First published back in February of 1988 British horror author Ramsey Campbell’s psychological horror novel ‘The Influence’ delved into the world of the human spirit and the realisation of a powerful afterlife.
When Queenie - the Faraday family’s ancient and oppressive matriarch - is finally laid to rest, no one could have foreseen the horrifying extent of the woman’s evil influence, even in death. Having gathered her immediate family around her for her final days, Queenie in seen paying her seven-year-old great-niece Rowan, much more attention than everyone else. But her death is thankfully soon to follow, with the spiteful Victorian-esque great-aunt finally departing the world, leaving behind a somewhat relieved family in her wake. But there’s still that niggling thought lingering in their minds. The thought that she still held an authority over them all. After all, the unanimously disliked woman had sworn that she would never really die.
However, after inheriting the old woman’s house, Alison and her husband Derek, together with their daughter Rowan begin to settle into their new home. But as the Faraday family try to get comfortable in their new surroundings, they begin to notice subtle changes in young Rowan Faraday. The girl is slowly beginning to take on sharp characteristics of her great-aunt – Queenie. Understandably Alison is starting to become concerned about her daughter. Especially with the recent revelation of a mysterious new friend named Vicky on the scene. A friend who no one bar Alison’s deeply-troubled sister Hermione seems to have actually seen.
And now Hermione herself is becoming increasingly distraught about the changes in Rowan. After allowing their aged aunt Queenie to be buried wearing a locket containing a lock of Rowan’s hair, Hermione is gradually becoming convinced that the manipulative old hag has somehow managed to keep hold of her powerful influence over Rowan. In life she had been controlling, and now in death it seems her powers have continued.
Meanwhile, Rowan is becoming a lot closer to her strangely old-fashioned new friend Vicky. But then the deaths start happening. First the electrician, who stole a particularly prized contract from underneath Derek Faraday’s nose, dies in a strange and out of character accident on the job. Next Alison’s cousin lance finds himself at the wrong end of fate whilst on his way to meet up with Rowan.
There appears to be something cursed hanging over the Faraday family. And Hermione is now convinced that it’s Queenie’s unstoppable influence. Soon enough she comes to the conclusion that the locket is surely the key to the old woman’s power. And so there’s only one way to break the dead woman’s evil influence over young Rowan and her family. She must remove the locket from the grave. She must bring her power to an end.
But Hermione’s desperate plans aren’t going unnoticed. Queenie’s influence is much stronger than she could ever have anticipated. Her power over Rowan more dominating, guiding the young girl to do her will. Those who oppose her will feel the full wrath of the strong-minded woman from beyond the grave. And those that come up against her will undoubtedly fall...
Campbell sets the situation of the book down very early on, with the introduction of the very close-knit Faraday family, then slowly and methodically building upon the basic underlying tension as the plot unfolds. The pace and immediacy of the tale is somewhat subdued in these early pages, with a more carefully plodding (and dare I say hesitant) approach adopted. To be fair, this is pretty atypical for an atmospherically driven supernatural romp – which this most certainly is.
However, once Campbell has found his feet with the tale, the wheels start moving and the beginning of some vaguely ‘The Omen’ (1976) like fun starts unfolding. This is somewhat short lived, and just as the tale is beginning to pick up something of a pace, Campbell (very deliberately) flips the storyline on itself, pushing it onto an almost mind-bendingly surreal new set of tracks.
The revolving narrative and perspective that jumps through the handful of characters, chapter-by-chapter, allows for a truly unique and inspiring situation to unfold. Campbell continues shifting back and forth in time between the characters, allowing for a situation to happen with one character, and then the next chapter would shift backwards and simply replay the events of the previous chapter through the eyes of someone else. The end result is intriguing at first, but soon slips towards the tedious and then on to just plain frustrating with the dawdling progression of the tale.
Campbell’s characterisation of the Faraday family is however superb; adding strong voices and personalities to the characters, with minor backstories and a fistful of skeletons hidden away in their respective closets. Rowan in particular, due to her prevailing role, is detailed as an easily likeable character, who effortlessly pulls upon the readers’ emotions, as she discovers the true (and hellishly predicable) secret to her new friend Vicky.
The novel does build rather convincingly towards a solid finale that works well and brings the novel to a fitting and satisfying end. With all that said and done, the overriding slow pace to the main body of the tale, along with its fragmented and slightly haphazard approach to its progression, is ultimately the novel’s downfall. It’s not a bad tale, but it’s hardly a gripping story that the reader can become utterly engrossed within.
There’s atmosphere and there’s a general feeling of menace to the tale. It’s certainly got a good platform for a creepy and oppressive supernatural horror story. Unfortunately, Campbell spends just too much time dillydallying around with the characters’ lives and not enough time pushing forwards with the actual ‘horror’ elements to the story.
As I stated previously, it’s not a bad novel, just certainly not the best that the man has done (although I believe some people do strongly disagree with me on this).
The book was originally meant to be fully illustrated with J.K. Potter’s dark and twisted use of photography creating a number of illustrations. Back in 1987, Potter even came to England to live with the Campbell’s and shoot photos of Ramsey’s then ten-year-old daughter. The photos were shot in all the locations where the novel takes place, and are available in Potter's photographic retrospective entitled ‘Horripilations’ (1995).
The novel runs for a total of 234 pages.
© DLS Reviews