My rating: 3 stars
A novella that mixes sci-fi with horror, At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft is at first unnerving and even suspenseful. However, after the discovery made by the characters is revealed (early on), the book becomes far less eerie and more tedious. The narrator repeats many times that he wishes no one ever to return to the place that he has been to in Antarctica, but the author failed to convey the importance of that warning by genuinely unsettling readers.
The narrator was part of an expedition to Antarctica. Being a geologist, he hoped to collect various samples of rock and soil. He wasn’t at all prepared for the discovery that the first group that went to the dubbed ‘Mountains of Madness’ made. Not only did they locate one of the world’s greatest mountains, but they also discovered within them, frozen in a cave, an unknown species that they at first believed to be a mix between the animal and vegetable classes. When the narrator got the news from his colleagues’ discovery, he eagerly decided to join them. But what he witnessed there made him want to prevent people from setting foot in there again.
The place they discovered is painstakingly depicted. The descriptions of the mountains are detailed (albeit too verbose), make it easy to visualise them, and in a way serve as a symbol of the terror that the characters felt.
“The effect was that of a cyclopean city of no architecture known to man or to human imagination, with vast aggregations of night-black masonry embodying monstrous perversions of geometrical laws and attaining the most grotesque extremes of sinister bizarrerie.”
There’s a feeling of urgency since the beginning of the book, but, as the story progresses, it starts focusing on the wrong elements. It has a lot to offer about the ancient civilisation that they discovered (though the way in which they gathered so much information requires a certain suspension of disbelief), while the danger that the characters were in is not successfully conveyed.
My initial curiosity and even awe were replaced by boredom, while still respecting Lovecraft’s great imagination.