I have just received my purchased copy of
WRITTEN IN DARKNESS
A story collection by Mark Samuels
Introduction by Reggie Oliver
Egaeus Press MMXIV
My previous reviews of work by this author HERE
I shall conduct my real-time review of this book in the comment stream below as and when I happen to read it…
A Call to Greatness
“One cannot convince typhoid that it is mistaken in its actions.”
Or ebola, bird flu, isis, economic implosion…?
As in his other books, this starts with those Samuels objective correlatives of cigarette and ashtrays in a cafe scenario; this is a textual primary source 1921 oriental against occident fight against Bolshevism, a story within a story, giving both told and telling credence, despite or, even, because of the brilliant deadpan, absurd ending. I don’t know why, but I thought of Ligotti’s Grossvogel from The Shadow, The Darkness and Blackwood’s ‘The Russian’ from The Centaur. The character of this Russian is a force against the crass city-ridden societies of European Union and fast information – and I am inspired by the thought of the ascetic spirituality with which the author has ostensibly invested this story. A story by one of those “Hidden Masters of the World”?
The Other Tenant
“His huge overcoat was as huge as a bear’s hide.”
Another Russian Russian, if he is indeed Russian, even as this book’s previous Russian was perhaps not Russian at all but, say, Chinese or an esoteric Buddhist? This ‘Russian’ is an essentially British man, terminally ill, gauche, seedily apartmented with thin walls between each apartment, creating his own inversion of a saintly hermitage of spirit, someone on the other side of the emotional Berlin Wall to the previous ‘Russian’. And if I told you who the other tenant turns out to be that would spoil this story for you, and the narrated act of taking things into his own hands is genuinely suspenseful and eventually horrific. Another recurrent Samuels objective correlative, from my previous inexpert observation of his work, is one of analogue static interference on old TV sets. And here it is a form of crude neighbourly ear-worms, then stigmata. A self crucified upon self. But that is only inference on my part. Or interference? Then the recurrent tenant comes in to replace the previous tenant, striving to create truth from fiction, if not sustenance. A story that somehow makes me keep thinking about it, as you can tell from this particular rambling review entry. So, there, I’ll leave it till tomorrow evening, at the earliest.
Just realised that exactly six years ago to this very day (in my first ever real-time review that happened to be of Mark Samuels’ GLYPHOTECH collection) I was reviewing a story in it here: http://shocklinesforum.yuku.com/reply/80657/Mark-Samuels-a-modern-master-of-urban-weirdness#reply-80657 (this discussion thread was transcribed into the complete review on my blog at that time).
An Hourglass of the Soul
“He lent towards the small window at his side and watched the snow covered wastes of Russia passing below.”
Not sure yet what to make of this quirky ‘mad scientist’ tale, but it seems highly apt that the Samuels protagonist now travels to Mongolia from England, across Russia, whereby the self-crucified-on-self trope is by needles (like those earlier nails) into a human organ within a bowl of blood that is central to the digital ‘cloud’?
A sort of Ligottian Corporate horror channelled through this DF Lewis gestalt real-time review toward a fast depleting Absurdist vision that becomes the fleeting central white dot on an old-fashioned TV screen?
“…tonnes of sand, in endless grains,…”
The Ruins of Reality
“…tree branches, nailed together to form an inverted crucifix, at which conjunction there had been hammered into place a piss-coloured parchment…”
A powerful threnody on the Corporate Horror of the previous story, oversized computer terminals, ‘cosmic blight’, ‘dead dreamers’, visionary towers containing the negative symbiosis of those providing work for ostensible positive reasons and of the negative results of such work (Cf Orwell, Huxley, Kafka…), and something that has fascinated me for most of my life, something I have portrayed in my own mind and in my own work as encroaching ‘dream sickness’…and I hope, but do not really expect, that the ‘N Factory’ in this story intends its N to represent the word Nemonymous…
“He ran his fingers across the bottom of the coats hung up in the hallway, enjoying the feel of his mother’s faux-fur.”
Saving this from much of the danger of being just a run-of-the-mill weird tale of spiritual miscegenation around the environs of the Highgate Cemetery, there is a striking vision of the creatures living beneath the tombs and a reprise of Amelia (the title of the published forerunner of ‘The White Hands’) who inherits the Absurdistly named Gryme House: strangely thus couched in the singular despite the family name being (Ezekiel) Grymes. This house itself helps widen the ‘psychological gap’ between her studiously unsuccessful writer of a husband and their son Alistair… This story starts with the husband’s point of view and ends with that of Alistair, as if the latter gradually subsumes the former by the intrinsic machinations of an autonomous text.
