Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I didn't ask for any of this."
"None of us did, but here we are. And I know you don't trust me, but I promise you, when you know the whole story, you will feel better about being here."
Hurrah, my leap of faith has been vindicated!
I love Simon Gane.
Since ALL FLEE I've been smitten, his landscape sketchbooks are amongst the most thrilling I've seen and his contribution to ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD: WORLD WAR I IN POETRY AND COMICS was for me its star turn: all those ivy-strewn statues setting the tone in stone and reinforcing the poem's haunting sentiments.
From the very first page he does not disappoint, the leaves on the trees as special and semi-detached as ever, enhanced by colour artist Jordie Bellaire's paler echoes behind and beyond. Gane's clothes have all the requisite wrinkles depending on where they're stretched by the flesh beneath - the sort of detail Art Adams excelled at - while his faces are angular yet soft, and where Simon excels is at eye contact. So much of this is about eye contact: about trust and distrust, truth and lies. Which will be which, do you suppose?
Atop the Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, San Francisco, a young woman called Syd balances perilously close to the rooftop's edge, her arms outstretched, tears streaming down her eyes.
"I live to fall asleep.
"It's the only way I can get some relief from it all.
"It's the only way to escape from the complete lack of silence, the complete lack of peace. All I have to do is close my eyes and I'll be at rest forever."
Now, I was curious as to exactly why "the worrying" was set against an old woman, face buried in her hands; why "the planning" showed a handsome young man, smiling as he stood at a tram stop; and "the lying" seemed to refer to a middle-aged businessman dressing after sex with a woman who clearly wasn't the one about to jump off life's cliff.
You'll have to wait a few pages while a dapper young man in a suit and tie - who clearly loves himself dearly - tries to talk Syd down and fails. Syd's been dragged in and out of that hospital by her parents for years. She's been plagued by voices, so many voices; a cacophony that has driven her to distraction while building a barrier between her and her parents who have never believed her. But she's been telling the truth: she's a telepath, and it's only now that The Voice has found her that she has a seemingly sympathetic soul able to explain her condition and ease her mind. By controlling it.
Now there is silence and sanctuary in a gabled, gated mansion thick with Simon Gane foliage. I'd like all my foliage to be Simon Gane foliage. I wonder if he'd come and draw my garden for me? It's in a bit of a state. Under Gane and Bellaire the mansion becomes a character and star in its own right. The bedspreads, picture frames, carpets, chairs and stairs are so opulent!
It was, however, at this point that I originally ran into difficulties, but suspected that the big reveal was almost a distraction from a very important sentence which - combined with an extreme sense of entitlement expressed by The Voice - did not bode well for any of them. The big reveal came in the form of ten other occupants who were not all straightforward telepaths but an empath, a clairvoyant, an illusionist, a pyrokinetic, a -
Are you getting whiffs of Charles Xavier's School For The Self-Sequestrated?
"But I don't think there will be any big battles except between egos and control-freaks within," I wrote. "I don't think everyone's showing their true colours."
Sure enough it becomes increasingly clear to Syd that this group of young men and women squatting in a house which is not theirs, preying on whomever they fancy and taking whatever they please has been persuaded that this is their right. That because they've been mistreated because they are different, they are entitled to do the same. Because The Voice says so. Syd's essentially fallen in with a cult, and a very dangerous one at that.
Stephenson balances the indoctrination brilliantly. It's impossible to feel sorry for at least one of their targets when out on the streets and the self-justification comes thick and fast. But such extreme misfits living in such close proximity, almost under house arrest for so much of the time is going to cause increasingly worrying behaviour, you mark my words...