Now this is going to be a review but I want to be honest and tell you that I didn't physically read this book, I listened to the audiobook.
*cringes and waits for angry protests from real book readers*
I know some people, or at least some people I've met, don't think that listening to a book qualifies as reading a book but if I'm honest with myself, I probably wouldn't have even started "reading" H.P. Lovecraft if I couldn't have it read it to me. Lovecraft's very very wordy which is something that I really can't stand when I read a book but it's easier for me to digest when someone reads it aloud. I recently purchased a collected volume of Lovecraft's stories from Audible about the Cthulhu mythos which I enjoyed, despite the slightly over the top narrator, and yesterday I decided to buy another one. This collected book, clocking in at over 20 hours, contains a ton of Lovecraft's story arcs and one of these is the story of Herbert West.
Before I started writing this, I of course, did some cursory research on the story and was suprised to learn that not only do some people think this is one of Lovecraft's lowest stories but the writer himself didn't like it at all. I personally enjoyed it, with the obvious exception of the blatant racist remarks that crop up throughout the work but that's just something you have to muscle through if you want to read/listen to this author unfortunately.
A basic synopsis of the story is the narrator befriends fellow medical student Herbert West and joins him in his scientific queries. West's ultimate goal in life is to create a serum that would restart the biological functions of the human body thereby reanimating a dead person. Over the years the narrator assists West in his experiments but as time goes on he notices that West is beginning to take more drastic measures to get specimens for his work and the work is getting more gruesome than it was to begin with. There are six sections to this storyline:
"From the Dark"
"Six Shots by Midnight"
"The Scream of the Dead"
"The Horror from the Shadows"
"The Tomb Legions"
The overall story was very gripping. I liked how there is a tangible sense of foreboding thoughout all of the sections of the story due to the fact that you know that West's experiments are bound to end horribly and that fact that it's obvious that West is going to go too far but the question for both scenarios is when. It was also interesting to see the narrator slowly realize what a monster his friend is becoming over the years, going from trying to benefit humanity in a way by trying to elongate people's lives to just performing increasingly gruesome experiments on body parts that don't really have any value outside satisfying an extremely morbid sense of curiosity. This change had to be very considerable considering the narrator himself is obviously disturbed as well since he is participating in West's dark work. While I did enjoy all of the parts to the story, "The Scream of the Dead" spooked me the most.
"Scream" gave me the heebie jeebies because of the dawning realization that West had finally begun killing people for his work. While I suppose that experimenting on dead people is something that does happen in science, killing people just so one can perform said experiments is downright horrifying. I had had a feeling that this was going to happen especially after all of the insistence on West's part that the subjects needed to be "fresher". This descent into further depravity was also clear to me because how the narrator described West's obviously growing obsession and willingness to do anything for his research. At first when the narrator relates that West said the traveling businessman had died of heart attack I thought, "yeah, sure he did" but then I reasoned myself away from the idea because so far throughout the story there had been a lot of random deaths (like the workman, the rival from the college and the back-alley fighter) that helped these two ghouls out so it seemed possible to me that this had just happened again. It was during the administration of the serum that I started to have a bad feeling; the way that the narrator was describing everything, like how pristine the body was, just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Finally when the serum fully kicked in and the reanimated businessman's actions revealed he had been in a struggle when he died I was like "Oh sh**, West is a super psycho now." Another aspect of this scene that gave me the creeps is the idea that people are brought back and the first thing that happens to them is reliving the trauma of their deaths. Up until now we didn't know what really happened to those who were successfully reanimated when they first came back so this realization freaked me out a bit. The fact that the subjects were, in theory, at peace only to be brought back to the land of the living just to be terrorized. It's a small wonder all of West's subjects went insane and wanted revenge.
The final item I want to cover in this review is the actual narrator, since this is an audiobook review after all. At first I didn't know who the narrator of this story in the collected book was because an unfortunate flaw of this multi-voice actor audiobook is the fact that they don't say who is reading when they introduce their story. This particular book has seven different narrators for the different stories. In order to find out who narrated this particular story, I had to surf around on Audible clicking on each narrator in turn, finding a book where they are the sole narrator and comparing their voice to the Herbert West story. Finally, after having my sister and her fresh ears double check for a match, I discovered the narrator is Keith Szarabajka. I enjoyed Mr. Szarabajka's narration for this story very much. His voice is low and gravelly which gives the story a creepy air; not to imply that he himself is creepy, I'm sure he's a lovely man but his voice seems well suited for this genre of audiobooks.
All in all I think that I would recommend this audiobook version of "Herbert West: Animator" if someone were looking for a nicely creepy story to listen to sometime. Hopefully the rest of the stories and the narrators in this collected book are just as entertaining.