FLOWERS OF THE SEA by Reggie Oliver
CONTINUATION OF MY REVIEW FROM HERE WILL APPEAR IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I READ EACH STORY:
“Like nearly all Suffolk churches the place looked too big for the community it served.”
It seemed very appropriate and decidedly spooky that, this morning, I made one of my infrequent visits to my own version of Mortford Lane, where I took photos and posted them here: November Glume just before reading this story…
…a story which, despite seeming to be, at first, an over-traditional ghost story, becomes very effective with its exquisitely couched MR-Jamesianisms blending into later Aickmanisms of eroticism, of disarming strangenesses and other ‘objective correlatives’ such as black tablecloths and soft toys, all laced with the grief and other marital matters of a ‘Flowers of the Sea’ feel. Loved it.
I have read and reviewed the next story before, and below is a copy and paste of what I wrote HERE:
[[The Posthumous Messiah – Reggie Oliver
“There was something stale about them, as if they had been cooked long ago and then simply reheated for my benefit. They brought back memories of meals I had eaten with my parents in melancholy station hotels before I was sent off to school.”
With a reference to a “chair factory” and the story concerning the state of ‘death’, perhaps recommended outside reading would be the same author’s story entitled ‘Portrait of a Chair’ in the recent ‘Dadaoism’ anthology, where, in my review, I coin the word ‘eschairtology’. It was certainly useful to me when reading this new story, this witty satire — theatrically couched and well-characterised in this writer’s usual wonderful style — of the Bruno Schulz homage. (I guess I should have submitted to ‘This Hermetic Legislature’ because, from the heresy of hearsay in this story, there seems to be no bar upon writing a great Schulz-steeped story without having read any Schulz before!). It is a witty satire, as I say, this Reggification of Schulz, but also, gradually, ineluctably, the story grows more absurd, grimmer, more frightening, as if Schulz also entered (equally gradually, ineluctably) Reggie Oliver’s room while this story was being written – or dictated (if partially) by Schulz? The main protagonist’s visit to an occult shop and the later synchronicity of the stars reminded me personally 0f when, in the 1970s, I was taught Alice A. Bailey’s book ‘Esoteric Astrology’ by Liz Greene herself in person at a college in North London. And I had reason to mention, earlier in this real-time review, Stephen King’s appearance himself in The Dark Tower series as a character. And in this story we have: “He is now in the play. This is the extraordinary part, that a writer be in his own play, no?” And the ending of Reggie Oliver’s story is absolutely brilliant. Makes me never want to die. (21 June 2012 – 11.35 am bst)]]
“It was the unseen absence that we disliked.”
Reggie Oliver writes country house stories quite often, houses with a past that is told to us intra-narratively, and he is also good at depicting a TYPE, here a Hooray Henry grown beyond his heyday, ‘stacks of wonga’ and ‘the era of the Deb’, now a landlord of this Cotswolds house, rented to a sensitive writer of souls and his wife…. The scene is set, gradually becoming more disturbing, with sexualities slipping between the gaps, and more toffs, a hint of anti-semitism that shocks people these days but anti-Essex sentiments that don’t.
An accomplished, stylish story that unsettles and decays into a brutality escaping from the recent past-time steeped house. One purple passage of supreme worded horror, but a story generally workmanlike, sufficiently enjoyable if you relish stock-in-trade Reggie Oliver that doesn’t really reach the peaks of his classics.
Between Four Yews
“In short, the ghost of a suicide may be sold to the highest bidder as a familiar spirit: being no good for the next world, it may become a slave in this.”
…which may, at least obliquely, put more flesh on the bones of the previous story?
‘Beyond Four Yews’ is sub-headed as a sequel and prequel to ‘A School Story’ by M.R. James. I must have read that MRJ story once upon a time, but my memory is bad, and this RO one seems convoluted with its levels of stories-told to-whom and backstory tracts provided, starting with another Uncle and Nephew, the former wanting to preserve his memories beyond death by this means of telling…
There are many haunting scenes in this story of which RO is master (including what I personally shall Christen here as ‘the unholy weight of the glimpse’) for which prose effects anything negative regarding the plot itself can be forgiven.
(Echoes of the marital dementia of FOTS in the Uncle’s backstory).
[[The Spooks of Shellborough – Reggie Oliver
“He went straight to the fiction shelves and began to run his right index finger along the titles.”
