The House on the Borderland

by William Hope Hodgson

Rating: ★★★★

A slim novel that punches far above its weight in terms of both storytelling quality and influence. Two men on a fishing trip discover a strange manuscript in ruins by the side of a peculiar chasm. Inside, they find preserved the partial story of a recluse living in an odd ancient house, and the strange events he experienced.

I would describe the style as a point where H. G. Wells meets H. P. Lovecraft. -- quite likely a literal truth, as Lovecraft cites the book as an influential classic, and it seems impossible that Hodgson would write this novel and not have read The Time Machine. This is a novel about perils both as small as creatures in the garden and as cosmically huge as the death of the sun, both primordially supernatural and heartlessly secular. The plot elements might be somewhat clumsily intertwined, but the language is a beautiful example of the early 20th century's clinical lyricism, somehow both personal and professional in tone.

Like a lot of early science-fiction and much horror, it's not really clear that the author knew what they were doing, exactly. This seems like a story that is in some ways three dreams bound together by art rather than a planned direction with a clear moral or demonstration. There is no tidy resolution about what the strange creatures are, or the cosmology that kills a man in such a strange and scattershot manner. But that's okay. It's a short experiment, an impressive piece from which we can extract a few beautiful and poignant scenes.