Urban solitude, houses that are suggested to appear and disappear, empty voids laying hidden behind dark crumbled brick facades, streets with a mysterious accumulation of names seemingly coming from nowhere, doors hanging in their hinges but do not open that easily, pieces of clothing laying abandoned in the street, shadows rise and fall, voices in the distance calling your name, or do they?
These are the settings for the superb short story "The greater festival of masks" and believe me, this is just the beginning. From here on, from the moment lead character Noss walks in a shop that solely sells costumes and masks and falls asleep, it only gets worse, and more eerie, and untouchable. And at the end, you're not realy sure what you've just witnessed.
What happens exactly behind the deceitfull brick walls of the old houses and behind the wooden fence at the back of the shop? Why de some masks perfectly fit the customer's face while other hurt and slide of with every step you take. What cries out underneath the blank faces of the inhabitant who have no facial features or expressions what so ever?
Like the best poetry there is so much more than meets the eye. It's between the lines that the real things happen, but what is reallity and when do dreams and nightmares take over?
A lot has been said about "Songs of a dead dreamer", Thomas Ligotti's debut collection of short stories. The comparisons with Poe and Lovecraft seems endless, Kafka and Bruno Schulz are mentioned as well because of their nightmarishness and plotless compositions.
You could add the cinema of David Lynch and Roman Polanski if you like, even throw in the animated shorts of the twin brothers Timothy and Stephen Quay, especially their master creation "Streets of crocodiles" (and, why not, their solo feature film "Institute Benjamenta" as well.) And how about some hints at Jan Svankmajer's surreal work like "Faust", "Alice", and surely the suggested perversities of the absurd "Conspirators of pleasure".
And yet, with all these big names in a long line, if one author can be called original and being capable of standing completely on his own, it is Mr. Ligotti. One of the reasons why this is a justified statement is because Ligotti has a gift not many writers of the horror genre have: style. Ligotti's prose sings, cries, wanders, but never realy lingers off. Sentences can be long at time, but never tedious, their is a meaning in every word and an underlying motivation for each syllable. It's the horrifying stuff of heavey metal perfectly blend with the otherworldlyness of a choir chant and the bravoura of an opera.
You could call Ligotti's prose even autistic because it describes a world of its own in a language that stands on its own and seems to be introverted, no matter how many word-explosions and super nova's of illuminations and imagery it may contain. Its locked in itself, it is both lock and key, and the reader has but one choise, go along with the lyrical flow and enter the forbidden zone of Ligotti's unique language or stay out and leave.
Having said this, I would like to mention one more film to illustrate these last statements about this unique kind of literary autism, namely Andrei Tarkovski's "Stalker": a highly unique and eerie film, created by one of the worlds best cinematic stylists, and standing completely on his own, no other movie can be compared with it, and to make things even more interesting: "Stalker" is about a guide who takes two men, a writer and a scientist, into a mysterious "forbidden zone"; a dark, desolate place which dangers and clues consist mostly in the minds of the audience.
To me, it could have been made from the perfect Ligotti script.
In a way, this book could easily have been called "Movies of a dead dreamer" or "Dreams of a dead poet" or "In the twilight of dead films" or "A panorama of dead songs" and that just shows in how many ways you can look at Ligotti's craft. And that should tell you enough.
I could go on for much longer, there is so much to discover in this one volume. "Dr. Locrian's asylum" for instance, about the creepy, unimaginable history of an insane asylum where patients were kept for something other than a straight forward cure... Repelled citizens who have no other choise than to create a revolution against the building and the restless ghosts it keeps behind its windows. And the eventual downfall of the entire town as result.
I will say no more. You stop listening. Turn the pages before they crumble between your fingers. Be a blessed audience to these rare little songs. They will haunt you long after nightfall.... and thank all the Gods in the netherworlds for that.