ALGERNON BLACKWOOD: An Extraordinary Life

Mike Ashley, Author, Michael Ashley, Author . Carroll & Graf $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0928-1

Blackwood (1869–1951) remains among the top tier of writers of supernatural fiction, best known now for such hallmark chillers as The Willows and The Wendigo. He also penned some lamentably forgotten fantasy novels, so a Blackwood revival is overdue. British editor and scholar Ashley, known for his many anthologies in the Mammoth series, has been researching him heroically for decades to assemble this first book-length account of an elusive but fascinating life. But this may not be the book to return Blackwood to the front burner. Ashley's jam-packed biography seems almost as fascinated by its subject's skiing vacation schedules as by the man himself. The introduction is most inviting, tantalizing readers with references to Blackwood's experiences as a British spy, nature mystic, footloose adventurer, popular broadcast personality and friend to the rich, the famous and the eccentric. But the subsequent exposition rarely brings these wonderments to life or reveals what makes his fiction so powerful. Of his dreamy, dissolute youth, when he underwent agonies and ecstasies worthy of a Hermann Hesse novel, complete with aristocratic, hyperreligious parents, Blackwood would much later write a poignant memoir, Episodes Before Thirty, with the sort of compelling narrative in too-short-supply in Ashley's account. By his 30s, Blackwood had emerged as an author of tension-filled short stories and spiritually imaginative novels, a man whose immense personal charm and bracing raconteurship won friends, hospitality and acclaim wherever he went, despite deep insecurities. Ashley has much to tell but doesn't connect enough dots to captivate the reader. The book fails to integrate the details into a sustained thematic focus. This groundbreaking study is a treasure trove for classic horror fans, but it will weary most others. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 369 pages - 978-0-313-25158-0
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