UNBECOMING And Other Tales Of Horror – by Mike O’Driscoll
My 12th real-time review
posted Sunday, 15 March 2009
Another on-going review by DFL based on this discussion thread: http://shocklinesforum.yuku.com/topic/10009
My other reviews linked from: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
Beware possible spoilers
And Other Tales Of Horror
by Mike O’Driscoll
Elastic Press 2006
Cover design: Mike Bohatch
Cover layout: Dean Harkness
(15/3/09) We Will Not Be Here Yesterday
A very impressive overture to what promises to be a frightening journey. But of couse this is only a tentative journey. I may need to leave it halfway either through boredom or, at the other extreme, over-excitement. We shall see. As it implies in the first story, any reader may become part of the shit upon one of this book’s cave-walls, fossilised into art.
This first story builds cerebral acceleration by a series of cuttings, interviews, primary sources, TV discussions by real people, all concerning the work of Dupin and Pandolf – each section of the ‘story’ becoming an installation in itself representing another installation that is a work of modern art told in theatrical asides within the main thrust of the narrative that the reader infers as taking place. Questioning intentions, teasing the open sores of phonetics, the rumour of theory and practice, the exhibition of shit left in the colon, the artification of cancer, the deification of nothingness by a Tate Modern’s’s sleight-of-hand … I was left wondering if this is not already the end of my journey even before I’ve hardly begun it.
The Unbecoming begins to take its hold already. The descent into nemonymity. We will not be here yesterday, it said yesterday. Now you’re not slowly here today … but what about tomorrow, will you completely be gone (or newly begun?)? The first story had extracts of ‘copy’ for an audit trail of plot to be inferred. Today, we have an advertising executive whose descent — into paranoia, fear of death, cancer investigation (cf yesterday’s story), self-as-jinx, loss of purpose, perceived disloyalty to you by others, shadows as depleting selves — follows another audit trail or algorithm of, not a plot as such, but a real reverberation between plot and reader that becomes more than just plot. As if the reader’s own shadow is waiting at the end of the story’s answerphone with your own voice but not the message you put on it. Not the message you read into it.
Each death that happens today depletes the life that is you.
[I wonder why one of the managers at the protagonist’s advertising agency has the name of a real literary agent: Curtis Brown?]
(16/3/09 – 12 hours later) In The Darkening Green
Beautiful variations on the theme of ‘Never Let Me Go’ (Ishiguro) – where paradoxically the act of becoming becomes that of unbecoming… or vice versa?
Amid this garish, image-media, throwaway (dystopic) world depicted here, uncaring carers make their choices at some souped up ‘orphanage’ — and we sense a vision of ‘children’ gaining innocence with the same poignant, regrettable results that followed Adam & Eve losing innocence.
The reader himself is painfully altered in becoming happier by achieving recognition of the paradoxes. A morality tale as well as a horror one. [I note the Ishiguro was first published after this story].
(17/3/09) Unbecoming – by Willard Grant
I am in a state of shock. I wrote this story. This is my story word for word. I may have been suffering from writer’s Bloch recently and an identity crisis concerning pseudonyms, changed signatures and another mis-recorded answerphone – but I can safely say this is definitely something I wrote. I remember writing it a few years ago and it being published under my the name DF Lewis. Who’s Willard Grant? Who’s Mike O’Driscoll? Did I ever meet him? Google is my only salvation from a choice between plagiarism and obscurity. Becoming/Unbecoming means the same thing. And my words flow like things that others feed on like vampires.
[I had a bad tooth extraction yesterday (75 minutes of yanking and crunching) – seriously ….. and now I see that I wrote those novels ‘Saint of Pain’ & ‘Eye Teeth’. It was me. “It didn’t seem possible but the taste of blood on my lips told me it was.” (from ‘Unbecoming – by Willard Grant’)].
