Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Overnight

I haven’t read much horror fiction in years other than to dabble in the genre via an occasional Stephen King novel, and even those have become rarer and rarer for me lately. But, on the other hand, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to books about books or bookstores so when I noticed that Ramsey Campbell’s The Overnight was set in an English bookstore I grabbed it despite my general misgivings concerning horror novels. Frankly, they don’t scare me anymore and I find myself laughing at the “horror” more times than not. In that regard, this one did not turn out to be the exception.

Ramsey Campbell has long been one of the mainstays of horror fiction with more than two dozen titles to his credit, such as The Doll Who Ate His Mother, The Last Voice They Hear, Scared Stiff and Waking Nightmares. None are titles that would make me reach for my wallet but I was so intrigued by the fact that Campbell wrote The Overnight after having worked full time at the Cheshire Oaks branch of Borders for several months that I decided to give it a try.

Strange things began to happen at the new Texts bookstore almost as soon as its American manager opened it for business. An unusually dense fog settled over the strip center in which it is located and never lifted again, the computers seemed to have minds of their own (I know, Bill Gates, nothing so crazy about that), one employee suddenly lost the ability to read, books were found damaged on the floor each morning despite having been properly shelved the night before, a strange, chill dampness invaded the store and customers stayed away in droves.

Soon enough the new store is ranked as the very worst of all the Texts locations and Woody, the American manager, is told to expect a visit from corporate bigwigs who are flying to England to see the problems for themselves. In desperation, Woody schedules the entire staff for the all-night marathon shelving and clean-up project that brings the novel to its horrific climax. Although I found myself chuckling at the “horror,” Campbell does provide an insider’s look at some of the drudgery associated with working in one of the big chain bookstores, the constant rush to get new books out of the stockroom and onto the shelves, the never ending battle to get every book back to its proper place at the end of the day despite the best efforts of customers to misplace them, and dealing with destructive customers being chief among them.

If you enjoy horror novels, and if they really do scare you, this is one of the better written ones that you are likely to find. If you are more attracted to the novel by the bookstore setting than by the horror, you will have to judge for yourself whether or not, at 396 pages, this one is for you.

Rated at: 2.5


  1. I'm with you on the lack of true scary books. I remember being scared by "The Shining" by Stephen King way back when I was a teen, and I question if even that would scare me today.

  2. I'm not sure that "horror" books ever really scared me, John, but I can't remember when I actually started to find them funny.

    The books that still "horrify" me are some of the crime genre ones that describe really horrific murders or torture of innocent victims. Between those and some of the scary non-fiction that I've read, "horror" novels involving spirits and the like seem very tame.

  3. I see you gave it only a 2.5. My husband read it recently and found it just so-so too.

  4. Stefanie, honestly I only finished the book because I enjoyed reading how this particular bookstore functioned. Some of Campbell's insights into the politics involved were kind of fun. As a "horror" novel, it was pretty much a failure to me.

  5. I just finished this book and, being an avid fan of the genre, I have to say that this book fell way short. It was my first time reading this particular author but I can't help but compare him to King, Koontz and Saul. Unfortunately, I can see why he had to spend time working a second job at Borders. The climax was vague, the antagonist even more vague, the employees were cardboard and spineless and Woody was ridiculous. It was interesting to see how the store was run but everything else was pointless and too repetitive.

  6. I have to agree with you on all points, anonymous. I was very disappointed in this one.