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At the Mountains of Madness - A book review

Anyone else find it weird that all you currently see in the "Recommended" or "Trending" lists on Netflix are post-apocalyptic films? One would think that escapism in the time of plague would come in more light-hearted forms, yet it seems most people's response to a world going a bit mad is to dive into a fictional world where the world has gone utterly mad, shot itself and is now slowly decomposing. "Book of Eli" was good, though.

Still, I can't judge. My reading material right now has a fairly tenebrous whiff about it – I started off with Dean Koontz (prompted by multiple rumours of one of his books containing a spooky prediction of a nasty virus in the year 2020), jumped from him to his long-time counterpart Stephen King, and have now backtracked to one of King's self-confessed inspirations: the horror nerd icon and beloved racist, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Lovecraft also seems an apt choice of author in these days of seclusion, delusion and paranoia, as he was a notorious shut-in who spurned human contact in favour of written correspondence. There's also the small matter of his work containing an ever-present theme of humanity's general insignificance in the baleful eyes of a cold, uncaring world. But don't let that fool you, I'm sure he was a warm, delightful chap deep down. Very, very deep down.

Having just finished one of his better-known works, "At the Mountains of Madness," it's odd to find that those who dismiss him as a penny-dreadful horror hack, and those who praise him as one of the strongest influences on modern horror fiction, are both, in a way, equally correct. His writing style is like banging your head against a wall made of bricks and pretension, and his overly verbose prose is both unnecessarily florid and spectacularly dated. The relative lack of dialogue indicates that even he was aware of his own shaky grasp on face-to-face human interaction, but the subsequent focus on the narrator's first-person musings give the story a journal-like feel that lends authenticity to the events within.

When it comes to story and subject matter, his deftness is unquestionable. The story is narrated by an academic geologist who joins an ill-fated expedition to Antarctica, which encounters ancient forces that aren't too chuffed about sharing their icy domain with these irritatingly inquisitive human interlopers. The slow escalation of palpable dread, and the meticulous and colourful descriptions of the eldritch horrors the expedition runs afoul of, combine to make the story pure nightmare fuel. It plays extremely well on the age-old perception of Antarctica as a huge, hostile frontier currently almost untouched by the constant metastasizing of human civilisation. Lovecraft was fond of using the unexplored regions of the planet, particularly the ocean, as a domain for some very old/big/nasty things who have spent aeons slumbering in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to awaken and reclaim a world usurped by those pesky little homo sapiens. He himself put it best: "the oldest and strongest emotion is fear, and the oldest and strongest fear is the fear of the unknown."

At the Mountains of Madness is technically a novella, and even with Lovecraft's customary long-windedness (which some have colloquially and not-inaccurately referred to as "verbal diarrhoea") the e-book version currently available to all library members on Wheelers is a modest 111 pages, making this the perfect story for horror/science fiction connoisseurs to devour on one of these ever-chillier evenings, snuggled under a blanket or curled up by the fire with a glass of wine, warming yourself against the chill from the icy Antarctic winds that almost seem to emanate from the pages.

Anyone interested in perusing our fine selection of e-books and audiobooks can sign up on the Matamata-Piako Libraries website at www.matamatapiakolibraries.co.nz. After joining up as a Digital member, we will email you a membership number you can use to access our online resources. If you are already a member, these are included in your membership.

Information on accessing our e-books and audiobooks is available on our website, however for further assistance you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone during normal business hours:

027 558 3133 (Matamata Library)

027 641 9102 (Morrinsville Library)

027 614 8707 (Te Aroha Library)

By Ciaran (Library Assistant at Matamata-Piako Libraries).

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