LANDSCAPE OF DEMONS: AND THE BOOK OF SARA
Gabriel Devlin Kessler
Millenium Press / 233 pages / (September 1997)
Word is, Landscape of Demons is causing a great deal of controversy. I can see why. I can also see why every person who can withstand it needs the experience of reading Kessler’s disturbing masterpiece.
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Many years ago, I knew of a man who claimed to have read Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun in one sitting, rushed to the bathroom, vomited, then sat down to read it again. If you’ve read the anti-war novel, you know exactly what I mean. And, you’ll understand when I say Landscape of Demons is the only book I’ve read since Trumbo’s that affected me as strongly. I bypassed the vomiting portion, but felt the urge at times.
There is no gore in Landscape of Demons. There are no brains splattered, no hearts ripped beating from chests, no loathsome monsters — not in a literal sense. The violence and horror in this startling novel are of the more personal, less visible kind. Given the choice of living out Steve Goldblatt’s life, though, I would opt for a quick death, no matter what the method. Anything to escape the appalling suffering he internalises, storing it up for later.
An alternate title could have been “Circle of Sociopathy,” or, perhaps, the “Genuine Making of a Serial Killer,” although it never devolves into such an easy and obvious end. Landscape of Demons fits admirably, though, for the entire story takes place and is seen through the warped filter of Goldblatt’s brain. The damage is done before the reader arrives; an irreversible blend of mental illness and torture chamber environment that could only produce the less-than-human monstrosity the narrator becomes. The outcome is as inescapable as it is horrifying.
It is a demanding read — draining in its subject matter, nightmarish in its implications — but astonishing in its brilliance. The fact that this is Kessler’s first novel is astonishing. His control over the disjointed and disturbed flow in the lead character’s mind never lapses. There are times when it is difficult to judge whether an event is actually occurring: as difficult for Goldblatt as the reader. The ability to convey the plot and the action through such a distorted lens is both rare and amazing. Many established authors would be at a loss to crawl so deeply into the mind of madness and return with a coherent story.
Landscape of Demons is horror of the most terrifying sort. This is the atrocity that surrounds us at all times, hidden behind cheerful kitchen curtains and appearances at the PTA. It is the torture of the trapped. It is watching the training of the next shift of torturers. And being utterly unable to intercede to stop the nightmare.