Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Say, weren't you planning on writing a book, I heard?"
"Huh. Lot of planning, no writing. Don't even have a subject yet, to be truthful.
"I want something big, something that cuts to the heart of this country and these times.
"That talks about things nobody's dared talk about before.
"You know? Not just another slice of life in the city of bachelors."
If you Google providence, the two definitions you are offered are "timely preparation for future eventualities" and "the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power". However, I suspect no amount of preparation, nor indeed the care of God, is likely to provide much protection for what is to come for some of the characters in Alan's return to the Lovecraft mythos in conjunction with artist Jaden Burrows after their grisly but gripping NEONOMICON...
It's initially set in Providence, Rhode Island, which itself has interesting origins, founded in 1636 by a man called Roger Williams, recently exiled from Massachusetts, to provide a refuge for religious minorities. The year is 1919 and the world, emerging from the carnage of WW1, has undoubtedly changed, yet also much has not. There are people still living double lives due to their sexuality, of which of our main character Robert Black is one.
Now, apparently there is an irony here, as I have read that Alan likes the idea of having a gay character in a period Lovecraftian yarn given that H.P. Lovecraft was, supposedly, immensely homophobic.
Whatever the reason it immediately helps creates a state of suspense as he sets about establishing Robert's back story, his reasons for being in Providence, and the ongoing emotional anguish he endures in trying to maintain a covert relationship, all the whilst endeavouring to appear to his co-workers at the Tribune newspaper as just another everyday Joe.
With the journos all desperate to fill half a page in the next edition at short notice with something a trifle titillating, Robert mentions a French book, Sous Le Monde, which apparently sent people mad if they read it. It is the scandal surrounding this which Robert Chambers apparently based THE KING IN YELLOW on.
Being a bookish sort of cove, Robert knows of a professor nearby who wrote an article on Sous Le Monde, and so is dispatched to interview him. Which is where events start to creep into more Lovecraftian, paranormal territory, as the good doctor has an exceptionally powerful air conditioning system in his apartment, a medical requirement due to an, as yet, unspecified illness... I'm pretty sure, however, it won't be a malaise covered in any great detail at medical school, not even at Miskatonic University...
There's much to admire in Alan's writing in this volume. I certainly suspect it's a project he's greatly enjoying. I like the subtle little points of connection which he weaves in, almost as asides, including one a character makes to Tannhäuser which proves particularly apposite indeed. One of the biggest nods to THE KING IN YELLOW comes in the form of the Exit Gardens, which in truth are state-sponsored suicide chambers, dressed up in art deco buildings in beautiful, floral surroundings. Where, once you check in, you are gently put to sleep forever whilst listening to the music of your choice. A posh version of Dignitas, basically. But because you don't need to jump through myriad bureaucratic hoops first, anyone can simply walk in, sit down and rest in peace forevermore.
I'm intrigued to see how Robert picks up the pieces emotionally after an early heartbreak and precisely where his investigations lead him. I found myself engaged completely, connected emotionally with the characters, and left wanting more, my curiosity piqued up to piquant levels! Plus having read several issues ahead of the four in this volume I can assure you the horror factor is going to be ramped up gradually until readers' states of mental wellbeing are in tatters too.
I am happy to report this hardcover collects all the extensive prose material that follows each individual issue. It's ostensibly Robert's journal and it does further and flesh-out the already comprehensive plot substantially. I certainly cannot fault Alan for giving value for money with this series. To my mind, it's the best thing he has written for several years.