A review that originally appeared in Black Static #67:-
THE GREEN FACE
Dedalus pb, 224pp, £9.99
Originally published in 1916 and Meyrink’s most famous novel after The Golem, this is a work rich in occult tradition. Set in a Holland flooded with refugees of all nations, it is the story of Fortunatus Hauberrisser, whose life is changed when he discovers a hidden shop of curios and its enigmatic owner.
Hauberrisser is haunted by visions of a mysterious green face, which he believes to belong to the Wandering Jew of European myth. He attempts to find the shop again and the owner of that face, getting involved with various occult groups, but instead he encounters the beautiful Eva, with whom he falls in love.
The two are souls destined to be united in a mystical wedding and ascend to some new level of being, but before they can declare themselves Eva is abducted. Hauberrisser searches for her in vain and instead decides to study the occult in the hope of securing the key to her release. Against a backdrop of catastrophe he struggles through to a new and shattering realisation of the nature of the universe.
This is a book rich in ideas, its text dense with occult imagery and thought, fascinating theories about the nature and purpose of our lives, and I think it would take me several readings to unravel all its sense. There is excellent characterisation, Meyrink demonstrating a keen eye for human foibles and appreciation of the lengths to which men can be driven in desperate times, and a subversive streak of humour as counterpoint to the general air of seriousness, with Hauberrisser and his friend Baron Pfeill happy to puncture the pretensions of those around them.
Meyrink also excels in creating a vivid sense of place, Holland in the days before WWI, with its diverse populace living in the shadow of disaster to come, which casts a fin de siècle feel over the whole work, while the various mystical groups, with their respective manias are all beautifully realised. The giant sailor who seizes Eva can’t help but bring to mind Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and perhaps strikes the note most out of tune to the modern ear, serving as the occasion for some racist comments that seem completely at odds with the attempted projection of spirituality, but allowances must be made for the time of writing and while the unduly PC will find cause for real concern the rest of us can smile ruefully and shake our heads at past folly.
Translated by Mike Mitchell and with an informative and illuminating afterword by Franz Rottensteiner, The Green Face is a fascinating text by a writer not as well known to UK readers as he perhaps should be, and Dedalus, who are now just one volume away from bringing all of the author’s novels back into print in English language editions, are to be thanked for keeping Meyrink’s work in the public arena.