The Fisherman by John Langan


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          An insidious story about bargaining with grief, The Fisherman by John Langan is one of the best horror novels I've ever read. It’s a beautifully written tale of loss and grief, and the pain associated with them. Abe is the narrator of the story. He has lost his wife to cancer, people’s compassion has faded away, and he’s living alone with his pain. He takes up fishing to keep himself distracted from his sadness. 

          A few years down the line, Abe makes friends with one of his colleagues, Dan. Like Abe, Dan has lost his family, too, and is going through tough times. Together they go fishing and try to find solace in their shared new hobby.

          “It would be a lie to say the time passes quickly. It never does, when you want it to.”

          Grief is complicated. Contrary to popular opinion, time does not really heal grief. One can only learn to cope with it and move on. One day, Abe and Dan decide to follow up on some legendary tale about a place called Dutchman’s Creek. As the tales of the creek go, something fantastical, something miraculous lurks in the waters. Curious, Abe and Dan embark on a journey to Dutchman’s Creek and soon learn that the miracle they thought they were seeking is no miracle at all, but something darker and far more sinister than one can imagine. Dutchman’s Creek has a secret linked to an eerie tale about a mysterious entity called Der Fischer: The Fisherman.

          The tale of Dutchman’s Creek has been passed from generation to generation. The dark folk legend of Der Fischer is filled with black magic, exorcisms, incomprehensible forces, and nightmarish visions.

          The Fisherman is a story within a story narrated expertly. After the first few chapters about Abe and Dan, their miseries and their fishing trips, we stop to hear the story of Dutchman’s Creek, which comprises about fifty percent of the book. Some of the events in the backstory are truly terrifying. Dutchman’s Creek promises to bring back deceased loved ones. Cut to the present story about Abe and Dan, one of them is tempted to go after it.

          The story may be jarring at times, especially when we go back over a hundred years and learn about Der Fischer. Going through multiple timelines can seem like a hassle. But stay put and you will be rewarded. Langan handles a complicated structure with such ease it’s a delight to read.

          Through all this, what really gripped me more than the surreal visions, the uneasy atmosphere, and the complicated tale of Der Fischer is Abe’s voice. I was in thrall right from the first paragraph.

          “Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe. Though it’s what my ma named me, I’ve never liked Abraham. It’s a name that sounds so full of itself, so Biblical, so … I believe patriarchal is the word I’m after. One thing I am not, nor do I want to be, is a patriarch. There was a time when I’d like at least one child, but these days, the sight of them makes me skin crawl.”

          Langan employs such beautiful language it’s like caramel for the soul. It is impossible not to be enchanted with his brilliant descriptions and sensual imagery, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the English language once again. It’s no wonder the book won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

          Although The Fisherman is a Lovecraftian horror novel, at the heart of it, it’s mostly a melancholy tale of two widowers trying to cope. There are plenty of dark things at play, but what’s scarier is the grief of the characters. Letting go can be hard. But refusing to let go can be devastating. The idea is terrifying as much in fiction as it is in reality.

          John Langan’s Fisherman is a delectably told creepy tale. A literary horror novel of the highest standard. If slow burn horror novels are your thing, you should pick it up. 

Copyright © Karthik 2020

Relevance of Horror in Literature


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My first tryst with horror was The Zee Horror Show. One would argue that Duck Tales and TaleSpin were more suitable for an eight-year-old. But the intriguing charm of the new horror show, the first of its kind on Indian television, was hard to ignore. Most episodes were rooted in superstition and dark magic. The actors who played the roles of ghosts were almost always in low-budget prosthetic makeup – a desperate attempt by the makers to scare the audience. That didn’t scare me at all. What really scared me, however, was the reaction of the characters to the situations they were often thrown in.

          Stand behind a door and say ‘Boo!’ and you may startle a few. But if you were to tell them a backstory about a young man who never left his room and went mad before strangling himself to death. If you were to then guide them into the room, slowly, they will imagine the rest and scare themselves silly. Horror, as I’ve come to believe, is all about the power of suggestion. It makes us uncomfortable at times and compels us to delve into our own darkness.

          Why do people want to indulge in horror films or horror literature? Why do I like the genre so much? I’ve often thought about this. The eight-year-old me was just fond of jump scares. But as I grew up and started reading more, and more important, as I started writing, I realized it was not just about enjoying the jump scares as much as it was about exploring our deepest, darkest questions. We bury our guilt, the anxieties, the sins, and the fears deep inside us, down in the dark somewhere, and try to look tough. Horror is the opportunity to discuss them through metaphors and bring them out into the light. It lets us look those fears in the face, quite literally, and helps us overcome them. Well, most of the time, if not always.

