Conrad Williams Game Reviewed by Rick Kleffel

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive


Conrad Williams

Earthling Publications

US Trade Paperback First

ISBN 0-974-42032-8

Publication Date: 02-14-2004

80 Pages; $14.00

Date Reviewed: 04-12-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004






It's easy to get lost in the darkness. This is particularly true in the world of written fiction. When every turn leads into a dark alley or a blood-spattered abattoir, when every character is either deprived or depraved, the words have to shine with a beauty absent in the subject. Even plot velocity won't carry the reader where the light never shines. It takes talent. Conrad Williams brings the power of poetry, the beauty of finely written prose, the delightful specificity of carefully chosen words to bear on that which will brook no discussion in even uncivilized circles. His novella 'Game', available as a signed trade paperback from Earthling Books, is an example of how great writing can plumb the depths with a precision that brings pleasure even while describing agonizing pain.

Williams doesn't just do darkness in this novella. He gets inventive with it. Rache and Fi are on a nightmarish journey. Bas Eachus has Liam, brother to Rachel, girlfriend to Fi, held in a warehouse in the dankest part of London. He's draining Liam's blood by the pint. If Rache and Fi perform the horrific murders that Eachus requires, Liam may live. Meanwhile, Ness, who is able to see awful things that may come to pass, is on her own path to Eachus. Ness calls herself an arrester, because sometimes she's able to stop her visions from coming to pass. But that presumes that she can discern the difference between reality and hallucination.

Nobody is innocent in Williams' depressing scenario. Rache and Fi, forced to violence that begins where our most terrifying nightmares end, find themselves more than up to the task. Eachus is a dark beacon, an anti-lighthouse that strobes the urban hell of London's underworld with waves of horror. Ness is a mobile acid trip, swirling ever closer to the focal point of fear realized. Each of these characters comes to life with painterly precision.

Readers soon realize that London itself is another character in 'Game', and just as unpalatable as the rest of them. Williams is a one-man anti-tourist bureau. In his skilled hands, London veers between dungeon and slaughterhouse, dotted with restaurants of dubious repute. Williams goes after the London landscape with a vengeance that's positively spiteful.

Williams plot is murky and hallucinogenic. Finding out what's going on is like peeling layers of plastic off a rotting corpse; the stench gets worse and worse even as what's underneath becomes clearer and clearer. But, like a rotting corpse, it is a whole, and it hangs together no matter how unpleasant it might be. And like a rotting corpse, it's easy to see the anatomy, it's easy to see the tendons and muscles of this story.

What brings all this into the realm of reading pleasure is the power of Williams' prose. Every description drips, drops and plops from the page in clouds of miasmic terror. Unlike many works that tread this territory, this novella is a pure -- and highly effective -- work of horror. Williams matches his environmental distress with the emotional equivalent. The underpinning of all this is prose that begs to be read aloud. But don't plan on doing so unless your audience is handcuffed to a metal pole in the midst of an empty warehouse, or really, really loves horror. Or appreciates the finest prose that money can buy, applied to the darkest visions the mind can contain.

The cover art by Erik Wilson is nicely suggestive of the awfulness within. In a brief 80 pages, Williams' prose unpacks a nightmare that keeps unfolding after the narrative is finished. For those who doubt that horror is still an effective art form, Williams rises up from the dark with a knife and a digital camera. He'll be sending you a JPEG you'll hope to forget; so powerful is his writing that you'll wish your memory was as easily erasable as the card in your camera.