Twilight – William Gay

We all have to admit that we can guilty of buying books for their covers, I know I am. My latest read Twilight by William Gay was one, though bizarrely when I used to work next door to the TLS (it was lethal they gave us free books weekly, in fact I blame this particular period as being the route of my never ending TBR piles) a review copy with the hardback cover crossed my path and I thought it looked cheap, dreary and generally dreadful and never thought I would read it. The lesson it seems to have taught me, though isn’t actually the rule, is never judge a hardback by a bad cover and always judge a paperback by a good cover. Doesn’t that equate to just buy any book you can get your hands on though?

Twilight is a dark and twisted tale set in America’s Deep South. It starts with a brother and sister, Kenneth and Corrie Tyler, digging up the grave of their father. Why on earth would they be doing such a thing? They are suspicious, though you are never quite sure why, that his burial wasn’t as it should have been and when they find they are right (I will cut out the details for the faint of heart) and when they open more graves they realise that local undertaker Fenton Breece is up to no good and so they feel that they should bring him to justice. When Kenneth steals Fenton’s briefcase and finds some very disturbing and very incriminating photos of the undertaker and the dead they have all they need for a case of blackmail, only when Fenton hires the towns local convicted murderer to take back the evidence and get rid of the siblings things take a very nasty turn and Kenneth and Corrie are on the run through the wastelands.

I thought this book was marvellous and though it is incredibly heavy on plot at no point does the author let this take the attention or detail away from the prose or from the characters like many novels do. The book is essentially about evil people and the darkness within us all and with a character like Fenton Breece I didn’t think you could get much darker or disturbed and then you are introduced to an even more dangerous psychopath in the form of Granville Sutter a character that is incredibly vivid and I wont forget in a hurry, he is the type to give you nightmares. Yet both of these dark and dangerous characters are very different.

I also thought the landscapes created by William Gay were just wonderful, I have never been to the Deep South but as the book takes chase through defunct mines, ghost towns and abandoned mansions I felt I was actually there and being hunted and only able to rely on the strange inhabitants of those parts. It took me on a journey that truly captivated me and also had me on the edge of seat, a brilliant, brilliant novel.

Looking at some reviews and on a certain encyclopaedic site I was interested to learn of a new genre of fiction I have never heard of and which apparently this is a very good example of. Has anyone else heard of the term ‘Southern Gothic’ and where can I get my hands on more of this sort of stuff. If its like this and also like some of Cormac McCarthy’s work which interestingly William Gay has been criticised for, and I could see shades of No Country for Old Men in this (only because of the psycho in the Deep South part), then I really need to read more of this genre. It could be something to look into in the New Year after the sensation season is through. What Southern Gothic could you recommend? Have you read any William Gay and if so was it this good?


Filed under Faber & Faber, Review, William Gay

14 responses to “Twilight – William Gay

  1. I’ve not heard the term Southern Gothic before and I don’t think I’ve read any either.

    I love the sound of this book – especially since you say it is heavy on plot! I’ve added it to my wishlist!

    • I think you would like this one Jackie, the only thing is its quite gory in parts if you know what I mean. The idea of what Fenton does, and I won’t expand, made me feel physically ill in two parts of the book but it is an incredible read, and why should all reads be comfortable?

  2. Dot

    This sounds really good, great review Simon, this one is going on the ever-growing wish list!

  3. Southern Gothic – William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor.

  4. I love Southern Gothic and this one is on my TBR pile too – it’ll get promoted.

    I’d recommend Daniel Woodrell and ‘Winter’s Bone’ which is closer to Cormac McCarthy and set in the Ozark mountaings.

  5. Claire beat me to it — I was going to name McCullers, and I also think some of Truman Capote’s early stuff might fit this description — not sure about In Cold Blood as that’s New Journalism.

    I’d also classify Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend (which I loved, although it’s one of those books that splits readers) as Southern Gothic.

    • I have to admit Wikipedia isnt the fountain of all, maybe it includes Capote because of the subject of the book?

      I have The Little Friend but its a book I have had on my TBR for months and months… well more realistically years! I am planning on reading it with my few weeks off both jobs when I will be having some “reading therapy”!

  6. Mike S

    I see you”ve been informed on Southern gothic novelists (though Faulkner etal would laugh-its a newer phrase). As to William Gay, I have not read Twilight-its on my TBR. However, I did read both The Long Home and Provinces of Night, and enjoyed both. The latter was the better of the two I thought.

    I live in the deep south btw, so y’all be nice! Its not as dank, dark and sinister as some of our excellent fiction portrays, but at times its close.

    • Oh blimey a comment from the deep south itself, thanks very much Mike. I am looking forward to reading more William Gay it has to be said.

      I hope it isnt as dark and creey as this book portrays thats for sure.

  7. A good example of southern gothic non-fiction is ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ by John Berendt. Reads kid of like a novel, but it’s all true!

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