White and Other Tales of Ruin, by Tim Lebbon
Night Shade Books, 2003
$15.00 trade paperback
$27.00 trade hardcover


I am a big admirer of the novella form; it is, to my mind, the ideal length for fiction, genre be damned. Unfortunately, many writers who have restricted themselves to either novel- or short story-length work find the form daunting as hell -- witness Leisure Books' release of Four Dark Nights last year: four writers, four novellas. All of the writers in that collection have proven themselves to be excellent novelists and short story writers; but for two, the novella form defeated them; in one case almost embarrassingly so.

I subject you to the above so you'll understand that, as one who prefers the novella (as both a writer and a reader), I am particularly merciless as a reader when it comes to this form. The novella ain't for wimps; it is by far the most difficult of all forms to work with.

Which is why Tim Lebbon's White and Other Tales Of Ruin is a must-read for those of you who share my love of this particular form.

Lebbon is a master of the novella, as this sterling collection proves six times over. Two of the novellas here--"Hell" and "Mannequin Man and the Plastic Bitch"--are original to the collection, which also includes the British Fantasy Award-winning "White".

While I don't mean to diminish the value of the other pieces in White--every story in here is superb--I would draw your attention to "Hell", a story that remains for me one of the best horror novellas I've read in years; the book is worth its price for this story alone, wherein the narrator--a man whose daughter has run away to join a religious cult--must journey (by train) to Hell itself in order to find her.

With a brief nod to Clive Barker during the outset, Lebbon quickly turns this journey into a protracted tour through every nightmare image imaginable-there are scenes seemingly lifted from Fuseli paintings, and more Bosch-ian encounters than most writers deal with in the course of several novels, let alone a single story.

That Lebbon knows how to use these horrific images to symbolize his narrator's internal struggle is just one of the astounding achievements of this piece; that he can shotgun these images at you non-stop for nearly 100 pages and never once repeat himself is a testament to his breathtaking (and gloriously disturbing) imagination.

As a final triumph, the closing passages of "Hell" are among the most genuinely poignant and moving he's ever written.

It just doesn't get any better than this, folks.

At least until the next Lebbon collection ....