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The Doll Who Ate His Mother [Hardcover]

Ramsey Campbell
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
2.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique but frustratingly bland and cold June 18 2006
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Stephen King heaped praises on this, Ramsey Campbell's first published novel, and I have tried to discover what he saw in it; after two readings, I still can't warm up to this book. Part of the problem is Campbell's prose style-his dearth of emotion makes the Liverpool setting of this drama even more colorless and empty than his characters. King has said Campbell's characters see the world in much the same way that an addict on an LSD trip does-if so, it is a bad trip indeed. I hate to keep citing King here, but one other thing he said about this novel that fits it perfectly is that some may feel as if Campbell has, instead of having written a novel, has grown one in a Petrie dish. This is exactly how I feel about Campbell's writing. These characters are not real at all; they are hollow husks of humanity blown aimlessly in the wind with no more than one or two ideas driving whatever they happen to do. Even when the passionless author tries to take us inside their heads, it is impossible to connect to them because their very thought processes are both mechanical and somehow wrong. I would sometimes get lost in the middle of a paragraph because Campbell would throw in a sentence or observation that made entirely no sense at all. Often, I felt as if sentences must have been left out, or even more frustrating, reassembled so that he was commenting on things before he even described them. I know many readers hold Campbell in high regard, and I will not attempt to judge his art based on this one novel, but this novel just did not work for me.

Campbell supposedly attempted to create a new type of horror story here. It's certainly unique; I know of no other writer I could compare Campbell to in terms of his writing style.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Guess Who's Coming to Dinner July 16 2002
Format:Paperback
Clare Frayn was giving her brother a ride home, on the night someone ran in front of her car and caused the accident. Her brother died instantly. Funny thing was, they never found his arm. Funnier than that - though Clare isn't laughing - is that the man who ran in front of her car seemed to be disappearing around a corner shortly after the accident, carrying something looking suspiciously like an arm...
A couple of months later, popular exploitative true-crime writer Edmund Hall contacts Clare for help in researching his latest book, "Satan's Cannibal," about the man he is certain was responsible for Clare's brother's death. When a young boy, Hall went to school in Clare's Liverpool neighborhood with a creepy kid named Christopher Kelly. Kelly was a ghoul, who eagerly attacked and ate living small animals - and even badly scared the school bully, by nearly biting off his nose.
Clare and Edmund play amateur detective, with a few friends, to track Kelly down. Of course, with that much attention coming his way, it can't be too long before Kelly turns the tables, and comes looking for them...
This was Ramsey Campbell's first novel, and it still reads quite well. It's more a crime story than anything else, sort of an odd and eerie "day in the life" of an unsettled and unsettling shadow-crawler of a man. Balancing the psychological and possible supernatural aspects is what makes Campbell's story so compelling - that, and his fascinating characterization of a truly bizarre criminal.
The book reads like a good episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and is surprisingly mature for this kind of material. It may well have partly inspired Thomas Harris' more famous Hannibal Lecter novels, Red Dragon especially - though it isn't quite as good, just along similar lines.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, no good July 14 2002
Format:Paperback
Sorry, thought this was rubbish. Characters are thin, the plot thinner, and the 'masterful conclusion' that the jacket blurb promised, the only reason I read this terrible book to the end, just wasn't there at all.
I know Campbell is supposed to be a legend, but on the evidence of this, I can't see why. I've read one other of his books, The Claw, which thankfully was far better, and I only hope his others are also better. This is his debut, apparently, so I'll let him off.
But come on - and sorry, this really gets me - we're faced with a good guy called Chris, and a bad guy called Christopher, and we're not expected to realise it might turn out to be the same person? Give the reader some credit, please.
The only good thing about this book is that it's short. Don't bother, you'll be wasting your time. I've read a lot of books, and very rarely do I think this little of them.
Terrible.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guess Who's Coming to Dinner July 16 2002
By Bruce Rux - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Clare Frayn was giving her brother a ride home, on the night someone ran in front of her car and caused the accident. Her brother died instantly. Funny thing was, they never found his arm. Funnier than that - though Clare isn't laughing - is that the man who ran in front of her car seemed to be disappearing around a corner shortly after the accident, carrying something looking suspiciously like an arm...
A couple of months later, popular exploitative true-crime writer Edmund Hall contacts Clare for help in researching his latest book, "Satan's Cannibal," about the man he is certain was responsible for Clare's brother's death. When a young boy, Hall went to school in Clare's Liverpool neighborhood with a creepy kid named Christopher Kelly. Kelly was a ghoul, who eagerly attacked and ate living small animals - and even badly scared the school bully, by nearly biting off his nose.
Clare and Edmund play amateur detective, with a few friends, to track Kelly down. Of course, with that much attention coming his way, it can't be too long before Kelly turns the tables, and comes looking for them...
This was Ramsey Campbell's first novel, and it still reads quite well. It's more a crime story than anything else, sort of an odd and eerie "day in the life" of an unsettled and unsettling shadow-crawler of a man. Balancing the psychological and possible supernatural aspects is what makes Campbell's story so compelling - that, and his fascinating characterization of a truly bizarre criminal.
The book reads like a good episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and is surprisingly mature for this kind of material. It may well have partly inspired Thomas Harris' more famous Hannibal Lecter novels, Red Dragon especially - though it isn't quite as good, just along similar lines.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ice, Ice Baby! March 31 2005
By Steve Donovan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The previous reader is correct - this novel is as cold as ice. This is one of the reasons why it works so beautifully as horror.

I re-read this book shortly after reading Whitley Strieber's `The Hunger' and the comparison was stark. `The Hunger' was all over-heated prose, melodrama, tortuous explanations, and in your face - "Lookee here!". Strieber tried to get inside the head of all four main characters and, as a result, we didn't really get inside anyone at all.

