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The Door to Lost Pages
Claude Lalumière
ChiZine Press, 200 pages

The Door to Lost Pages
Claude Lalumière
Claude Lalumière founded Nebula in 1989, a Montreal bookshop devoted to "the fantastic, the imaginative, and the weird," which he managed through most of the 1990s. He writes a weekly Fantastic Fiction column for the Montreal Gazette. As an anthologist his books include Telling Stories: New English Fiction from Québec, Open Space: New Canadian Fantastic Fiction, and Witpunk. His fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies in North America, in the UK, and on the Web. His story "The Ethical Treatment of Meat" was shortlisted for the Origins Awards.

Claude Lalumière Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic
SF Site Review: Open Space
SF Site Review: Witpunk
SF Site Review: Witpunk

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Richard A. Lupoff

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It must have taken considerable courage for always perceptive if occasionally acerbic critic Claude Lalumière to enter the fray himself. How does the expression go: "Revenge is a dish best served cold?" Yes, indeed.

But Lalumière's premiere collection of short stories, last year's Objects of Worship, was a worthy debut. The book dealt with any number of themes, most notably the impact of popular imagery -- superheroes, no less! -- and a pantheon of deities, unconventional ones to say the least -- on contemporary life. The quality of the stories was uneven but at best not less than brilliant and in toto, a thoroughly notable and admirable performance.

We now have Lalumière's first novel, The Door to Lost Pages. To this reviewer, the above description of Lalumière's collection applies with equal appropriateness to The Door to Lost Pages. "...uneven but at best not less than brilliant and in toto, a thoroughly notable and admirable performance."

The book starts deceptively -- I think deceptively -- with an image straight out of a Lovecraftian nightmare. Yamesh-Lot seems to be a cross between an evil demon and a malevolent god, summoning up the dead to create an army of terrifying reanimated corpses. Did I mention H.P. Lovecraft? Well, I don't take it back, but maybe I'll amend my comment by suggesting a touch, also, of George Romero.

Lalumière doesn't stay in the supernatural horror mode for long, though. After a few pages he switches gears and we find ourselves in the realistic, almost hyper-realistic world of Aydee, a mildly pubescent girl trapped in an intolerable domestic situation. Her presumed parents -- Lalumière describes them only as "the man" and "the woman" rather than mother and father -- are not positively abusive of her. But they are neglectful and uncaring. Her grandmother is also part of the scene but, rather than rescuing Aydee, she exacerbates the situation. "Fat and mean-mouthed, the woman's mother chain-smoked so carelessly that she often had at least two cigarettes going. Every time they visited, the old crone would spew hatred from the moment they stepped in the door to when they left."

It's a situation all too familiar and Aydee, bless her heart, finds escape in the world of books and the imagination, and a second home in a local bookstore, Lost Pages. The store is staffed by pleasant, sympathetic characters who not only cater to Aydee's literary cravings but offer her friendship as well. Before long the bookstore has become Aydee's home-away-from-home and its staff have become her surrogate family.

It's a situation familiar to many booklovers, I think, and one with which this reviewer can empathize. Perhaps I'm guilty of special pleading, but I could not help but identify with Aydee and cheer her on as she struggled to survive and ultimately to triumph over adversity.

Oh, and there are a lot of dogs in this story and I love dogs. It's hard to stay objective!

The book moves on to other plot threads and even other narrative styles. There are alternate realities. There is a good deal of eroticism in its pages, as well as some puzzling surrealism. What did the nurturing tigress mean? Surely Lalumière did not mean this sequence to be taken literally. Or did he? If so, I don't quite understand how these parts fit together. If not, I must confess that the symbolism is beyond my comprehension.

Oh, and old Yaesh-Lot does make a return appearance. And there's a countervailing benevolent deity, The Green Blue and Brown God. Hmm. Is the author talking about Gaia? About Mother Nature?

Sometimes I have a feeling that Lalumière is still thinking like a short story writer. The novel, as I find myself frequently pointing out to younger writers (and most writers these days are younger than I am), is a different literary form than the short story. It isn't just a very long, short story, an error of which some other, otherwise excellent tale-spinners have been guilty. I could name a few and I'm sure you could as well, but I'll cite the otherwise sainted Damon Knight and leave it there.

The novel isn't just a series of short stories strung together with some sort of concocted device for continuity, either. Though I will readily concede that the latter approach can produce an effective story cycle or something called an episodic novel.

But The Door to Lost Pages strikes me as a serious attempt to write a real novel. Lalumière has been a slow writer to date, and it is clear that he spent a good deal of time and strenuous effort on this book. In literature classes one may learn to analyze the novel on four bases: the characters, plot, setting, and theme. The first three of those are pretty easily identified in most novels, but the fourth can be tricky.

The reader asks himself, What is this book really about? We know whom it's about, we know what happens, and we know where it takes place. But is it really a story about courage? About depravity? About loyalty? About greed? About self-acceptance?

The Door to Lost Pages is about many things, certainly among them the process of growing up and coming to terms with life. What do the bigdomes call that? Oh yes, a bildungsroman. Right. Jeez, I've been carrying that word around for forty or fifty years waiting for a chance to use it. Yep, that's what The Door to Lost Pages is -- among several other things.

It is at best a limited success, but a most worthwhile effort. As a first novel, it will reward any reader willing to explore unconventional structure and experimental technique, and it definitely bodes well for future efforts by this author.

Copyright © 2011 Richard A. Lupoff

Richard A. Lupoff is a prolific and versatile author of fantasy, mystery, and science fiction. His recent books include a novel, The Emerald Cat Killer, a multi-genre collection of stories, Dreams, and the forthcoming novel Rookie Blues. His chief contribution to Lovecraftiana is Marblehead: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft, available at www.ramblehouse.com.


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