My World Has No Memories
“…flowers rising from a watery abyss, whose filaments oozed black ink…”
…to write not in darkness but upon the surface of the sea, evoking the ultimate ‘at sea’ amnesia about the past and about the self, shipwrecked, if not crucified, upon that unknown self, with vague echoes of Reggie Oliver’s mind-draining flowers of the sea…but I wonder if Oliver’s own reference in this book’s introduction to a ‘frightful sea-change’ is not the whole of the story. I get the sense from this Samuels story, that there is something emerging, more than just frightfulness per se but a renewed budding of a Samuels creativity to awaken an old form of frightfulness to fight another newer tawdrier worldly frightfulness that the book’s other stories so far have adumbrated and now brought to this otherwise plainly traditional Poesque tale, shaping up to each other, face to face, self to self.
“…vague images were on the verge of being manifested via the fuzzy interference,…”
This is a raging culmination – in which the words admirably revel in traditional tropes of thrilling weird and bouts of missing time and suspenseful journeys in the office lift – whereby there reach apotheosis the Samuels screen static and cigarette smoking (page 101) tropes that I identified at the outset of this review (even to the extent, now, of blood being filled with ‘bubbles of black and white static’ and the smoke revealing its own burning) and these two tropes thread through a ‘Corporate Horror’ high rise brutalist office building on its last legs … while its small residue of employees, amid a confining blizzard outside, work on the transfer of the firm’s work elsewhere….
The ending, for me, bolsters the ‘renewed budding’ – as a Samuels symbiotically visionary irony – that I observed about the previous story.
The above story is later referenced here in my review of ‘In Limbo’: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/years-best-weird-fiction-volume-one/#comment-3537
My Heretical Existence
“…utilising limbs that mimicked those of man but which had not been designed for movement at all.”
A shorter, more densely textured and, for me, more satisfying story where it is as if self now faces self as a stiff marionette or mannequin fighting to control the other, while nursed by the idealised loved one. Two worlds, fiction and worldly reality, not only overlapping but fighting to shake off the other, testing one’s limbs, like a baby growing into toddlerhood, perhaps. Which the heresy, which the faith?
Above is based on my rereading of this story today but below is my previous review of it over two years ago (subsequently checked out, then copied and pasted from here):
My Heretical Existence – Mark Samuels
“This is a subject upon which I am the sole authority, for no one else has taken any interest in it.”
This Weird classic-honed tale is paradoxically both loose-limbed and hardening into a traditional shape it can’t seem to shake off. It is ripe with a city that is capable of having parts that cannot be reached by any form of intoxicant or topographical research. Here we have this book’s ‘Adela’ (cf Aleda and Adele separately earlier in this book) about whom our protagonist suffers unrequited love … as well that aforementioned ‘Terra Incognita’ now made patent, if echoic, archaic. I will need to let this potentially haunting tale steep and fecundate, to see if I, too, am infected by something I can’t shake off. A love of this author’s writing heretofore …. and towards renewal? Or simply a love of a memory. And whether self-heresy is my own lot in the autumn of my life: an autumn beyond the reach of anyone younger than me, as their world closes in on them all with an unwelcome hardening. Each of them thinks, surely, that they’re alone or uniquely susceptible. [‘The Child is Father of the Man.’ (Wordsworth).] (20 June 2012 – 9.00 pm bst)
In Eternity Two Lines Intersect
“Time had ceased to exist and my perceptions formed part of an indeterminate totality rather than part of a sequential process.”
And indeed I feel like that when conducting a gestalt real-time review, a process of which Mark’s fiction work itself aptly set me on the path in November 2008.
After the cleansing of static and smoke in the foregoing stories, the facing of self with self, we have here a Fragment of Life finally become Whole, a holy grail where the vision is so powerful that it almost aches in the reader’s soul. It tells of a man who takes over a flat from someone else who has disappeared and the new tenant gradually becomes subsumed in the other tenant’s ways and abandoned possessions.
I brought this book back into the living world from a dream.
This luxurious book is beautifully produced by Egaeus with 128 pages.
“This edition of Written in Darkness is limited to 275 copies”.
May 704 be with it.