One Who Was with Me

Conrad Williams. Earthling, $45 (278p) ISBN 978-0-9962118-8-8
Williams’s uneven horror novel kicks off when 40-year-old Joe Weaver, a struggling writer, brings his wife, Claire, and daughter, Grace, to the French village of Tuzie to escape memories of a brutal home invasion at their London flat. Williams (I Will Surround You) expertly evokes the eerie quality of the decaying farmhouse that provides the backdrop for the family’s slow dissolution. But horror requires more than milieu, and Joe is too flimsy a construction to bear the terrors thrust upon him. While Claire occupies herself with restoration projects, Joe stumbles across a rusting Nazi bayonet and is newly inspired to write. Marital spats and manuscript excerpts ensue, as the house crumbles around them and Grace befriends a ghost. Though the tale gestures at historical horrors, it’s far more concerned with Joe’s sex life, or lack thereof. He thinks of little but the sex he’s not having—resenting his wife for what he sees as her denying and emasculating him—and relentlessly eroticizes every woman in his vicinity. Though Joe’s sex drive is played for grotesquerie, it devolves into incoherent tedium as the story drags on. There’s no denying Williams’s powers of description, but readers will be disappointed that the story doesn’t live up to its delicious atmosphere. Agent: James Wills, Watson, Little (U.K.) (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/29/2020
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror
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