The Face of Twilight
by Mark Samuels
Review by John Berlyne
PS Publishing Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1904619592
Date: February, 2006 List Price £10.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In the seven years of their existence, PS Publishing have maintained an extraordinary standard of work. Their output has grown exponentially it seems, as has their silverware in the form of the many awards and accolades they've deservedly received. In fact for a small press, there's little about them that can be described as such – they are very much a giant amongst small presses.
Though the books themselves have seen some physical changes (all improvements) over the years – a redesigned logo, experiments with flaps, black and white covers becoming colour, the addition of slipcases – the quality of the works that PS have published has remained stellar without exception. But perhaps the most impressive thing about PS Publishing is that in spite of their success, their critical acclaim and the biggest name genre authors being at their calling, they still remain faithful to the core principles of what a small press should be about – that being to bring new writers/writing to the fore. I am therefore, hugely grateful to PS for bringing to my attention authors who might otherwise have slipped under my radar – and likewise I have been able, I hope, to bring them to your attention. If you've missed any of our reviews, check at the foot of the page for a linked index of some of PS titles that have been covered here on SFRevu.
In this tradition then, I picked up one of PS latest releases, The Face of Twilight, a novella by British writer Mark Samuels. Previously I had not been familiar with Samuels' work, but a quick Googling reveals him to be the author of two acclaimed collections of strange and disturbing stories – The White Hand and Other Weird Tales, published by Tartarus and Black Alters, released in 2003 by Rainfall Books - furthermore his is a peculiar branch of weirdness focusing specifically on London, the city where he was born and still lives.
Like Samuels, Ivan Gilman, the protagonist of The Face of Twilight, is a writer living in London. If the comparison stretches any further, I don't really want to know, for Gilman is not the most likable character I've come across. He is a loner, sour in temperament and outlook. His two published novels have barely kept him in beer money and remain only largely ignored and mostly incomprehensible. At the start of The Face of Twilight – a journey that for the reader begins in shadow and gets progressively darker – Gilman is moving into a squalid little flat he can't really afford in London's Archway district, a part of the outlying city on the rise up towards Hampstead, Highgate and Muswell Hill. Samuels depicts the area in fine detail, focusing on the grubbier and more disconcerting geography – the huge hospital that dominates the road side, the nearby famous Victorian cemetery and the Archway Bridge which spans Archway Road and is a well known magnet for suicides.
During his move, Gilman briefly meets his neighbour, Mr Stymm, on the stairs, - a little bald man with a scarred head, Stymm is monosyllabic and not at all welcoming, a disconcerting neighbour to say the least. Nevertheless, Gilman believes that this new abode will allow him to concentrate on the writing of his third novel, the one that will salvage his career and give him the credit he deserves. This is, as one might expect, far from what transpires.
It's hard to relate to you exactly what does take place in The Face of Twilight – in short it's a story of rapid descent into madness and death. Essentially Gilman becomes aware of a conspiracy at work, one in which the dead are replacing the living. The progressive way Samuels conveys Gilman's slippage into this new reality is as creepy as hell. For a long while it's not at all clear whether all that's occurring is just in Gilman's head. There is such a solid and soiled sense of surreal detachment and decay working inside this narrative that for while it seems the deterioration we’re witnessing can surely be only that of Gilman's mental state. His binge drinking becomes more excessive, his paranoia builds, his dread increases, and as it does so, so does our own. Soon enough though, the scale of things becomes clear. London, and perhaps the whole of our world has become suffused with something nasty, something dead. The experience is akin to time-lapse footage showing a bowl of fruit going bad or the contents of a refrigerator furring over. It's a very unsettling and effective vision that Samuels creates, his city corrupt and overgrown, and one that made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, though that may be largely due to my familiarity with the geography involved. The Face of Twilight is compelling reading, but if you've not been before, it's story that might make you think twice about a visit to our nations great capital!
I must make special mention of James Hannah's superb cover art for this edition – for it captures the strangeness and ghoulish essence of Samuels' story perfectly and very much reflects what you'll find between the covers. It might also keep you awake if you stare at it too long, as it will if you read this novella late at night – especially if you're in north London when you do!
Be sure to check out our review of other PS Publishing titles…
Righteous Blood by Cliff Burns