(17/3/09 – 4 hours later) The Hurting House
This is a substantial story with the framework of an archetypal horror story: a brilliantly written compulsive page-turner as well as capable of being dwelt upon from each paragraph’s standing position. In addition to the book’s main leitmotif of ‘unbecoming’ (“…as if the choices we’d made back then were aberrations that had no bearing on who we’d become.”), there seems to be developing, as I read the book, an idée fixe of answering-machines (and in this story a character called Call)…
Here, we have feeling guilty or hurt (even dirty) at what one has once been or what one might become. Ghosts of displaced fulfilment. Friendship blurred by retribution or painful reconciling. The odd interchange of ‘I’ between ‘you’ in the text. This story has its modern salacious moments as well as its traditional gothic frisson; e.g. the list of arcane books in a Lovecraftian manner, including Eye Teeth by Willard Grant and a fictitious fiction by Poe.
“She’d always felt she looked trapped in the picture.” Did she look simply a trapped woman at the time of the photograph or literally trapped-in-the-picture? This sheds further hurting upon the later “tangled in the tune”. Beautiful stuff.
“The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.” — John Fowles 1964 (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’)
(17/3/09 – after another 7 hours) That Obscure Object of Desire
A fascinating (& ingenious) treatment of something close to my heart: the machinations of Modern Art (echoing themes in the first story in this book and in the Cone Zero canon for which I was responsible last year) … logically building towards a frightening nothingness – a nothingness masquerading as the optimum art form. The ultimate Unbecoming. The DADA device is a sort of two-way answering-machine between famous dead artists and live ones. Many artists and styles are name-checked. I wonder if ‘L’Origine du Monde’ by Gustave Courbet (1866) in oil was on a secret DADA channel only accessible to certain artists?
“I knew that before anyone studies an artist’s life they’ve already decided that what he made was art, regardless of his intentions.”
A great story-in-itself as well as stimulating as a satirical (?) work about art and its theory. Very impressive indeed.
[‘Nemonymous’ printed nothingness as a discrete story in 2002. An unchallenged world first.]
PS: Cf.’ “tangled in the tune” from ‘The Hurting House’ and “It’s as if you’ve put something of yourself into the paint” in ‘That Obscure Object of Desire’.
(18/3/09) Sounds Like
The middle of this book. And I wonder if we have here reached the core of the modern Horror genre as I have found it to be in my current investigations? The treatment of ‘dead air’ (the perennnial theme of static and suicide, here taken to its logical conclusion of silence (cf. the nothingness of the previous story)) – with an empty hiatus (intentional or unintentional) between two pages.
This is a horror story. About mortality and the minutiae of sounds. The descent into madness by OCDing on the noises below the skin. And the precisely timed calls to a Call Centre (incredibly!) where the protagonist works as supervisor. The babel of calls is answered, overheard, often cut off (and recorded forever upon the empty palette of eternity?)
Cot death and attention-seeking. Safety in numbers or in silence? A becoming that is quite shameful and unbecoming.
The last sentence of the story says everything.
(18/3/09 – 4 hours later) Rare Promise
Indeed this story holds a rare promise that, even if one tries to surrender its words, they will keep coming back. It is a deeply word-textured Lawrencian symphony of non-urban emotions revealing a bottomless melting-pot of adolescent friendships altered by sex and jealousy, raw or religious guilt and shame, dark almost mythic memories of the “susurrations that slip between sounds”, self versus self through time, the secrecy of imperious fate … and this story does not surrender you the reader not only as a fiction-force-in-itself but because of what has gone before it in this book. In this story, a Confessional that is almost an answering-machine where the demon answerer eventually jumps out at the caller when the ‘conversation’ is abruptly slammed down! The sanctity of silence. The almost Modern Art that this story becomes as a series of blended cuttings of self ‘copy’. The losing of innocence by paradoxically gaining it. Becoming and Unbecoming.
I cannot of course do justice to something I fail to absorb completely in one sitting. It may one day teach me to understand when I’m dragged back to it. It will never surrender me finally to the ‘call’ of other books, I’m sure. But – who knows? – it may be the passion of a moment. Only time will tell. The story’s author may jump out of it and drag me back. Not its real head-lease author named on the spine but the story’s demon second-rung author-as-reader calling me to read it all over again so that I can make final penance for not hurting enough the first time. Hurt is only real hurt when it happens time and time again for eternity.
