Tenebrae by Ernest George Henham

Introduced by David Hughes at Hay Cinema Bookshop

Pacey, weird, spilling over with abject psychological torment, this should be read in the right frame of mind or a spiralling loss of a sense of self may occur as a result. Approaching this descent into a maelstrom can almost be seen as a parody of the form, teetering on the very edge of brazen excess. However, Henham has reined in the black bolting midnight mare, and though you may be tempted to compare to Bulwer Lytton on occasion, this is a fine poisonous piece of misanthropic barbarism in splendid over-wrought linguistic legerdemain. Not so much creepy as suspiciously thorough & convincing in understanding such dismal corners of the soul.

A distinctly Gothic & decadent sales pitch go toward selling this piece of weird: decaying, desolate, remote, driven insane, opium, alcohol, morbid, arcane manuscripts, death, arsenic, vengeance, fate, brutal crime, delusion, extreme darkness and gloom, incipient madness, room painted black, despondency, murdered victim, monstrous spider…

The attitude to language throughout is struck with barely subdued hysteria, mounting ever onward to self-deluded mania & loathing. A morbid touch to begin with, the narrator succumbs to not only a Dostoevsky conscience like his character Raskolnikov, but another bitter twisted mind had already seeded his thoughts before he performed a dreadful act. The little touches of foreshadowing are perhaps blatant & may appear crudely set before us, but in fact every facet of the entire novel is fevered & unbalanced and nothing should surprise us. The material form of these hideous creations is taking the old line of ‘the sleep of reason breeds monsters’, yet I didn’t get a sense of cliche at all.

Another interesting element is the Bible the narrator refers to, he is obsessed with Cain and Abel, the mark of Cain. He sees a spider with a white cross on it’s back, has more than mere arachnophobia, despising the insect and arachnid world figuratively & literally. At one point we are in a whitened room rather than a deliberately darkened room. He seems mentally to have gone from Poe’s coloured rooms from The Masque of the Red Death or Huysmans decadent aura that comes with the louche Des Esseintes, prevailing to the clinical whiteness similar to that of an abattoir or morgue at one point.

If readers like myself have an interest in outsiders, questionable sanity, gothic extremes, disintegrating trust in the author’s perspective, then this is one of the more accessible & fluid titles. Henham wrote under a pseudonym of John Trevena some more pleasant nature inspired titles for those who prefer the world of the outer landscape.


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