By Catherine Gilman
Dallas Public Library
April 30th, 2016
Written by Nick Blinko of the 1980s UK anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni, The Primal Screamer is a semi-autobiographical gothic horror novel about Nathaniel “Nat” Snoxell, a deeply troubled young man living in a small village outside London in the 1980s. Nat has just survived a suicide attempt and is taken to see Dr. Rodney H. Dweller, a psychiatrist with whom Nat develops a very close relationship. The story is told through entries from the psychiatrist’s diary, a technique I found very compelling.
In an attempt to help Nat recover from his severe mental distress, Dr. Dweller treats him using primal therapy, a technique believed to promote the release of repressed trauma. Slowly, Nat begins to venture out of the cocoon that is his peculiar family home, starting a punk band that experiences a fair degree of success. The sense of doom and despair plaguing him remains however, and even seems to spread. The Primal Screamer touches on many themes worth pondering, such as the drive to make art, and the reciprocal effects of the creative process on the artists’ subconscious, the nature of memory and dreams, and the way that life experience and environment can haunt the psyche.
Fans of Rudimentary Peni and the real-life Nick Blinko will be left wondering just how concretely autobiographical Primal Screamer is. There are many obvious parallels between Nat’s world in The Primal Screamer and Blinko’s somewhat mysterious real life, but it is hard to know where they stop. By the end of the book, we are left with many questions, particularly about what becomes of Dr. Dweller, who himself seems to become disturbed, spending more and more time in a state of dreaming or half dreaming, with the dreams becoming increasingly dark and bizarre.
The Primal Screamer is a quick read – I almost wish it were longer. In particular, the compellingly strange ending felt abrupt. Nevertheless, The Primal Screamer is a very potent book, with excellent illustrations. It’s not just for punks; I would recommend this to any fan of horror fiction looking for something fresh and new.
In a similar vein, you might want to read Necronomicon : The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, a collection of 36 stories by H.P. Lovecraft, an important horror writer who served as inspiration for Nick Blinko.
For background reading, check out: The Day the Country Died : A History of Anarcho Punk 1980–1984, a history of the UK anarcho-punk movement of the 1980s during which Primal Screamer takes place.