(19/3/09) The City Calls Her Home
co-written with Christopher Kenworthy
This story starts with a public phone-box ringing close to where the protagonist is sitting and she answering this random call. It is indeed random. As is the later mention of Samuel R Delany — and of Palladin Avenue that appears to be an address in Kiev, Ukraine (& Rosenkrantz Station?) … not in London where the story takes place. This is about London’s becoming/unbecoming. Perhaps the whole world’s. And as entropy is endemic to the reality we know, both becoming and unbecoming must lead to the same thing? Here we have an ‘innocent abroad’ (in a ski jacket and human vulnerability) but equally a woman with a gritty self-preservation and nous come to an endless London in search of a boy friend she didn’t apparently know all that well. Into drab streets and underground stations. A city where “everything’s shit” and with “no imagination” — and things (beyond an ability to distract her from her quest) gradually crack up and remind the reader of today’s angsts. She does have glimpses of mysterious jets in the sky and: “‘Government faces confidence vote’, the banner headline read. After two paragraphs, the story bored her. She wasn’t interested in economics.”
Until she “dreamt of nothing, nothing at all.”
A beautifully written story. I’m glad I decided to pick up this book, or I would probably never have read it. It was ringing on the bookshelf.
“Dada won’t help me any more, not in this world.”
(19/3/09 – 3 hours later) If I Should Wake Before I Die
Echoing ‘Rare Promise’, a textured fugue towards a healing epiphany: almost an O’Driscollian caricature of itself (the only negative so far in my review). The protagonist (now grown-up) returns to previous foster parents in a house in the wood via a journey that has an in-built crazy Sat-Nav phone-in answering-machine in his head – remembering animals and humans he has killed or tortured – but had he become what he now was through the fault of others? A complex of self-blame and blame of others – all trapped in pictures (photos) he scatters like confetti as his own form of offered communion or eucharist? Altered by the Darkening Green? So much a fugue-flowing perhaps we should return to the Modern Art of the first story in this book with snapshots from the text:
Talk-shows kept him informed about the important issues of the day. He saw no mystery in people wanting to talk to perfect strangers at five in the morning about the war or refugees or gay priests — He liked the idea of labels, the way they said thngs about you without anyone having to ask — Abruptly, the man went to another call. Lee wondered if the woman was aware she’d been cut off, or if her voice still carried on, speaking in dead air — When it squirmed and tried to flap its good wing, he gripped it a little tighter. Its heart raced, a thousand beats a minute. As if trying to cram a whole lifetime into a few seconds — More bleating sounds came, closer now, inside the wood. Broken voices answered them, like voices from a badly tuned radio — It changed nothing — What appeared to be one thing was quite often something else entirely — First, they make you love them, then they tear you apart. Do they remembr who you were?
Who does he think he is?
(19.3.09 – after another 6 hours) Hello Darkness
A very strong story of graphic sex and violence but with a literary Graham Greene feel. This has a surrogate story that tells of a male protagonist coming (‘becoming’) in or into darkness by having sex with darkness, that darkness being a woman’s passing into death which gives that woman, in turn, a healing daknesss at the same time as being penetrated…strobing, perhaps, between visions of having sex with Ligottian mannequins or blow-up dolls? The story tells it so much better than me, though! Kiosks and cubicles of sex, too, like Confessionals: coin-in-the-slot answering-booths where, through a silent or extinct language, our protagonist, a real (has-been?) film actor, watches peep shows that have far less artifice than his films once did. I feel dirty reading this story. Perhaps I was meant to. Questioning my reactions of disgust. But there comes no answer from the other side. All authors are silent. Whatever an author may say after the book is published and read is just another cold call.
Relatively few people speak Hopi; it is in danger of extinction in the near future.
(20/03/09) Evelyn Is Not Real
An absorbing story of identity … and paranoia (of being watched or a feeling of dread whenever the phone rings) reminding me of Paul Auster and that famous Nemonymous story ‘The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada’, but essentially and predominantly (what I have learnt to be) Mike O’Driscollian. This story, like many of the stories in this book, has a definite ‘spirit of place’ and sinewily and satisfyingly prosed out for us. There is a long-lost (did it ever exist?) Lynch-like film that seems to change on each viewing and one of the story’s protagonists sort of becoming the message that was left on the film-print to ‘become’ the buried treasure yearned for by the person leaving the message there for later retrieval. Most intriguing. It is romantic and creepy … with feelings of hurt and grief working itself out by replacement therapy. One wonders, though, whether all happy endings ever stay like that. That’s what makes (I feel) all literature horror literature … or as I prefer to say: the Ominous Imagination. O’Minous O’Driscoll.