          Horror is different for different people. The supernatural may not scare everyone. My father didn’t flinch even once while watching a popular Hindi horror film. But he got scared when my little brother, who was four years old then, fell off a gate and hurt his head. The sight of blood on the floor made it even worse. My brother was all right an hour later. It was nothing that a tubful of ice cream couldn’t cure. Until then, however, I had refused to believe that anything could scare my father, the defender of my universe, the brave, the know-all. What I saw on his face that day was pure horror.

          In Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Night, a mother waits for her oldest son to return home. The boy is out playing with his friends. It’s nearly midnight and he should have returned home, but he hasn’t. The mother is anxious, worried, her thoughts are running wild. She decides to go to the ravine and search for him. Her youngest son tags along. When the son finally returns at half-past twelve, she is relieved. She scolds him for coming back so late and the three of them walk back home. There were no wraiths walking along the edge of the ravine, no apparitions emerging from the dark. Even if there were, they wouldn’t have scared her as much as the thought of her son never returning.

          A similar idea is explored at length in Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. A delectable blend of crime and supernatural horror, it’s a story of a missing child. Tommy and his friends regularly hang out at a nearby state park until one day, Tommy doesn’t return home – every parent’s worst nightmare. A desperate search for the missing boy ensues. We follow Tommy’s mother, Elizabeth, as she goes through her grief. No one in the little town is prepared for the strange events that follow: shadowy figures lurk outside the houses in the night, journal pages mysteriously appear at Elizabeth’s house, and more. But what’s scarier than the shadowy figures and such is the unrelenting grief that Elizabeth goes through. Not knowing what happened to one’s child is more horrible than death itself. She begins to imagine the worst and along with her, we imagine the worst, too. Is it really her grief or is there really some supernatural element at play? The lines between the supernatural and reality are blurred. Tremblay is at his best here.

          Stephen King’s Pet Sematary wouldn’t have been scary if not for the emotional struggles of parents over losing their child. Again, it’s the reaction of the father – just like Elizabeth’s reaction to her missing child in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – to the loss of his child that scares us, more than the floating heads in the cemetery and the dead cat coming back to life. His actions, although wrong and dangerous, are justified. We understand his reasons.

          John Langan’s Fisherman is a wonderfully written melancholy story about loss and grief. Abe and Dan are widowers who find solace in a shared hobby of fishing. And when Dutchman’s Creek offers something more than just fine fishing, something too fantastical to be true, one of them is tempted to take it up. Regardless of the dangerous choice he makes in the end, it is understandable.

          The easiest thing in the world is pitying someone who’s in trouble and saying we are ‘sorry to know’ and moving on. Empathising with them is hard, almost impossible without experiencing the pain ourselves. All good literature makes us more human. All good horror literature helps us understand the tribulations of the withering soul, the mechanics of evil, and mainly, the repercussions of not reacting when it’s necessary. Being empathetic is still hard, but we are almost there.

          Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door explores this in excruciating detail. The novel asks more questions than it answers. What starts off as a pre-teen puppy love soon dives into an unimaginable tale of humiliation and innocence lost. 14-year-old Meg Laughlin and her younger sister are sent to live with their aunt and her three sons after the death of their parents. Meg makes friends with the boy next door, David Moran. It doesn’t take much time before Ruth Chandler, the aunt, to begin resenting the sisters and subjecting them to acts that no human should endure, let alone kids. Meg is held captive in the basement and Ruth, along with her sons and the neighbourhood kids who are the same age as Meg, tortures her. By the time David finally decides to help her, it’s already too late.

          “There are things you know you'll die before telling, things you know you should have died before ever having seen. I watched and saw.”

          It’s not hard to understand why Ketchum decided to tell the story in first-person. As we read, we become accomplices in the atrocities inflicted on the girl. We are right there, in the basement, looking on helplessly as things take an ugly turn. We see what evil is capable of. We see how far humans can go to hurt another person. Just when we think it’s over and nothing can get worse, it will. It’s as if Ketchum is pointing a finger at us and asking: ‘Do you have the guts to know what she went through? What would you do if you were in David Moran’s place? Would you just stand there and think you are good as long as you are not putting your hand on the girl? What’s the breaking point for you to stand up and decide to help?’

          Sometimes, there is no other horror than the nature of the bystander effect.

          Ketchum’s writing is arsenic, to the point, without any unnecessary frills. He never lets style take over the matter. It takes incredible talent to strip your writing of all things purple and stick to the main story, to say what you have to say in plain and simple language. The beauty of his writing shines in the background whereas the unfolding of monstrosity takes place on the main stage. It succeeds in making the readers feel guilty. ‘You think you know about pain?’ reads the first line of the novel. One may never truly understand the pain of unfortunate souls like Meg in the novel or Nirbhaya, the Delhi gang-rape victim, but books, mainly horror literature, help us get close to understanding their pain.

