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Reading Classics: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny


ABOUT AUTHOR: Roger Joseph Zelazny (May 13, 1937 – June 14, 1995) was an American poet and writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for The Chronicles of Amber. He won the Nebula Award three times (out of 14 nominations) and the Hugo Award six times (also out of 14 nominations), including two Hugos for novels: the serialized novel ...And Call Me Conrad (1965), subsequently published under the title This Immortal (1966) and then the novel Lord of Light (1967).

OVERVIEW: Zelazny published A Night in the Lonesome October in 1993, near the end of his life. He was more than keen on it. Not surprising, because the novel is a pure reading delight.

Narrated from the point-of-view of Snuff, Jack the Ripper's companion and watchdog, it's divided into 32 chapters, each representing one "night" in October. Every few decades, when the moon is full on Halloween night, the fabric of reality thins. The doors between our world and the realm of the Lovecraftian Great Old Ones can be opened or kept closed. And so begins the Game, a complex occult ritual in which closers and openers decide the fate of the world. Players, including Jack the Ripper, compete against each other, form and shift alliances, and fight their enemies. 

A Night in The Lonesome October is a relatively short and self-contained novel. It strikes a perfect balance between seriousness and humor, horror and comedy. For such a short work, it contains a lot of ideas, but they are executed well. I liked both the story and the unlikely friendships that are tested by supernatural circumstances. 

Snuff's narration is exceptional. First, he's a dog (at least in most ways that count) and dogs are the best. Second, he's sharp as a tack; he performs complex thaumaturgical calculations in his head and connects the dots faster than anyone else. His many tasks include keeping Things trapped in mirrors and wardrobes, accompanying Jack to graveyards and the slums of Victorian London. For a single hour each night, he can also communicate in human speech and share his thoughts on events. I loved his conversations with Jack.

Zelazny's choice to tell the story through the eyes and actions of the Players' animal companions made the story unique. They are just as important to the outcome of the Game as their masters. They gather and share information, search for ingredients for spells, hide corpses, and form their own alliances. 

The story unfolds slowly, not revealing the stakes or the goal of the Game for a while. Everything becomes clear at just the right moment.

I had a lot of fun reading A Night in The Lonesome October and I loved the combination of playfulness and realism. I like dry humor, horror, and animals, so this book was right up my alley. I even found myself rooting for Jack The Ripper. Well worth a read.

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