I’m due shortly to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of SECRET EUROPE by John Howard and Mark Valentine (EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE: Bucharest: MMXII). A book I purchased from the publisher.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/
In due course, I may attempt to describe the wondrous physical form of this book. Also, having not yet started reading the texts themselves, I actually fear starting them at all in such a prepossessing format. But I am confident, knowing these writers’ previous work as I do, that such texts shall transcend or quantitatively ease the current financial contagion, a contagion leading to political as well as creative anxieties in today’s currency zones of Secret Europe. And today is 29 Feb 2012 – a secret day if there ever was one: the astrologically harmonious date on which I have started this review’s real-time: hence without needing to leap between such diverging historic realities at the on-going risk of my life -
“…the multitude of dead, forgotten books, a real cemetery in store for us;…” An extract from the Sainte Beuve quotation at the start of this book. (29 Feb 12 – 1.00 pm gmt)
Baltersan’s Third Edition – Mark Valentine
“…twenty-five of the most used tongues.”
Far be it from me to call this characteristic Valentine — this non-fictionalised tale of a phrase book — Scilly. Even it is (or was), its history of the book’s various editions is also charming in style and tone; and makes European words — from languages common or rare, one-off or familial — a Baedeker of aural geomancy as well as of the more normal oral disciplines. (29 Feb 12 – an hour later)
Secret Byzantium – Mark Valentine
“He disciplined his thoughts to dispel the doubt.”
I note that ‘Secret Europe’ has two unadvertised reprints in its contents list; “Secret Byzantium” is not one of them. A resplendent volume with so many secret Valentines and Howards is, in my book, allowed to smuggle in a couple of pre-divulged secrets as foils to the real things! Two used tongues out of twenty-five unused ones is good going, I say. This, the book’s second tongue, speaks of a ‘gazette’ at its beginning, and I nearly used the word ‘gazetteer’ instead of ‘Baedeker’ in my previous entry, but for some reason altered it at the last minute. A bit like the aborted ‘suicide pact’ (my inference, not necessarily the head-lease author’s) in ‘Secret Byzantium’: with the concept of a diaspora’s secret academic durability after fleeing the Ottoman splendours and spreading towards, in hindsight, today’s retrocausally depleted coffers of Italy, a concept that offers much food for thought and worth not killing oneself in order to pursue. That does no justice, however, to this story’s beautifully gentle prose or its missing dream voyages to Arcturus that today’s equally missing day has made me read between its lines with some puckish gratuitousness on my part, if I were honest with myself. (29 Feb 12 – two hours later)
The Silver Eagles – John Howard
“As you probably know, our silver coins are actually only half silver, and have been so since 1900. Altering the content like that amounted to debasing the coinage, but it was done openly and legally. Other countries have done it.”
When I wrote my introduction at the start of this real-time review a few hours ago (above), I had no idea that at least one of the stories would be about currency’s quantitative easing! Nor that my puckish references to today’s ‘missing’ leap-year day and to two story reprints might also be factored in as relevant! Meanwhile, this is an involving story that concerns a necklace-chain so thin it seems to vanish when upon the neck: like a cutting-wound to be inflicted in the future — upon the neck of another soldier-figure to resonate with a previous one, above, in Valentine’s story as well as the vanishings or mass sacrifices or multi-effective suicide-pacts that wars at the beginning of the 20th century often convoked — a story here mingled with Bolshevik/Balkan history about which I (a History philosopher rather than a History quiz-team specialist) know very little… and I wonder if the counterfeit is often more valuable than the genuine … which is a sad wonderment in the light of life’s constant weighing of ends and means. “I received a crownless 25 pennii coin in my change when I stopped for a glass of schnapps in my local bar.” Note that 25 again. The number handwritten at the end of this book as my edition of this book out of 222 published: 26. (29 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)
The above ‘Balkan’ was an accidental typo (i.e. not due to my lack of knowledge) for ‘Baltic’. Sorry. Meanwhile, thinking further from some of the above considerations: leverage or sound money / counterfeit or genuine / philosophy or history / art or reality – which is the quantitative easing and which is subject to quantitative easing, which is the contagion and which is subject to contagion? The secret clues began within The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction, i.e. the second printed subtitle of ‘Weirdmonger: The Nemonicon’ (Prime Books 2003). More later on this topic, if ‘Secret Europe’ allows. (1 Mar 12 – 7.35 am gmt – St David’s Day)
Silence and Fire – Mark Valentine
“I knew this was, had been, a real city: but the picture had still seemed a tableau, a piece of art, a fiction.”
Well, conscious of my own fallibility, I’ve looked ‘Karelia’ up on Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) to give more context to the early 20th Century history embodied in MV’s singing prose. (I already knew the piece of music by Sibelius!) However, MV already has a knack of conveying the soul of history and events with a deft touch (“The four beaded pillars in front of the Hotel Kamp were each like a stone abacus, frozen in time, which had long ago stopped counting the years.”) even to someone (like me) who merely listens to classical music all day and who rarely touches a history book other than a book about history. Meanwhile, here continue the quasi-economic supply and demand I’ve noticed so far imbuing this book’s high leverage of creativity: “There were days when it was hard to find a decent coffeee: days when the spirits ran dry; when only mashed herring (but mashed with what, exactly?) was on the menu. Then there would be mysterious surges of plenty, when boxes of Turkish cigarettes changed hands, when something labelled Colombian wine could be had in quantity, when a sour heather honey was offered instead of sugar.” Please forgive me hedging my review’s emergent promissory note of valid currency in hopefully fair usage with such a lengthy quotation, but I have as yet an unsubstantiated and barely self-articulated hunch about this book. (1 Mar 12 – six hours later)
The Other Salt – Mark Valentine
“…the ‘other salt’, rarer than all the spices of the East, than cardamom from Bhutan, Zanzibar cloves, Coromandel ginger, or the blue pepper that only the Parsee traded.”
An entrancing quest in the marsh – among its people – seeking for something that, during history, has often been worth more than money: such as rare spices on the spice trade routes to Samarkand: here the ‘other salt’ from a deeper mine than yours. The silting of a language, beyond speech or printed text, in tune with this book’s previous aural geomancy? But only a truly inexhaustible, exhaustive self like yours or mine can feel within itself whence the ‘other salt’ often sadly stems: while, meantime, imagining further “pale hands deftly plying the ladle” to obviate being “lulled by the obvious” in life as well as in a literature that is in itself more valuable than even the priceless commodities it seeks to broker. With this book, I can purchase more even than I spent on it. With or without numbering. (1 Mar 12 – two hours later)
[I don't expect anyone to believe this, but I assure you it is true. This evening I heard my wife humming the opening tune from Sibelius' Karelia Suite. I subsequently told her that a few hours ago I was writing about it in connection with this book. She had not thought of the music for some years, nor read my blog, nor had I mentioned it to her, nor could she think of a single reason why she was humming it and I have equally not thought of this music before today for some time. Perhaps, I've since thought, this is connected in some strange or frightening way with my simultaneous real-time review of a story entitled 'The Secret Season' tonight!] (1 Mar 12 – another hour later)
Today is the day that 25 of the 27 Nations in the European Union sign a fiscal pact. The pact enshrines in each signing country’s constitution a “debt brake” or “golden rule”. (2 Mar 12 – 7.40 am gmt)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.