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The Three Impostors

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  745 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Three friends in a large old dilapidated house are laughing. They seem as giddy as an acting troupe at closing night. But their laughter is callous, cruel; you might say, evil. One of them, a young woman described as piquant rather than beautiful with eyes of a shining hazel, carries a neatly wrapped parcel. She says it is for the doctor's museum. It is dripping. Do you wa ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published August 1st 2005 by Aegypan (first published 1895)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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Merl Fluin
Machen's masterpiece, surely.

All of the usual Machen ingredients are there: the eerie little stories, the twists and turns, the velvet-dark imagination combined with a deceptive lightness of style. And of course the intensely vivid descriptions of London, from street-crossings on The Strand to mysterious suburbs at midnight to the whine of gas jets in Clerkenwell.

But what marks out this extraordinary book as even more extraordinary than the others I have read is its structure. At first it seem
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S̶e̶a̶n̶
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Starting from the very heart of London, they had made their way westward through the stony avenues, and were now just emerging from the red lines of an extreme suburb, and presently the half-finished road ended, a quiet lane began, and they were beneath the shade of elm-trees. The yellow autumn sunlight that had lit up the bare distance of the suburban street now filtered down through the boughs of the trees and shone on the glowing carpet of fallen leaves, and the pools of rain glittered and
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Yórgos St.
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Arthur Machen is the master of slow building dread and eerie atmosphere. I think that the following passage is a great example of the previous statement.

"I knew, I thought, if I knew what there were to dread, I could guard against it; but here, in this lonely house, shut in on all sides by the olden woods and the vaulted hills, terror seems to spring inconsequent from every covert, and the flesh is aghast at the half-heard murmurs of horrible things. All in vain I strove to summon scepticism to
...more
Alexis
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a strange one, and whilst very short it took me a while to get through because the writing was quite small and the language was quite convoluted at times.

The story follows two gentlemen in London, who travel around and meet other people who tell them various different stories which all become intertwined with the main plot. I say "main plot", but really there isn't much of one to speak of, and this could almost be a collection of short stories.

I did mildly enjoy most of the little storie
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Jim
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy-horror
Every October, just before Halloween, I scan my shelves for some good fantasy/horror -- usually something from Dover Publications, who seem to have a lock on the field. This year, I read Three Impostors by the Welsh writer Arthur Machen. Although I finished the book just minutes ago, my mind is still reeling with what must be one of the most subtle and insidiously terrifying works of the genre I have ever read.

Picture to yourself a mysterious prologue, in which we are introduced to two men and a
...more
José Cruz Parker
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
"This history, if it chance to fall into good hands, may, perhaps, be of service in warning young men of the dangers and pitfalls that most surely must accompany any deviation from the ways of rectitude.

Arthur Machen was admired by both Jorge Luis Borges and H. P. Lovecraft. In one of his letters to Frank Belknap Long, the latter said that "Machen is a titan, perhaps the greatest living author, and I must read everything of his". On the other hand, Aleister Crowley was also a fan of Machen and b
...more
Charn Singh
Jul 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: horror
This is my first Machen's book, and its been kind of a unique read. The opening passages setup up for a weird ride building up on composition of stories within stories. Main protagonist, certain Mr Dyson, happens to come across multiple characters, all somehow related to elusive "bespectacled man". Throughout, the narrative changed the gears often, shifting from leisurely regard to a sudden dash in space of few pages.

The second level tales can easily be stand alone short stories. These have ser
...more
Marina
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was bit boring and slow-paced, but it is excellent novel, full of imagination and creativity.
Jean-marcel
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was great, and enjoyed it a lot more than the more well known Great God Pan. This isn't really a novel but a group of interconnected shorts. The ways in which they are connected are strange and not always apparent, but there is a subtle thread weaving through everything that becomes somewhat clear by the gruesome end of the book. The tone of the episodes varies from the somewhat whimsical to the quick and punchily horrid to the deep and mysterious.

"The Novel of the Black Seal" wa
...more
Jim Smith
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A manic, purposely convoluted and bizarre narrative nevertheless operates on a clear internal logic of mood and comes together for an oddly disquieting ending. Contains noted classics of supernatural horror literature Novel of the Black Seal and Novel of the White Powder, and while the rest of the book isn't quite as perfect, the work as a whole succeeds in painting London as a mysterious set of convolutions in which anything could happen.

Love it. Classic Machen.
Jenny
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The Three Impostors reminds me of a nineteenth century Pulp Fiction with its collection of little narratives with their intriguing titles - The Gold Tiberius, The Novel of the White Powder and so on. It is a tale of coincidence, perhaps supernaturally arranged, that embroils itself around two young friends Dyson, the cynical writer, and Phillips, the fanciful scientist, after they find a coin of legendary value. For fans of the Victorian Gothic, Machen is essential and The Three Impostors is a g ...more
Jonas Wilmann
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had previously read The often anthologized 'The novel of the white powder' and 'The novel of the black seal' and was looking forward to experiencing this collection of short stories in its entirety.

The book consist of several short horror stories (woven into a frame story) told to Phillips and Byron, the one a determined rationalist and the other somewhat a dreamer. Thematically the stories revolve around the decay of moral and the arts, somehow connected to a secret society possibly worshipp
...more
Arka Chakraborty
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Machen's good as usual..but the only two stories which caught my attention were "The Novel Of The Black Seal" and "The White Powder"...rest of them are okay-ish. "The White Powder" IMO could be a source from where J.K. Rowling took the idea of Horcruxes..not sure though.
Scott
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit slow due to age and the writing style but a good novel full of suspense and horror. Lovecraft, Poe and King can be seen throughout. Definitely recommended for genre lovers.
Paul Cowdell
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Second reading, and this is even nastier and insinuating than before.
D.D. Price
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katherine
I’m a lover of Victorian fiction and a newcomer to the horror and weird fiction genre and found this book to be an absolute delight.