(20/03/09 – one & a half hours later) The Silence of the Falling Stars
Heat and silence and moving rocks – and an ambiance of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ with similar results. But here we also have an ‘I’ narrator, a man who is tongue-tied in real life but ‘speaks’ so fluently and feelingly (and, yes, believably) about his experiences in this telling prose we read in the guise of this story – and which one is which? The guy on the bar-stool who cannot even muster up small talk or his doppleganger in the bar-mirror who communes so easily with Sophie? Which becomes which? Whose voice do we hear “crackling over the Motorola” when he replies to Rydell’s similar crackling? This story reminds me of ‘Sounds Like’, with its theme of silence … almost as if it were destined to repair that story’s hiatus. A rock moving (of its own volition) into position to fill the echoing cave? The emptiness in your soul. I feel good after reading this story. After reading this whole book. As if ominousness has become all-pervasive with no need to number-order the stories correctly but simply to hold the whole lot in your mind at once – weaving and swerving from random paragraph to paragraph, seeking to wring epiphany from randomness, to wring gratuitous masochistic hurt from the balming, easing, fugue-like prose, to wring meaning from meaninglessness, to wring Modern Art from Traditional Art…and vice versa, vice versa…. To wring and to ring.
As the ‘I’ in this last story did … with the ‘found art’ in the back of the abandoned car when under the moving silent star-rocks of the sky: “I press and hold the rewind, listening to the machine whirr as the world runs back to where it has already been.”A mighty collection, I’d say, this ‘Unbecoming and other tales of horror’. Seminal horror. Well done, Mike, and well done, Elastic Press.END
“Are you serious? You’re an actor?”
His smile seemed awkward somehow, even a little embarrassed. “Not sure I still am”
“What do you mean?”
“Haven’t worked on a movie in a while. It’s like, if you’re dead, can you still call yourself human?”
(20/3/09 – after another 3 and half hours)
I have now just re-read another story by Mike O’Driscoll – one that was not included in the above book just reviewed.
One that is close to my heart as it was first published in the very first issue of ‘Nemonymous‘ in 2001.
I’m not sure if it has been published again since then.
It is entitled:-
Double Zero For Emptiness
This is a third-person singular ‘monologue’ as if by Stephen King upon reviewing his own ‘(un)becoming’ – his relationships public and private – his thoughts on writing – his ‘fame’ – his hopes and fears – leading up finally to that ‘famous’ road accident…
It serves for me (perhaps for me alone) as a poignant and thoughtful coda to what I’ve just lived through above when explaining my reactions to Mike’s book — a seeming whole short lifetime squeezed into a short period of tangling myself into the text of Unbecoming – akin to that quote from ‘If I should Wake Before I Die’:
“Its heart raced, a thousand beats a minute. As if trying to cram a whole lifetime into a few seconds.”As a coda to a coda, ‘Double Zero For Emptiness’ was first published in 2001 and contains these words:
“…the bowel-clenching terror of knowing that tomorrow you could be shipped halfway round the world to kill or be killed by people you felt no enmity towards.”
Monday, 16 March 2009 11:58 pm :: http://tinyurl.com/d29d5w
Mike O’Driscoll’s own review of Nemonymous is linked immediately above.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 4:46 pm
18.3.09: Christopher Teague (Pendragon): The moment I noticed “In the Darkening Green” as part of the ToC, I knew I had to buy this collection – and both are superb – but that story is probably one of the finest pieces of “quiet” horror I’ve read; the realisation of what is actually going on, behind the scenes just hits you for six.
‘Sounds Like’ was adapted for television by Brad Anderson, who made the superb Session 9 and The Machinist: two films which any horror fan should have in their collection.
Thursday, 19 March 2009 12:05 pm
Friday, 20 March 2009 5:14 pm
Having just finished that review a few minutes ago I can now extricate myself from being ‘tangled in text’. I hope the characters can’t – as they liive there, breathe there, are simply there. They’d be real though – like fleshy ghosts if they ever did escape!! Or perhaps even realler than us!!