Every Short Story (1951-2012) by Alasdair Gray
WORK AS IF YOU LIVE IN THE EARLY DAYS OF A BETTER WORLD
Canongate Books Ltd 2012 – 934 pages
MY GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEW OF THIS BOOK (CONTINUED FROM HERE) WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW AS AND WHEN I READ IT:-
24 responses to “*”
I am sorry; I have tried for the last hour or so to get into this substantial work, with its off-putting (for me) typographical designs – and its dryly idiosyncratic style. And this is from someone who recently real-time reviewed the whole of ‘Finnegans Wake’ — and that fact surely is some sort of compliment to ‘Logopandocy’! A definite achievement on its part!
I think this may be as a result of Joyce’s FW and its wild ‘crackajolking’ texture working for me by a form of subconsciously inferred osmosis while always knowing, within myself, that much of it is not intended to mean anything consciously to the reader, although there is a thread of linear semantic meaning amid FW’s multitudinously abstruse references – a thread I managed to grasp, at least in part. On the other hand, ‘Logopandocy’ seems to make me feel humiliated in that I sense it DOES consciously mean something up front, something I ought to work at understanding, but I am not nearly reader enough to summon up the ability to understand it. Not reader enough, if I do manage eventually to understand it, to appreciate or enjoy its subject-matter that I fully recognise others may appreciate or enjoy.
I know this is my failure and loss. I will be interested in others’ opinion of this work, meanwhile.
I used to enjoy John Barth’s books but not enough to justify enjoying ‘Logopandocy’. Irony.
“My own face is too big for my body and bland to the point of dullness.”
…as is my own face, and I am not a dwarf like the narrator! Alas, dare I mention that scattered quite generously in this book so far, including this story, are strange dyslexic typos, as if they are deliberate in some ‘structuralist’ (a word used in this story) game of meaning, eg ‘idicoy’ and ‘scared’ (for sacred). They are all such a type of typo, like creating the ‘new word’ that this story talks about in ‘good poems’.
Well, I have to say that this story flowed mellifluously for me, compared to the previous one, even with it being an ostensibly dry philosophical-a-clef fiction with many mythological and Biblical references, blending, in my short hand, with the ‘challenge and response’ of the Axletree, the literary legacy-seeking of the Five Letters where the crippling, ring-fenced self-awareness of this narrator handles his yearning sexual relations with a woman whose poetry he critiques so significantly in a French cafe. Against all the odds, this story works well for me. It gave a sense of Genesis, Gide and Shelley. A “historical metaphor”. Beginnings and endings. Endings and beginnings.
The End of the Axletree
“…we can only prevent an overall catastrophe by preparing what may become an overall catastrophe.”
An auto-extrapolation from its Start, the Axletree (dare not call it a Tower) becomes not a symbol but an actual spreading of something that relates to the Hadron Collider and Global Warming and my own ‘CERN Zoo’, ‘Cone Zero’ and ‘The Last Balcony’ ideas, spreading toward least resistance upward, and possibly sideways through the ‘groundlings’ – a synergy of catastrophe against catastrophe or, rather, more historical challenge and response in a three way pattern of a recognisable civilisation’s religious, military and financial systems, with an aside to the Co-Operative movement into banks and building societies not distinct, I feel, from that Reverend Flowers in the UK who was in charge of the Co-Op but was then allegedly taking illegal drugs….
Here the Sky’s the Limit, literally, with a suddenly discovered barrier as the Axletree reaches higher and higher, a barrier that feels almost sexual or at least endearing with its consistency, while the higher ambitions behind the Axletree reach out to TEST it, an Axletree now like a complex mandala or ‘progressed’ natal chart of a horoscope or a collider or a weirdmonger wheel now reaching itself towards this work’s apt referencing of that earlier Shelley of Prometheus Unbound, but now with his Ozymandias. If I were not intent on avoiding plot spoilers in this review, I myself would now be able to auto-extrapolate on its last sentence: “So if you have understood this story you had better tell it to others.” Meanwhile, I loved the whole structure of the Axletree’s perceived structuralism, and its intricacies of lifts and politics, survivalism and pecking-orders. The gathering of insects, birds, animals etc trying to view the climax, ‘clawing and biting to get on top of each other’s backs’, reminded me anthropomorphically of various scenes in ‘Close Encounters of a Third Kind’. A fabulous fable, this story.