These fantastic tales are firmly placed in the urbane and modern life of Victorian London, in particular the regularity of the new suburbia, and the scepticism of the scientific man, which sharpens the contrast to the tales of the uncanny, providing a troubling hint of darker currents beneath daily life and a darker nature constrained within each of us.

There is a st
...more
Lance Greenfield
I did enjoy this story, the way that it was told, and the way that all of the threads were brought together in an horrific climax.

The style of writing reminded me of that of Arthur Conan Doyle, which should not surprise me, as he and Arthur Machen were contemporaries. The language is very descriptive and somewhat flowery. Occasionally, that gets a bit boring, but mostly it is, for me, beautiful prose.

There appear to be three main characters, but they converge on a fourth. There is much mystery a
...more
Chumbert Squurls
Three strange people are introduced an artist, a slob, and a woman. Each is haunted by a dark past and desperately searching for a deceptively harmless young man in spectacles. This is the common thread in a series of short stories told to two scholars by strangers in turn-of-the-century London. The two pretentious scholars are ensnared in what at first seems to be a series of unlikely coincidences that turns out to be an intricate conspiracy of deception where lies are traded like currency and ...more
Bill Wallace
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Continuing my revisit to Machen's work, one of the best guides both to time-haunted London and to eldritch England. This book is extremely readable and entertaining, playful in its structure, and even darkly comical in places. Its chief shortcoming, a minor one, is that "The Novel of the Black Seal" and "The Novel of the White Powder" chapters are vastly better than the surrounding material. There's a reason they are often collected apart from the framing tale. The White Powder especially is one ...more
Derek
While the Chaosium version (not an edition) is superior, with a scholarly essay by J. T. Joshi, there's a great deal of charm in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy. The essay by Lin Carter, "Bagdad-on-the-Thames" is singularly remarkable because it is the first essay by Carter that I've read where he plays it straight and reveals a literary and well-read side to his character. Unfortunately it also comes off as less than rigorous, because he makes some statements leading me to think that he didn't und ...more
Rich
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In many ways, this reads more like a fix-up of several short stories, than an actual novel. But those stories are brilliantly unsettling horror. Machen's influence on H.P> Lovecraft is very evident - both portray a world in which there are arbitrary and uncaring forces that exist just outside of our quotidian days. These are generally best avoided, if you want to live, but some people insist on being curious. ...more
Og Maciel
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: digital
My first time reading Arthur Machen and I was impressed with how many different stories were spun in the course of this book! By the time I finished it I had to go back to the prologue just to remember who was who :) Great story with a little bit of different genres intermingled! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Liv
Wonderfully eerie and unsettling. You get the sense that as one tries to solve human centred mysteries, nature itself remains a greater, beautiful mystery.
The Usual
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a devious book this is. I wouldn't call it horror as such, because there's too much humour in it; but it's certainly disconcerting. Deeply disconcerting. It reminds so very strongly of The Club of Queer Trades that I suspect Chesterton pinched some of the structure and tone. I have a feeling Croup and Vandemar have ancestors here as well.

Technically I suppose The Three Imposters is a set of short stories in a framing narrative - a set of not quite freestanding short stories, in fact, in a
...more
Amit
May 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
It is really difficult to read Arthur Machen sometimes if you what it means. This one I have read cost a while to finish. Nonetheless to say didn't enjoy it. Dysen meet someone in the London and explore the city to hear more stories from them. Though there's some eerie incident to read but the description ruin it all. Maybe this was not just my story to read, but despite the fact his work thoroughly praised by H. P Lovercraft and Stephen King sometimes it really difficult to dig in to his work. ...more
Will
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"He had not been gone a minute when it suddenly flashed into Dyson's mind that he knew the man; it was undoubtedly the young man with spectacles for whom so many ingenious persons were searching; the spectacles indeed were missing, but the pale face, the dark whiskers, and the timid glances were enough to identify him. Dyson saw at once that by a succession of hazards he had unawares hit upon the scent of some desperate conspiracy, wavering as the track of a loathsome snake in and out of the hig ...more
Ryan McCarthy
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Like much of his fine work, The Three Impostors is permeated by Arthur Machen's strident anti-materialism and his firm belief in a spiritual world interpenetrating the visible world. As one character writes, ""The whole universe, my friend, is a tremendous sacrament; a mystic, ineffable force and energy, veiled by an outward form of matter; and man, and the sun and the other stars, and the flower of the grass, and the crystal in the test-tube, are each and every one as spiritual, as material, an ...more
Isen
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book consists of three stories by Arthur Machen. The Three Impostors, The Great Return, and The Shining Pyramid.

The Three Impostors consists of a frame narrative following two "authors" as they romp around London and bump into mysterious personages who tell them self contained, creepy stories, united by the common theme of a man in spectacles. The integration of these shorter pieces into the larger story is forced and unconvincing, but taken individually the stories are exquisite. The langua
...more
Olavo Soares
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant book. It has a remarkable formal structure, made of interwoven yet independent stories. There are many key elements in the text, all masterfully developed: beautiful (and somewhat magic) depictions of old London, the conflict between science and the occult, the human condition leading to degeneration and death (hence the decadentist tone throughout the book), among others.

"The Novel of the Black Seal" and "The Novel of the White Powder" are masterpieces.

Characters (Dyson, Ph
...more
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Arthur Machen was a leading Welsh author of the 1890s. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. His long story The Great God Pan made him famous and controversial in his lifetime, but The Hill of Dreams is generally considered his masterpiece. He also is well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.

At the age of eleven, Machen
...more

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