Campbell, on the other hand, knows that a whisper is much more sinister than a foghorn. His prose is more surgical and precise. He gives us just enough of what we need, and lets our imaginations do the rest. And he evokes Liverpool, in its shadowy "sodium glow", absolutely perfectly.

Dark and creepy. Lovely!
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique but frustratingly bland and cold Jan. 1 2003
By Daniel Jolley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stephen King heaped praises on this, Ramsey Campbell's first published novel, and I have tried to discover what he saw in it; after two readings, I still can't warm up to this book. Part of the problem is Campbell's prose style-his dearth of emotion makes the Liverpool setting of this drama even more colorless and empty than his characters. King has said Campbell's characters see the world in much the same way that an addict on an LSD trip does-if so, it is a bad trip indeed. I hate to keep citing King here, but one other thing he said about this novel that fits it perfectly is that some may feel as if Campbell has, instead of having written a novel, has grown one in a Petrie dish. This is exactly how I feel about Campbell's writing. These characters are not real at all; they are hollow husks of humanity blown aimlessly in the wind with no more than one or two ideas driving whatever they happen to do. Even when the passionless author tries to take us inside their heads, it is impossible to connect to them because their very thought processes are both mechanical and somehow wrong. I would sometimes get lost in the middle of a paragraph because Campbell would throw in a sentence or observation that made entirely no sense at all. Often, I felt as if sentences must have been left out, or even more frustrating, reassembled so that he was commenting on things before he even described them. I know many readers hold Campbell in high regard, and I will not attempt to judge his art based on this one novel, but this novel just did not work for me.
Campbell supposedly attempted to create a new type of horror story here. It's certainly unique; I know of no other writer I could compare Campbell to in terms of his writing style. The monster here, though, is basically just a cannibalistic, irrational killer of the type we have seen before. I grant you the story starts out promisingly, with Clare Frayn's brother Rob being killed in an accident and having his arm taken from the scene by an unknown young man. Clare, by the way, has a disturbing bevy of emotional problems all her own. Then a writer comes to town with the idea of writing a book on this "cannibal," claiming to have known him back in school. He, Clare, a fellow whose mother was a victim of the killer, and a weird actor who says his cat was killed (and presumably eaten) by the killer set out to find him. This task is made much easier by the fact that the writer knows who it is (based on some pretty shotty evidence, I say). The only gripping part of the narrative, in my opinion, comes when the group locates the killer's grandmother and hears from her lips some of the details of the psycho's birth. The identity of the monster comes as no surprise whatsoever, and the conclusion is basically just weird. Personally, I just don't see a lot of merit in this novel, and it fails to produce any kind of monster different from what I have seen before-it's just harder to see through Campbell's murky prose.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, the title is eventually explained in the book! July 13 2003
By ZombiKitty - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Quick synopsis: Clare and her brother Rob are in a car accident. Rob is killed and his arm is stolen. A true crime writer contacts Clare because he believes he knows who stole her brother's arm and he wants her help in tracking down the macabre thief. Okay, well maybe that is an overly concise version of the plot, but you get the picture.
I think it's shame this book is out of print. I really enjoyed it. I loved the bleakness of it all because I felt that it enhanced the story and helped to set its mood. I thought the juxtaposition of the horror of the events with the blandness of the setting made those events seem even more horrific.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A horror legend's masterful debut novel Oct. 19 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Despite being Campbell's first published novel, THE DOLL WHO ATE HIS MOTHER is a confident and inspired work from a writer clearly in control of his talent. In the two short-story collections he published prior to this book (the outstanding DEMONS BY DAYLIGHT and the even better THE HEIGHT OF THE SCREAM) Campbell had already established his distinctive, powerful voice, endowing those horror tales with a unique blend of fluency, imagination, ambiguity and maturity that owed as much to the work of writers such as Nabokov as it did to the horror aesthetics of WEIRD TALES and MR James. The results were stories--sometimes oblique and mysterious, sometimes outright terrifying, and quite often both--that leave a deep and chilling impression on readers, whether read a week ago or years ago. THE DOLL WHO ATE HIS MOTHER simply demonstrated that Campbell could extend his skill over a novel-length narrative. Since then, he has gone on to equal and even surpass the extremely high standards set in these early works--see, for instance, his later collections DARK COMPANIONS and ALONE WITH THE HORRORS, and subsequent novels INCARNATE, THE INFLUENCE, THE NAMELESS and THE FACE THAT MUST DIE, some of the finest-written and most frightening works in the modern horror canon.
There is no doubting THE DOLL WHO ATE HIS MOTHER is an essential modern horror novel. The unflinching honesty in Campbell's portrayals of his characters and settings elevates the story beyond the level of escapist thrills and turns it into something more challenging than formulaic horror shocks. Themes of urban decay and social isolation that are woven into the text, and which also recur in some of Campbell's later works, augment the supernatural dread not by adding to the unpleasantness of the story but, rather, by adding to its realism. In his handling of characters, too, Campbell favors this realistic approach: his characters are believable, warts-and-all individuals, sometimes obnoxious or plagued by self-doubt, and their credibility is never sacrificed to make them seem more appealing or more noble to the reader. Thus, while Campbell's characters may occasionally appear less than admirable, the sympathy they elicit from the reader is more genuine, less artificial than that aroused by superficial appeals to the reader's emotions. As a result, this is an atmospheric and affecting novel of urban horror on par with Fritz Leiber's OUR LADY OF DARKNESS--an eerie yet surprisingly subdued effort, a classic horror tale at heart, told as a modern mystery and presented with honesty and conviction.
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