A workmanlike, retributory tale of Terror and Terrorism as this book’s coda amid the North Sea’s own pictures: featuring golf links of a town not a million miles from Britten’s Aldeburgh, I guess. Ego-driven Sir Freddie (not a disgraced banker but a retired MI5 man) and his erstwhile colleague from their Northern Ireland days happen coincidentally, it seems, to retire to this coastal arena, under the gaze of the bookshop-owning narrator. Tale of golf club politics, intellectual snobbery, grey-day lonesome trudging, vendettas, paranoia, the half-glimpsed MR-Jamesian figure on beaches (here female), and the power of the past coming back to haunt the future. The game of golf, for me, from this story and in the context of this whole book (with a generous supply of many great stories and as yet unread essays for your money’s worth), is a sinuous audit-trail of punctuating holes or spaces for you to fill by moving along the colourless print-line links: turning them, as if by readerly magic, into images (some marvellously colourful, some drab, always flat, skyscapes and landscapes) of East Anglia as well as stark Terror in full riparian spate or punctuated by ‘the yips‘. — “…a study in monochrome: grey sea, grey sky, grey man battling his way over grey shingle.” (17 Oct 12 – 2.40 pm bst)]]
I am a sucker for Requiems: Cherubini, Mozart, Dvorak, Fauré, Verdi, Britten, Penderecki and now (and then) Süssmayr’s own. This is what I mean by a Reggie Oliver classic story, one that it is a privilege to read and I am personally pleased to imagine the massed and marshalled audience of this book applauding as it comes to the close of its visionary pattern on the stiff, luxurious paper of the page. It tells of an Englishman who rents a room in Vienna under the room of a bereft Süssmayr who is in turn tainted with a Salieri type bitterness after helping a dying Mozart complete his own Requiem, and seemingly haunted by Mozart’s widow. The English protagonist is as Eric Fenby to Delius who by the end returns to the ‘stone music’ of the Morchester cathedral, which I imagine to be like Lichfield’s.
This story, for me, completes the book’s earlier astrological chart (in ‘Lord of the Fleas’) but inspirationally of death as well as of birth, the precise Epochal moment of each of these two events by charting between them a changing river of astrologically literary harmonics to represent the pattern of the Requiem, a Jungian synchronicity, transcribing a chart-intrinsic series of Blakean passages (not purple so much as golden) fluted through with that ‘riparian spate’, that idea of a river never being the same river twice, borne along by the oxymorons of humanity, philosophy, science, religion etc that were first adumbrated by ‘Singing Blood’. And riven by the spirit and music of Mann’s Magic Mountain.
A story that needs to be read and read and read till it gives up all its secrets. Never be impatient with literary works like this one!
Come Into My Parlour
“…a bloated thing with a head but no neck, and with several arms or legs that waved at me in a slow way, like a creature at the bottom of the sea.”
This is an exquisite Elizabeth Bowen-like story of a child vying against a devious aunt, but ‘devious’ isn’t half of it. The stuff of nightmares upon which dreams breed.
This is probably my favourite story in the book so far, indeed another classic, but it is not the greatest horror story ever; ‘Flowers of the Sea’ that is so devastating can never be called a ‘favourite’ like this one is nor is ‘Come Into My Parlour’ an arguably great literary work to match Mann as the Requiem story is.
“…We are such stuff
As dreams are made on…”
This is a Reggie Oliver theatrical story, not an example of his stock-in-trade ones, but a genuinely haunting, poignant, memory-haunted opening of the curtain with the excitement even of a middle-class drawing-room when it is well lit within a proscenium arch, but beyond that arch our 1976 endless hot summer threatening the theatre’s roof with its long-expected thunderous break-down. Actors’ break-down, too, cross-sectioned by the tangled zips of real life… “The workshop of filthy creations”, to quote Mary Shelley.
Waving to the Boats
“Arthur was used to these slightly unfocussed questions of hers. ‘It’s all right,’ he said, squeezing her cold little hand. ‘I’m here.'”
A trip is hardly worthwhile, I always say. May as well stay at home with a good book.
This good book ends with its own inevitable coda of fallible people, some more fallible than others, Arthur and his dementia called wife, honestly caring, honestly careless too… As they and others and their carers ply the river on a boat trip, this book’s river, never the same twice, bordered with disarming strangenesses, other boats passing with more disarming strangenesses, strangenesses that often beset Aickman who I can also imagine being on board, thinking it a narrow boat down some canal he wanted to save. I actually shed a real tear after finishing this story and, hence, the whole book. Doesn’t often happen.
“Rivers ran uphill into which they vanished…” – from ‘Süssmayr’s Requiem’
My Reggie Oliver book collection:
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