Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams

The Story: On a hill where the world of the living sometimes intersects with the world of the dead, a variety of people are brought together to put on a play written by a famous poet. As the living people struggle to face the spiritual realities of this world and the next, a dead man searches for salvation after his suicide, and an unusual woman who’s perhaps not human tries to seduce people to the way of death.

My Thoughts: As you probably guessed from the synopsis, this is a weird book. It is possibly the most bizarre book I’ve ever read, and I’m no stranger to weird fiction. Pretty much every chapter includes multiple lengthy rambles that are filled with odd ideas and references to literature. Characters frequently have incredibly unusual conversations with each other, and yet none of them ever seems to notice how unusual what they are saying is. While it was sometimes fascinating to read, much of the time it was tedious, and had this not been a fairly short novel, I probably wouldn’t have pressed on to the end. The plot is minimal, and basically holds together a series of related scenes.

I did end up enjoying some aspects of the novel. Aside from the unconventional hero and heroine, the best part was the brilliantly-written subplot of a man who comes to possess an inhuman replica of the woman he is obsessed with, only to be driven mad by this unnatural possession. If that subplot had been cut out and made into a short story, it would have been an excellent cautionary horror tale, but scattered as it was throughout the book, it just kept me from growing entirely bored. While I found this novel worth reading in order to experience Charles Williams’ unique writing style, it did not inspire me to want to read any of his other works.

Content Overview: There is little violence, but horror imagery and scary scenes are in abundance. While I don’t remember any foul language, there may be one or two mild instances. Sexual subjects come up in a few places, but are tactful enough that they won't bother most adult readers.

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