A Likely Story Outside A Domestic Setting / A Likely Story Within A Domestic Setting
The next item of a ‘domestic setting’ sort of tells me that the boy swallowing the marble at the beginning of this book, if he had not swallowed it, he’d end up like this when he gets older, except, now, as a grown-up, he can’t penetrate the sky’s deceptively soft barrier to get to the stars. Was his name Ian Nicol? Or Macbeth?
The Story of a Recluse
“…the lamps and the clean pavements and bright stars delighted me.”
I don’t think I have read any of this book’s stories before. I know I have read this author’s LANARK in the distant past, a novel I recall enjoying, but my reading memory is generally bad. After finishing this book, I shall certainly return to LANARK. This next story, a substantive one, is, against all the odds, a compelling page-turner, and I could now in hindsight believe it could be most suitably illustrated by AG’s two items of mirror image artwork I happened to photograph above! This story is an auto-extrapolation, or seems to be following an audit trail that is not pre-determined, whilst in fact it may well be pre-determined, or not…while examining tropes in classic fiction, particularly that of Robert Louis Stevenson, and that author’s ‘linked opposites’ – following a constructed 19th century male protagonist who seems to be captured (kidnapped?) by the text to follow AG’s extrapolation of fiction. A drunkenly accidental romantic meeting with a scantily clad young woman (or later inferred to become romantic) in identical rooms of different houses, his gambling machinations, his paternal relationship, and we learn of his attempts – as an unconscious captive of an enforced audit trail – to requite love with that young woman who he assumed to be the captive rather than himself. And the ending is simply perfect. Probably the only time in literature where an anti-climax is a superb climax. A very clever fiction.
Lack of Money
“How are your folk up at Ardnamurchan, Liz?”
A fascinating account of social class, old or mercenary friendships that recur or change, and the way that money as debt can interplay with such factors … and, like the previous story, the strangely free-wheeling audit trail leads to a terse or reticent anti-climax that entails, by hindsight, an actual form of climax with more resonance than any more expected or fulsome climax would have done. Such diffident humour of clipped climaxes may well be a Scottish trait, I wonder? A BBC shipping forecast as a way to convey fictional endings?
“Meanwhile he listened to the six o’clock news on the BBC Home Service.”
An engaging story of a middle-aged man (an audit trail of a plot partly told by his on-going letters to his son, the final abruptly ended letter being a bit like telling us of a coitus interruptus by means of that letter’s very abortion when its intended recipient surprisingly arrives in person), a middle-aged man who is finding his feet as a widow, someone of ‘mischievous good humour’ and ‘gloomy determination’, set in his ways, but not sufficiently set to have, in the new flat he’s just moved to, a clumsy fling with the younger woman from the next door flat. In those old-fashioned days, domestic sounds seemed to spread more easily from flat to flat, but the classical music on his Grundig was hardly something to complain about. The story’s open-ended ending is terse and six o’clockish but just as engaging as the rest of the story and more final than a closed-ended finality would have been.
“I lacked the strength to read anything enjoyable.”
I can relate to this middle-aged man, a bit like the man in the previous story, and his demeaning health, and his ‘worry and boredom’, except it never changes (so far); it’s never tomorrow when you intend to change by that tomorrow. Perhaps it is possible, at the age of 66 as I now am, that tomorrow will finally arrive tomorrow.
