My review of STRANGE TALES IV (continued from HERE) will take place in the comment stream below as and when I read each of the remaining stories:
The Man Who Wore His Father’s Clothes by Andrew Apter
“But where do leaves go when they are done? Where does a leaf come to rest?”
This book continues to give much… Another writer whose work I fervently wish that I had encountered before. It has the feel (“They had gone forth…”) of McIntosh’s writer’s block male character (and today on my 66th birthday, I have finally admitted in a blog post that I have had something akin to writer’s block for the last four years) – and Apter’s text takes his own (different) theme into textural realms of sartorial stylishness as prose but the dead-man’s-clothes redolence of a misgiven past (clothes as you: demeaned by so-called fine art figurines) as well as a sense of Patrick Hamilton’s fiction about similar male protagonists: giving us sufficient rope… Or hangers to hang our clothes. It is a superb story.
And after the ‘shimmering shoes’ of Lloyd’s earlier story in this book, we have Apter’s… “…a pair of blocky old-fashioned shoes with grizzled laces like broken whiskers,…[…]…the great indefinable half-shrouded shimmering stinking ‘something’ of which his clothes had once been a thriving part:…” All forsaken or gone to the deep? Each sleeve or trouser-leg a secret passage? Hanging over you like an obsession not only with leaves but also with thorns (a crown of)?
The Badger Bride by Angela Slatter
“I notice his clothing — blue breeches, gold and cream waistcoat, white silk shirt, silver-grey frock coat and highly polished boots — not one item seems overly worn.”
…and indeed there is a sartorial-existence of a slant to this story in interesting tune with the previous story, the rescued badger also being described early on as having an explicit ‘gentleman’s coat’ that it shakes snow off. The Slatter story itself reminds me felicitously of the atmosphere and themes of one of my favourite ever books, i.e. ‘Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard’ by Eleanor Farjeon. Its plot also concerns a man with three daughters, possibly like King Lear, one of whom, Gytha, works for her father as a copyist of books and their leaves – and an intriguing further plot ensues concerning a grimoire, the grimoire’s golden-haired owner, and a badger bite that never heals, and an ensuing immersion in something, not the book’s earlier sea-woman’s ‘rabbit in the headlights’ type of immersion, but more the pattern of explicit ‘secret passageways’ or corridors of a Badger sett (cf the mathematical set of Hughes’s own passageways) and there is here even a reprise of Leslie’s bottled preserves…. It would spoil this memorable fantasy to say anything more about it.
Meanwhile, I think I can actually hear the cherry tree’s leaves against the window in a wintry wind and the redolent smell of open fires burning forestation, but that last bit may not have been in the story at all!
The Amber Komboloi by Matt Leyshon
“And no matter how so many of his other memories faded like the yellowing pages of an old book,…”
A short piece that evokes a Greek Island setting, as the light-fingered (in a pilfering sense) protagonist seeks his mother from within the sounds and sights of that genius loci (as the man ‘seeking’ his father through clothes and the young woman copying an old book to preserve it: both leading to catharses earlier in this book) – reaching, as it now does here, some catharsis for himself similar to that in the caves of EM Forster’s ‘Passage to India’, now a Passage to Greece and one’s own root cause, here being a differently light-fingered loudening rattle of worry-beads mixing with an atonal symphonic ‘dying fall’ of another Greek cave catharsis of his mother and, I infer, his father as they created him… Seems appropriate as I was given yesterday for my birthday a CD of atonal music by the Greek composer Xenakis, including ‘Aïs’ that I first heard at a London prom, in company with my own son, in the 1980s.
This fiction work has persuaded me to seek out more by this author.
For a Last Spark of the Divine by Mark Francis
“‘Well,’ replied the slight pale girl through her beads and bangles, ‘thank you so much for your insight and cultural openness. … I suppose you think it’s something like shopping,’ she added, ‘where one size ought to fit all.'”
Please believe me when I tell you that, upon mentioning ‘A Passage to India’ in connection with the previous Greek-centred story, I had no idea how appropriate that would be – in many ways – to this India-centred rite of passage … a ‘chasing the god’ story as this text puts it or ‘Chasing the Noumenon’ as I have often put it before, with a renewed catharsis, whereby the protagonist, a feature writer seeking his own god among the many gods (gods that India seems to house as competing idols on jostling juggernauts), and this story is also his search for that periodical feature article that he needs to write professionally – and we are allowed to see it develop as the story itself even while he seeks it. No mean feat. The style is tentacular and textured but equally with an ease of page-turning suspense. The god he ends up ‘chasing’ and finding is something disturbing you will never forget – and to even hint at it will spoil this story.
