Thursday, 1 February 2018

The Hill of Dreams

Arthur Machen
Parthian Books

Lucian Taylor believes he has been damned through contact with an erotically pagan world—or possibly through something degenerate in his own nature—in this critically acclaimed horror story. Moving to London to shake off his fears of being trapped by the dark imaginings of a creature inside him, Taylor soon finds his hallucinations becoming increasingly real. An important and moving work, this story is one of the first explorations in fiction of the figure of the doomed artist.

I always knew I'd get the urge to read this at some point but it's been some time coming.  I've read and loved a chunk of Machen's shorts which is my preferred delivery vehicle for tales of the unusual and the uncanny and I generally find longer formats to be a bit of a drag.  I knew I wanted to get into this one though and had been on the lookout for a nice old copy but whilst on holiday last November I came across the Library of Wales edition and decided the time was right.

The Hill of Dreams is a semi autobiographical tale that relates the journey of a young man, Lucian, the son of a lowly Welsh parson on his quest to find beauty through literature and his subsequent descent into madness and drugs.

I'm guessing there were some raised eyebrows back in Machen's home town when the book was published both at the depictions of the inhabitants of Lucian's home town - surely some of Machen's acquaintances saw themselves in the unflattering characters - and also by Lucian's fate and any suspicions regarding Machen's life in London, so far away from his native Caerleon.

There is much beauty in the book.  Machen's prose is, of course, exquisite and the tale he tells rings with sad truths and evocative grace but, for me at least, the central figure is the book's failing.  I found I didn't entirely want Lucian to find the beauty he was so desperate for as I didn't think he deserved it or was capable of recognising it if he had.  He is pompous, self-absorbed , dismissive and haughty, blind to the kindness of those around him and hyper-critical of their foibles and failings.  He seems unable to find any joy or heart in his quest which ultimately contributes to his downfall as he slides deeper into depression and delusion.

It's an undeniably powerful work that took me to places that I truly did not expect but I can't, at the end, claim to have entirely enjoyed it. It was an experience unlike any other and I'm glad to have had it but I'm fairly sure it isn't one I'll repeat.

Buy it here - The Hill of Dreams (Library of Wales)

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