The Factory by Mark West
Review by Gary Fry
The last thing of substance I read from West was his chapbook ‘What Gets Left Behind’. I liked that work a great deal, but said in my review that Mark’s prose might benefit from a few tweaks, particular his reliance on stock phrasing, which, I believe, good writers need to constantly reinvent.
So I was intrigued to discover along what lines he’d developed these last few years. It didn’t take me long to discover. I hope West will take this in the complimentary way it’s intended when I say that The Factory is like reading the work of a very different writer.
Here the narrative is confident, cool, and inventive, and the prose as sharp as you’d wish. The story centres around a bunch of characters who, during their yoofs, were members of an exploring club focusing on urban sites with decidedly shady histories. Their unelected leader, Tom, opens the book with a solo venture inside a particular property with a dubious reputation. I’m giving little away when I say that he dies and that it’s up to the others – two guys and two women – to take a visit to the same place.
West’s depiction of these remaining characters’ relative motivations stretches and strains a little in the introductory passages, but once he’s got the group back in the place’s vicinity, he’s masterful at developing their respective identities during an extended sequence over a restaurant meal. Here, his folk behave like real people, their personal lives barely restrained, adding depth and tension to what we all know will follow. Then, once West puts the people inside this spooky building, the stage is set for each to succumb to the dark terrors he conjures therein.
The novella is remarkably reticent when it comes to the ‘things’ which seek to do their worst to characters we’ve just grown to know and even like. West spends a great deal of time hinting at revelations, threatening to bring on the monsters. Oh, but no, he’s not ready yet; he must push back the ‘reveals’ till later, once he’s tenderised the victims some more.
At first, I felt as if West was being a bit indulgent – the novella comes in at 34,000 words – but upon reflection, after finishing the book, I applauded his skilful, gradual escalation of detail, a suggestiveness reminiscent of Ramsey Campbell. I don’t think West has Campbell’s bewildering stylistic abilities, but I got a similar vibe from ‘The Factory’ as I did from Campbell’s The Overnight. And anyone who knows me will realise that this is extremely high praise.
Indeed, West’s teasing approach – surely infuriating to many, but delicious to me – ends with a cracking sequence of endgames, with each character falling foul of history re-enacted. OK, so the nature of this backstory is a tad prosaic, a little “on the nose”, but when it’s depicted with so much elusive aplomb, that didn’t bother me much.
Overall, this is a remarkable advance on West’s earlier work and, I sincerely hope (cos the guy is a genuinely nice fella), a hint of more delicious terrors to come.