“The Fisherman” John Langan – weird fiction masterpiece

After publishing a few articles concerning weird fiction books and stories, I have decided to start reading another highly rated novel from this genre — John Langan’s The Fisherman. Is the Bram Stoker Award’s winner really worth the read? Let’s find out.

"The Fisherman" John Langan - review

I’ve stood on the shore of an ocean whose waves were as black as the ink trailing from the tip of this pen. I’ve watched a woman with skin pale as moonlight open her mouth, and open it, and open it, into a cavern set with rows of serrated teeth that would have been at home in a shark’s jaw.

Before we take a closer look at The Fisherman’s plot, I would like to dedicate a few words to the edition itself. The choice of the cover illustration was a brilliant move by Word Horde publishing house. Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound of the Pacific Coast perfectly fits the story told by John Langan and after you are done reading the book, I strongly recommend taking another look at the cover. Ok, now that the credit has been given, where the credit’s due, we can move on to the novel’s plot.

The Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, Albert Bierstadt, 1870.

The Fisherman — the story of overcoming grief

What’s lost is lost.

One of the main topics discussed in John Langan’s The Fisherman is pain associated with the loss of our closest ones. At the very beginning of the novel, Abe, the narrator, whose wife died of cancer, states that other people’s compassion quickly fades away and sooner or later you are left alone with your pain. Trying to deal with his pain, The Fisherman’s protagonist decides to take up a new hobby, which might distract him from his sorrow. The choice is fishing.

After few years Abe is joined on his trips by his colleague from work Dan — a man who also lost family in a terrible accident. Right now it’s worth to mention that characters created by John Langan are painfully credible which allows the reader to identify and sympathize with them in their suffering.

Some things are so bad that just to have been near them taints you, leaves a spot of badness in your soul like a bare patch in the forest where nothing will grow.

Having read The Fisherman, you might interpret the quote above in two different ways. Firstly it’s really easy to just assume that it concerns the Lovecraftian nightmares hiding behind the veil of reality. That after interacting with something otherworldly disturbing, a person simply cannot keep to its sanity. On the other hand though, if the focus on the pain both main characters had experienced before taking a sneak peek under the world’s mask, we can see that the aforementioned quote, in fact, concerns the pain associated with losing someone we love. In his novel, John Langan decided to confront his protagonists with a dark folk legend, which might give them a glimmer of hope to somehow reconnect with their deceased loved ones. How far will they go to reach this goal? How much are they willing to sacrifice?

The Fisherman — a weird fiction masterpiece

Maybe whoever, or whatever, is running the show isn’t so nice. Maybe he’s evil, or mad, or bored, disinterested. Maybe we’ve got everything completely wrong, everything, and if we could look through the mas, what we’d see would destroy us.

John Langan skillfully, with great attention to detail, creates an atmosphere of terror and uneasiness, while slowly introducing us to the novel’s universe. It’s hard to argue with Laird Barron’s opinion, The Fisherman sometimes brings to mind the stories by M.R. James and Robert E. Howard. Some parts of Langan’s book look like a classic slow burner, where we from time to time get scraps of information, which bring us closer to a dark revelation. After a moment, though, Langan serves us exciting, energetic action, with which even Conan’s creator wouldn’t be ashamed of. For my part, I would also like to add that suggestive descriptions of nature and surrealistic reality created by Langan bring to mind an association with another weird fiction classic — Algernon Blackwood.

Characters in weird fiction stories usually at some point interact with something weird (mostly in a dark way), somehow inappropriate for the reality as we know it. It’s no different when it comes to The Fisherman. Getting to know the dark folk legend of Der Fisher is such an experience for Abe and Dan. Black magic, exorcisms, surrealistic visions resembling our worst nightmares and powerful, hard to comprehend forces, which might easily find their places in Lovecraft’s universe — you will find all those things and more in Langan’s novel.

The story inside a story

One of The Fisherman’s characters mentions, that telling stories is an integral part of fishing. In books, movies or computer games we can often encounter old, experienced fisherman sharing terrifying stories from his time at sea. Obviously, there is a downpour outside and lightning from time to time brightens the sky. In my opinion, The Fisherman is, to some extent, a tribute to this kind of storytelling.

In his novel, Langan included two stories, distant by time, but otherwise strongly related. The first one focuses on the aforementioned characters — Abe and Dan, while the other one is told by the owner of a bar for fishermen. The second one clearly refers to Henry Melville’s Moby Dick (we can even find a quote from this classic at the very beginning of The Fisherman). If you take a closer look at the story I’m sure you will be able to find many more references to other famous books and authors.

Summing up:

The Fisherman is one of the best weird fiction novels I have ever read. The wonderful, fluid narrative, surreal visions, and disturbing atmosphere make reading John Langan’s book pure pleasure. A real treat for the fans of horror literature.

Grade: 9/10

Have you read The Fisherman? What are your thoughts after finishing this novel?

You can buy the book here:

4 thoughts on ““The Fisherman” John Langan – weird fiction masterpiece

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