Review: A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

When I got wind of Shaun Hamill’s, ‘A Cosmology of Monsters’, I said it looked, “so far up my street, I might already be living there.” Well, I’ve walked through his haunted house and out again and—while I genuinely loved the experience—I’m glad I don’t really live there, because it’s really fucking scary.

This is a brilliant novel, weird and languid and utterly in love with its subject. This love is tangible, in the form of narrator Noah, whose coming-of-age story begins many years before he is born and goes on to explore his haunted and damaged family, bedevilled by monsters and struggling to cling to each other in their mounting madness. It’s also a book about loving horror; about the impacts—positive and negative—of the likes of Lovecraft, and Bradbury, and the B-movie staples that inform our modern ideas of the genre.

Noah begins with the meeting of his parents, Harry and Margaret, and then maps the difficult flowering of his family, first his sisters and then himself, through the years, relishing the telling. His father is a working class collector of books and comics, a fan of the lurid scares of Lovecraft. His mother is cut from the country club set but, having fallen on hard times, she’s working through college in a bookshop and hoping for the advantageous marriage her mother is coaching to towards. Their match is uncanny, in every meaning of the word. They marry, have children, struggle to make ends meet. They are also perpetually in the shadow of unseen evils, monsters that are peculiarly their own. In response, the Turners build a haunted house business, The Wandering Dark, in which they all play a part. To go further would put a pin to the plot, but the extraordinary heart of this book is its affection for these people and it’s faithfulness to telling the whole of their story, so while genre fans might show up for the cosmic threat and the fleshy fantasies, they’ll stay glued for the reality of the Turners.

It’s a slow book, definitely, and lengthy, and there are frequent, nightmarish derailments of the narration which make it a book you need to work for, but it’s so worth it. It’s reminiscent of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 in its love of vista and scope, and if I loved that book for honouring the whole of one character’s lifetime, I fell completely for this one for giving the same terrifying attention to everyone here.

I can’t recommend this enough, it’s thrilling, engrossing and unnerving. Brilliant.

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