H.P. Lovecraft is experiencing a revival. The strange author of even stranger stories had a life, it seems, that was crying out to be turned into fiction. Within the last year, I’ve seen Lovecraft turned into a character in stories based in his fiction. His settings have been revived for even more novels. Jacqueline Baker’s The Broken Hours is a literary turn on this little renaissance. Her novel is set in the last year of Lovecraft’s life, when he was furthest down on his luck and dying of cancer. The Broken Hours sent me scurrying to Lovecraft’s biography more than once—and, consequently, had me wondering what was fictional and real more than once, too.
1936 wasn’t the worst year of the Great Depression, but work was still scarce. Arthor P. Crandle is happy to get any job he can. Strangely, he never meets his employer in person. He’s hired by phone and given instructions by letter. It takes him a while to work out that his new employer is a writer, let alone that he’s been hired by H.P. Lovecraft. Arthor’s job is to type up Lovecraft’s correspondence and manuscripts, run errands, help keep the boarding house tidy, and occasionally warm up food for the horror writer. It’s hardly onerous work. As soon as Arthor arrives in Providence, however, he learns that his job is not as straightforward as it seems.
There are warnings everywhere. The neighbors are suspicious and angry. The boarding house is oppressive, filthy and full of strange smells. Then Arthor starts to see people who aren’t there. A malevolent girl seems to haunt the house. When Lovecraft asks Arthor to deliver letters to his mother, the story gets even stranger. First, the address on the letters is for Butler House: an asylum. Then a the head nurse tells Arthor that Mrs. Lovecraft has been dead for almost twenty years.
At this point, I twigged to what was going on. I wasn’t disappointed, per se. But the ambiguous and sinister atmosphere Baker had spent her time creating dissipated immediately. The best horror story, I think, are the ones that stay firmly on the line between the supernatural and mundane reality. There might be ghosts. It might just be in your narrator’s head. The fun is trying to work out if the hallucinations are really there or what might have caused the narrator to go off the rails. It’s almost a let down to figure out what’s really going on. At least, for me.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 23 September 2014.