Written by Mike O'Driscoll
Published by TTA Press
The first in a new series of novellas by Black Static and Interzone publisher TTA Press, Mike O'Driscoll's Eyepennies takes a sombre, poetic look at mental breakdown and existential crisis loosely based on the life (and death) of Sparklehorse musician Mark Linkous, who committed suicide in March, 2010.
Here we follow the introverted Mark as he struggles to complete his latest album. Throughout the non-linear narrative we're informed that Mark once suffered an accident while on tour which saw him rendered clinically dead on two occasions. Severely troubled by his experience, Mark finds his waking moments plagued by vivid hallucinations and visions, which he increasingly comes to believe are actually portents of terrible things to come for both him and the ones he loves.
Trapped in a state of personal limbo, Mark becomes convinced that when he came back from the dead, the most important parts of who he was were left behind. As the hallucinations increasingly blur the lines between fantasy and reality, Mark forges on in the hope that his new album will be the light that he needs, even whilst his paranoid actions and treatment of his wife, Tess, drag him deeper into the darkness he is so desperate to avoid.
As an author, O'Driscoll displays a real talent for flowing, dream-like prose that paints some remarkably vivid, haunting imagery that lingers stubbornly in the mind long after the book has been put down. As he examines Mark's gradual breakdown, O'Driscoll always leaves a constant layer of doubt as to whether his protagonist's experiences and actions are simply the result of catastrophic emotional trauma or indeed due to something brought back, Flatliners-style, from the other side of death. Even as Mark's behaviour becomes more erratic (and, in one particularly difficult sequence, outright horrific), the sense of forlorn despair and deep sadness that permeates Eyepennies manages to keep him a sympathetic character drawn towards an inevitably tragic future.
A few editorial issues are noticeable during the novella, for example some words repeated in error, but these are extremely scarce and do little to get in the way of the story. It must be said that this is far from the standard kind of literary horror fare and most certainly not a conventional ghostly tale -- yet, it remains incredibly haunting, emotional, and at times outright chilling. One night of particularly disturbed sleep bears testament to the strength of O'Driscoll's imagery, especially considering the short nature of the work -- easily consumable in one sitting. TTA's novella line is off to a promising start with this one.
4 out of 5