Perhaps they're harmless, but you still don't want them in your hair. Campbell orchestrates every word to create an organic world of human perception and self-deception. He an architect of self doubt and when the walls he builds come crumbling down, only the strong survive. It's an effective fall.

One hopes that some publisher in the fullness of time will take up the task of publishing the long-lost illustrated version of this novel. Back in 1987, J. K. Potter came to England to live with the Campbells and shoot photos of Ramsey's then ten-year old daughter. The photos were shot in all the locations where the novel takes place, and are available in Potter's photographic retrospective 'Horripilations'. In a world where the movie 'The Sixth Sense' blows away millions with its supernatural suspense, there's room for a new look at this classic novel.


J. K. Potter's illustrations perfectly capture Ramsey Campbell's subtle language.

These illustrations were found in J. K. Potter's 'Horripilations'.