DIFFERENT SKINS By Gary McMahon – Reviewed

I wrote this review a few weeks ago. I think it’s a good review, and it will be published in the first edition of the Morpheus Tales Review Supplement. Before putting it up here I wondered how the space and distant I’ve had since reading the book had changed my opinion. Actually, it hasn’t. I think that Different Skins is an amazing book, both the stories are moving and emotion-evoking. You can’t help but be sucked into the worlds that McMahon creates, the stories actually touch you emotionally and intellectually. That’s what I look for in my life, I don’t just want to read a book, I want to experience it. That what happens with Different Skins. I cannot recommend this book enough. Go do yourself a favour and buy this book:

http://www.screamingdreams.com

This is one of those books that it is a pleasure to hold. It feels nice. It looks stunning, the cover and back cover by Vincent Chong are exquisite. Even the interior looks and feels nice, it feels like you’re holding a good quality book in your hands. It feels very similar to the limited editions from Blood Letting Press, except in paperback.

OK, so it doesn’t particularly matter what the book feels like, it’s the content that really matters. Right? But my point is that it does matter, holding a book that feels nice just adds to the pleasure. And this book can be judged on its beautifully subtle and disturbing cover.

Introductions are normally a waste of time unless they’re by the author, Tim Lebbon’s intro doesn’t stray too far from this. But he does mention that he read McMahon’s stories as a writer would. I completely agree with him on this, although I probably read as a writer differently to Mr. Lebbon. McMahon’s stories, two novellas in this collection, are packed with ideas and details and phrases that I wish I’d written, that I want to use in one of my stories. There are just so many “I wish I’d thought of that” moments!

The first story, Even The Dead Die, is a ghost story set in a London occupied by the dead, and it’s so rich and powerful that it made me feel like a teenager again, discovering my first horror story. Every page sparkles with ideas and brilliance, it’s like reading the very best of Neil Gaiman or Clive Barker. McMahon’s London is dark and nasty and brutal, but it’s also perversely beautiful. And so is his first story, dark, rich, tragic, powerfully and perversely beautiful.

The second story really shows the breadth of McMahon’s skill. In The Skin is a very different story, a personal tale of loss and neglect, a story of life. The story of Dan, who goes on a business trip to New York and upon his return, finds that his son is not quite the same, that his wife is slightly different. His family is not who they were before he left. The second story in the collection is as different as it possibly can be, this is a much more personal tale, without the glitter and glamour, the brilliance or the ideas of the first story. And yet it touches you more deeply, more subtly than the first story. Its horror is all the more real for its understated openness and its horrible sense of loss. My favourite story of the collection was Even The Dead Die, then I read In The Skin and had to change my mind.

OK, so the services of a proof-reader wouldn’t go amiss (although the typos have been spotted and will be fixed for the next print run), and there is no Charing Cross Road Station, but what you get when you buy this book is something much more than you will expect.

Despite its length and cost, it’s a 120 page book for the price of an epic novel at £7.99, that quality I mentioned earlier makes reading this book worth more than any price you can put on it. I was shaken putting this book down, mentally and emotionally shaken. Reading the first story made me feel alive, reading the second made me feel empty. It is that power that I search for as a reader. It is the quality of the production and the contents of this amazing collection which pushes it beyond insubstantial things like money, it’s like the Lord of the Rings, Anansi Boys, The Thief of Always, Weaveworld… reading this book is an epic experience that will touch you in ways that few experiences can.

I recommend Different Skins wholeheartedly and unreservedly, and will be seeking out much more of Gary McMahon’s work.

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