I can’t fully relate with this man, though, as I have been married (so far) to the same wife for 44 years. I can’t relate to his sexual flings, for example, and being passed around, sorry, NOT being passed around. I can still say that he’s right about tomorrow. It has never come (so far).
Unlike him, too, I still have the strength (so far) to read something enjoyable – enjoyable in a downbeat, deadpan sort of way.
“Free will being the essence of mind, everyone who feels trapped must imagine escapes, and some of them work.”
After teasing myself with fictional exits or endings in deadpan or terse or anti-climactic ways in the foregoing stories, I hoped, before I got there, in this short Kafkaesque or absurdist tale, reminiscent of Stephen King’s audit trail ‘doorways’ in his Dark Tower series of novels, that I would reach this story’s own ending and be let out in a similar way. Fiction is indeed about captives and captcha codes and passwords, as I have proved to myself before when trying to escape from Finnegans Wake. Just dwell on what lies behind the text and then just jump into the white space between, assuming there is no let out at the end.
Inches in a Column
A class-conscious character, aptly, after what I said at the end of the last post above, now escapes around the column inches by conning those others imprisoned by the text in this very brief extrapolation on the nature of fiction versus the rolling or breaking newsprint.
I Owe Nothing, I Own Nothing
A twin peaks fable ends with another ageing Mister Goodchild type who likes mucking in with the younger lads engaged, here, in the dangerous fracking-at-a-height type job, even if he now works part-time. A metaphor for obviating the death anxiety that we oldsters suffer? Dangerous edges, safe ledges, I’d say. Like my gestalt real-time reviews, mucking in with you younger thrusting literary-critics as if through a soft veil towards a jagged pique. But I hope I’m not boring you with the alternate peaks and vales of my grumbly passive-aggressive nature, instead?
The Domino Game
“…the years seem to flash past them faster and faster, they will soon have to leave what they sense is an increasingly dangerous world.”
…in tune with the tenor of the stories’ trend of quantitative easing in late generation folk and here the domino game is a symbol of this book’s Toynbeean ‘challenge and response’ of nations as well as individuals in strategic or tactical contest with each other, but here the added image for me is of the dominos toppling against one another as an added dimension!
A brief treatise upon Wittgenstein’s use of a single unchanging food ingredient form of Bulimia as a study aid – and, separately, by dint of chaos theory, upon the off-the-cuff formal requests made during the business of eating as a means of creating, in hindsight, a chat-up line later aimed towards a form of retrocausal flirting.
Epilogue To Edison’s Tractatus
“He persuaded me that Britain was not (as most of our politicians and publicity networks claimed) a democracy, but an aristocracy.”
This engaging epilogue or self-styled “intellectual afterbirth” turns out to be a description of how the previous work was written and why, full of what I assume to be real life incidents and people in the historical setting of AG’s own life. It is twice as long as what it sets out to explain, which is perhaps not surprising when someone could write a whole book discussing the difference between “The gramophone was invented by Edison” and “Every gramophone was invented by Edison”.
Huff Harrington: A Tale Due to Kipling
A comfortable barrackroom shortlet about chess and rank and nicknames.
The Worst Tale
My dreamcaptcha real-time methods prevent stories slipping away from my ageing brain. Sometimes I wish they DID slip away into unreal-time!
I’ll get my did on you.
The Marriage Feast
A shortlet upon a real-time meeting with Jesus Christ in one of his rare good moods.
Authors have moods, too, I guess. I sense AG has more than most. But that may be teetering too close to the edge of Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy!
Moral Philosophy Exam
A watchdog is for life not just a Christmas special. Not so much real-time as the reality show that exists within it.
Sometimes decisions are taken not out of our hands but into our bellies.
A Reality Show
As a fan of Big Brother, I wonder if the last act of Hamlet will come back to haunt us.
“I once wrote my name on a famous painting.”
This real-time review will now continue in the comment stream HERE.
The seven parts of the review of EVERY SHORT STORY by Alasdair Gray:-
https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/16481-2/ (this one)