The Recovery by H.V. Chao
“A fondness for surfaces — their continued seemliness — keeps me from prying.”
This is highly poetic, yet accessible, prose, as if TS Eliot and Lawrence Durrell collaborated one day from within ordered chaos upon this staggeringly rarefied story – in which this protagonist writer evolves from the writer in the book’s previous story, evolving his own attempts to convey, not the gods of India, but here a small town he is visiting in France and its facades and interactions …. where a form of Hughes’s passageways allow townsfolk to reach shops without going on the roads and streets themselves. It is a threnody of conversations and lovers’ trysts overheard by a Somerset Maugham but one wonders between who with whom, like listening at that famous wall with Pyramus and Thisbe, until we hear another disturbing story ending that I dare not hint at, in a similar way I dared not hint at the climactic ‘objective correlative’ of the previous Francis story, too. As an aside, a saint pricks a finger, or was it bitten by a badger?
Drowning in Air by Andrew Hook
Like the Leyshon protagonist, Hook’s middle-aged (or older) miscegenate Aiko Van Der Berg, someone with respiratory trouble, travels from the Netherlands to a land far off to seek the essence of his mother, here in her birthplace of Japan, a island where possible volcanic action makes the keeping of gas masks necessary, and a sort of intermittent rarefied sense of needing to wear them, “reality and fantasy jumbled like two dice in a shaker” similar to what I called ‘the rough trade of dream and reality in their give and take of travel’ when reviewing the Howard story…
A 16 year old Japanese girl, also with the name, Aiko, is given the job of being his guide and there unfolds an interface of a misunderstood kiss and identity, I sense, if I read the last sentence correctly. Plain-spoken, but I anticipate being haunted by this story for some time. Old age and youth jumbled in its own dice shaker, I sense. And the reference to drum performances in caves has a strong link again with the Leyshon catharsis. And “leading the mikoshi shrines around town” resonates with the jostling gods on juggernauts from the Francis story. Though the god Aiko is chasing is quite different.
Some of my other reviews of Andrew Hook stories shown here:
The Homunculus in the Curio by Jason A. Wyckoff
“…as though the tiny man were not alive, but floating, preserved, in a jar.”
This is an utterly brilliant story that should go down in literary history, not only as a discrete masterpiece of engaging eschatological discussion between a mortality-minded man (a man like some of the crotchety or dissatisfied men earlier in this book yearning for fulfilment or extension) and his homunculus companion (familiar) or magicked Faerie or Frankenstein’s ‘monster’ or a means for or by-product of auto-erotic asphyxiation (cf the previous story’s hint at that same activity and, also, the cough here!), but also its audit trail of ley lines or leitmotifs in inadvertent resonance with every ley line of leitmotif in all the other stories in this book!
I’ve sought Magic Fiction all my life rather than Magic Realism, and now I’ve found it – just in time!
My previous review of this author’s collection: HERE.
(The last two images above – inadvertently appropriate, I feel, for the last two stories – are taken from this overall image HERE by Dean Harkness.)
Time by Richard Hill
“The clothes weren’t just Victorian costumes, did you notice that? They were real clothes.”
An engaging story in its own right, this also acts as an epilogue to the previous work whereby we can begin to believe that mankind’s eschatological conundrum or angst can be solved by yet another aging example in this book of a crotchety man (like William Hartnell?): the ultimate Whovian…Or the many Whovians that are us?
I also like how the genius loci of the past comes through.
The Memento Mori by John Gaskin
“The prediction ‘death’ will never be falsified, but its fulfilment may be long delayed.”
And we return full circle to the immersive obsessions that started this book, here, in this mildly intriguing story, with an object bought as lot 249 at an auction by another cantankerous man, an unuxoriously petulant academic; there are epistolary fill-ins and other weird literary ambiences, and the delightfully described death-compass pointing object seems to be significant to the eschatological concerns of the Wyckoff story and serves as a charming coda to the whole of this stunning book, this story being a calm moment – of what later becomes a social satire – to take us gently from the intensities of some of the book’s previous, still buzzing-in-my-head, fiction. A story placed judiciously at the end of the book not only to be its coda but also so that it ends on page 248, just short of the biographical details starting significantly on page 249… Death can thus never be escaped but its gap between us and it hopefully elongated, I guess!
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