Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff

I bought this book during my not so successful visit in London Review Bookshop (here you can find links to other more successful parts of my 12 bookshops for 12 months projects). It was one of the books on the tables and what initially caught my attention was the cover, but then I found it a bit over-engineered, only to finally notice the author’s name. In high school during my fantasy phase I bought somewhere his Fool on the Hill and I fell in love with the book, ended up rereading it regularly well into my studies, I’m not sure if I didn’t escape into it even during the first years of my work. Somehow since then I never came across Ruff’s books, I also have to admit I didn’t actively look for them, because I could always go back to the Fool. But if the book basically jumps into my hands I am not one to say no, so here we are.

Lovecraft Country is a very different book than the Fool, but then that’s only to be expected thirty years later. Ruff kept his sense of humor and ability to build an action packed story without giving up on characters development. The story starts in Chicago in 1954, when a veteran Atticus Turner received a letter from his estranged father, and after arriving to Chicago find him missing. Together with his uncle George, who shares his passion for pulp fictions and horror stories, and his childhood friend Letitia they embark on a trip to find and rescue Atticus’ father. It is the era of Jim Crow laws and even though George is the publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide they still find plenty of trouble on their journey. This is to be only the beginning because as soon as they become involved with the Braithwhite family and the Order of the Ancient Dawn the life of every person that Atticus knows is impacted and irreversibly changed. We get to know this from a series of short stories that in the combine back into the closing of a novel.

We have here magic, ghosts, shape shifting, legacy and gifts passed through blood, but also jealousy, revenge and hunger for power. It is a proper pulp horror story (without the physical gore, so don’t worry), packed with action and unbelievable twists. It reads great, helped also by Ruff’s wry sense of humour. But there’s a bit more to the book than just scary ghosts, monsters and magic, the most terrifying thing is actually the overwhelming and ever-present racism that our protagonists have to face at every step of their way. It’s not really the magicians, parallel worlds, ghosts or pentagrams that are the problem here. What I found the most shocking part was how widely accepted segregation and racism was, how people could be attacked everywhere, how it was not safe not to have a gun but it wasn’t safe to be discovered to carry one either. How somehow everyone lived with it… I know I live a sheltered and privileged life in a big city. It was good to read a book to remind me that not everyone is as lucky and not everything was or has to be in the future as it is today, history is not one way progress, it twists and meanders and all nightmares can come back if we let them.

Despite this serious aspect the book was fun. Fool remains my favorite, though.

Have you read it? What did you think? Have you read other Ruff’s books?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

4 thoughts on “Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff

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  2. I just read this (review not up yet though). It’s my first Ruff and I was really impressed with the scope and writing. I haven’t really read Lovecraft, so I wonder if perhaps I missed some references… I think he did a great job using his platform to shine a light on some serious social problems, but I also wonder if he was the best person to be a spokesperson for this, not having (probably) experienced any of it himself. Just some thoughts!


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