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

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