Dan Simmons’ novel was a great experience for me, mostly because I didn’t expect much from the book. I hadn’t read the critiques or cared much for the awards it won; all I cared about was the pull quote on the cover about it being the scariest book ever written. And, if you are someone like me, who must buy or rent any book or movie that had such a quote on the cover only to inevitably be disappointed later…well, you stop getting your hopes up.
Luckily for me, Song of Kali is scary. The story follows an American poet who travels to Calcutta with his wife and baby to secure a poem by a poet who was believed to be dead. From there, the story enters some pretty dark territory, made easier by Simmons’ gift of making Calcutta a character in itself. If I have any reservations about traveling to Calcutta, it’s all because of this book. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if tourism there has dropped significantly since the publication of this book.
Anyway, there are two major scenes in the book to look out for. The first involves the protagonist being put into a large dark room to discover that he isn’t alone, that goes something like this:
Something scraped and scrabbled beyond the fading light. There was movement to my left, and then I had to drop the burning paper and the darkness returned.
I struck another match. Its puny glow barely illuminated me. I pulled the spiral notebook from my safari shirt pocket, tore pages out with my teeth, and switched hands. The match died. Something made a sound not ten feet from me in the dark.
Another match. I spat out the crinkled pages, kneeled, and set the flame to them before the blue glow died. Light flared up from the tiny pyre.
The thing froze in mid-movement. It crouched on six limbs like some huge and hairless spider, but fingers groped and twitched at the end of some of its limbs. The neck arched, jutting the gaunt face toward me. Breasts hung down like eggs from an insect’s belly.
And the second scene is in an airport, a scene that is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying.
To say anything more would be a disservice to the story. This book is the real deal.