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The Green Face (2004)

The Green Face (2004)
3.87 of 5 Votes: 1
0946626928 (ISBN13: 9780946626922)
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The Green Face (2004)
The Green Face (2004)

About book: The Green Face is a book about disgust with the world. It was written during WWI, yet is set just after its end, and the populace instead of feeling relief is wandering lost, on edge, searching. It is set in Amsterdam, largely in its more disreputable sections, and what Meyrink does best is create poisoned atmospheres of dark mystery peopled by grotesques. He translated Dickens into German and there is a darkly Dickensian quality to his characters and his urban landscapes, but Meyrink is for the most part a poisoned cynic and so is more like Dickens’ shadow figure. There is a pervasive claustrophobia in his settings, an almost living animal-like claustrophobia; a claustrophobia that prowls. And as one of Meyrink’s major concerns is the occult, this claustrophobia is not just an aspect of the physical setting, it also exists at the mind level and can threaten from within. Meyrink’s characters, at least his main characters, are necessarily wary, if not paranoid, and realize that any solution to their distressed state will have to involve battling invisible powers. And this is where he gets very good, but also where he falters. He was obviously well-versed in a host of occult trends and fads and legitimate movements and practices, so his take on this “invisible warfare” is detailed and authentic and invested with intense emotion, as if Meyrink himself were representing his own real life involvement in such matters, which I believe he was. But he falters in his excessive use of the didactic through long discourses on occult matters. While this is of interest to me, as I have my own history with such things, it does not typically make for great reading in a novel, especially when it interrupts what is otherwise a delectable darkly atmospheric thriller. I can imagine him having great appeal to someone much younger than me, someone into Goth who’s just making his/her way through labyrinths of the occult. In his didacticism, and his general concerns with the psychic nature of his distressed heroes, he reminds me of Herman Hesse. Though I haven’t read Hesse for years, I don’t remember his didacticism defusing his narratives overmuch, but then Meyrink covers much more strange psychic ground than Hesse, and so the didacticism and explication is somewhat justified, if only as an expedient way to describe all the weirdness. This book revolves around a vision of the “Green Face”, a Wandering Jew-type apparition, but instead of being a figure condemned to wander the earth, it is a manifestation of immortality, a union of the spiritual and physical realms that is potentially a savior for all lost souls wandering the earth, looking for a way out of the madness. Meyrink was an inveterate dualist, opposing a degenerate world to a blessed trans-physical realm, but he was no escapist and so his salvation, his way out of the madness, is a complex union of the degenerate with the blessed in the form of a “mystic marriage”, or the figure of the hermaphrodite. As should be easy to see, achieving this is a thorny proposition, and so the path to transcendence is fraught with obstacles and suffering, more madness, more death.

There's really nothing quite comparable to Meyrink's novels....This one begins with a hilarious description of a "magic shop" in Amsterdam -- a gathering place for the shattered flotsam of Europe -- and ends with a physical and spiritual apocalypse that must have seemed prophetic in 1916. I find it very difficult to imagine how such a novel was perceived in the middle of the Great War, since it seems to be a parable of the destruction (and possible rebirth ) of Europe and of the individual soul caught in the horrors of a postwar world -- hardly stuff to please the Austrian censors. Meyrink jumps from occult minutia to social satire on a single page, so one finds it difficult to tell how much of the occultism is intended to be taken seriously. The cumulative effect is nightmarish, poetic. and enigmatic.
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