by Gary McMahon
Format: Paperback, 114 pages,
Publisher: Screaming Dreams, 2009.
How can I describe the emotions that this book invokes? Let’s try a bit of telepathy and see if that works. Picture a razor blade (remember this is virtual, I don’t recommend trying this with a real one!)…none of your fancy, new-fangled safety blades, oh, no….picture a good old fashioned, stainless steel razorblade. Now raise it up to your eye level and look at it very closely. See how shiny it is, how very, very sharp it is……now stick out your tongue and slowly, very slowly imagine running the sharp edge of the blade down that fleshy surface. That tingle you just experienced, that shiver my friends, is the same feeling you will get reading Different Skins.
Two novellas make up the bulk of this book, topped and tailed by an excellent introduction from Tim Lebbon and author notes on the stories. First, in Even The Dead Die, we travel to London to meet Mike Angelo. Forget everything you have heard about the cosmopolitan, splendour of the city. Here Gary McMahon brings his own experience as a former inhabitant to show us its darker side. This is a story full of despair and depravity which successfully counteracts the deification of London. Not so much Notting Hill as Notting Hell.
All that is fairly mild however when compared with the second story, In The Skin. A last minute business trip takes a father away from his family for a few days. When he returns things have changed, including his infant son. It’s a brilliant portrayal of paranoia, schizophrenia and downright confusion which concludes with the most visceral scene I have read in a long time. This is the razorblade licking moment I mentioned previously, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Two outstanding stories which focus on the darker side of human nature and which, like all the best horror, address some of the most personal issues. Any fathers out there, anyone who has experienced loss, anyone in a difficult relationship will relate to these stories but everyone else can just enjoy them as master classes in dark emotional fiction. Highly recommended.
Rating 4.5 out of 5