          In Ania Ahlborn’s Brother, Michael Morrow is an unwilling participant in his family’s twisted hobby. He is adopted by the Morrows and is subjected to emotional and physical abuse since his childhood. He feels he owes his family for giving him food and shelter and helps them whenever they need him to clean up their mess. He has accepted his place in the family and functions on auto-pilot mode. He carries the weight of his family’s sins, especially of his brother, Rebel, who takes perverse pleasure in hurting people. He tries to protect his sister from the same abuse he has endured all his life but to no avail. He is at the mercy of his momma the ring-leader and his brother, and can’t get away from their grip. In the end, when his brother plays a despicable trick on him, Michael has only one option: to fight back.

          The reader is put in Michael Morrow’s shoes and the questions rise again: How much is too much? What will it take to shatter that bystander effect you’ve been nurturing your whole life and stand up for what is right?

          Horror doesn’t always go bump in the night. Sometimes it just sits around and waits, and when we are most vulnerable, it sneaks up on us and envelops us. Sometimes, ignoring the horror around us is the most perverse type of horror there is.

          The world we live in has always been filled with terrors, and horror literature helps us confront them. If we don’t, we will forever be encapsulated by everything dark. The pleasure of enjoying horror is all about reacting to this truth from a safe distance. In the end, we all face the same monsters: anxieties, social stigma, the unknown, the future, rejections, uncertainty, failures. When these monsters get more powerful, we lose the most important feeling that every human should have in abundance: empathy.

          “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” said H P Lovecraft. And when we do not know what our fate has in store for us in the future, our mind naturally meanders into unknown territory and scares itself by imagining the worst possible scenario.

          Horror genre extols one important virtue, one quality that’s the most important of all for us to lead a fulfilling life: bravery. We need an ample amount of it for whatever right we may want to do in our lives.

          Then again, what’s life without a few scares?

           Copyright © Karthik 2020



Ask Me Anything


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Hey guys,

Come this November 19th, at 10:30 p.m. IST, ask me anything about my debut novel, The Parking Lot; about anything and everything related to reading and writing. The event will be live for 48 hours. See you there.

Here's the link:

AMAFeed Ask Me Anything!

The Parking Lot is a psychological horror novel set in the heart of Bangalore. Be entertained, be spooked. 

I hope to chat with you all soon.

Here's the blurb:

What do you do when your professional and personal life kicks you in the teeth on the same day? Watch a night show and then drink yourself into a stupor. That was Ekanth’s plan of action. But his bad day spills over to the next when he finds himself stranded in the mall’s deserted parking lot past midnight. Something attacks him; it is silent, sudden, swift, ruthless. Ekanth fights back with the unseen entity and escapes. But was it an escape or did he set something free? Something that will live in him … and unleash a terror the world has never seen before …

And here's the trailer:

The Parking Lot is now available on:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076PL6TS9 (India)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076PL6TS9 (USA)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076PL6TS9 (United Kingdom)

You don't need a Kindle device. You can buy it through the free Kindle app on your phone or desktop.

Read the prologue to see what's to come.

The Parking Lot - Book Trailer



              What do you do when your professional and personal life kicks you in the teeth on the same day? Watch a night show and then drink yourself into a stupor. That was Ekanth’s plan of action. But his bad day spills over to the next when he finds himself stranded in the mall’s deserted parking lot past midnight. Something attacks him; it is silent, sudden, swift, ruthless. Ekanth fights back with the unseen entity and escapes. But was it an escape or did he set something free? Something that will live in him … and unleash a terror the world has never seen before …

Check out the video trailer:

The Parking Lot is now available on:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076PL6TS9 (India)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076PL6TS9 (USA)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076PL6TS9 (United Kingdom)

You don't need a Kindle device. You can buy it through the free Kindle app on your phone or desktop. The book's free till 30 Oct 2017, 12 p.m.

Read the prologue here: https://unalloyedwritingpleasure.blogspot.in/2017/10/the-parking-lot-prologue.html

The Parking Lot - now available on Amazon


Category: , , , , ,

Hey, guys, my novel, The Parking Lot is now available on Amazon. Check it out. You will be entertained (and spooked), I promise. :)

The book is free till Sunday, i.e. 29 Oct 2017.

You don't  need a Kindle reader. You can install the free Kindle app on your phone or Kindle cloud reader on your desktop and buy the book through it. 

Check out the video trailer here:


Here are the Amazon links:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/B076PL6TS9 (India)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076PL6TS9 (USA)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B076PL6TS9 (United Kingdom)

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My Library

Karthik's Book Montage

The Negotiator
Malgudi Days
As The Crow Flies
Swami and Friends
The Devil's Alternative
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Godfather
The Seven Minutes
The Prize
Atlas Shrugged
The Fountainhead
If Tomorrow Comes
Digital Fortress
The Chancellor Manuscript
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Identity
The Fist of God
The Fourth Protocol
The Odessa File
The Day of the Jackal

Karthik's favorite books »