The Man Who Collected Machen & Other Stories
posted Tuesday, 1 June 2010
I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews. And it is of the collection entitled ‘The Man Who Collected Machen & Other Stories’ by Mark Samuels (Ex Occidente Press 2010).
There is no guarantee how quickly it will take to complete this review.
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 stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
“…and once-elegant balconies now rot on lichen-crusted facades.”
An atmospheric story on a train about a grizzled American abroad in Eastern Europe as a self-referential writerly exercise in imbibing Lovecraftian nips plus a gratuitous murder a la Camus. Or as near gratuitous as possible, were it not for the input of self. (1 June 10)
Before proceeding further, I must say this is an exquisite physical volume, with the most aesthetic quality page paper I think I have ever encountered, plus gorgeously red endpapers (flyleaves?). Covers and binding superb — and a red marker tape built-in. Plus a lovely colour frontispiece, (127 pages – limited to 200 copies)
Oh, I nearly forgot – there is a black and white photo of the author in a straw boater. It is actually a very good photo.
“Barron consumed his meal inside, but then took hot coffee on a sheltered balcony overlooking the main square.”
After an American in Eastern Europe, we now have another American and he is in Mexico, including similar curt glances in a public place – leading to a tale within a tale, of MR-Jamesian-like warning. A traditional macabre tale for those who enjoy such tales, effectively steeped in Mexican landscapes and a Mexican mythos with underlying Catholic sensibilities. (2 Jun 10)
Glickman the Bibliophile
“He was not a commercially successful author and had no agent, merely indulging in post-retirement fantasies of authorial fame.”
A cataclysmic yet deadpan relating of I-lessness amid a gratuitous destruction of books and of all words real and electronic, to the extent of human physicality being wedded to that very process. Gratuitous except for the reasons given by the words I have just read about the process. An irony in that these words are printed on the most beautiful and indestructibly textured paper I think I have ever read words on. A fable that will continue to give me food for thought. (2 June 10 – six hours later)
The Man Who Collected Machen
“After I had turned twenty-one, in 1969…”
This story is a must for all Arthur Machen lovers. Full of a pungent ambiance of book-collecting, smoking (Condor is (or was) a pipe tobacco), interconnecting conspiracies of, say, magus and common landlady, and a dark-effulgent London city that reminded me of ‘A Fragment of Life’. Places and tomes that only exist in ‘magic fiction’ as opposed to ‘magic realism’…. And a blessed imprisonment that ordinary prisoners would die for. (3 Jun 10)
A Slave of Melancholy
“…the wizened ancient merely sighed, drew more deeply on his pipe…”
A Dunsanyan fantasy of a decayed city and a demanding goddess – a dream that may stay with you should you be in tune with such timeless arabesques of literature, as I am. There is an element of this book’s first story, too, a grizzled traveller and a self on self threat , here assisted by an original sense of the zombie…
Meanwhile, I say it is futile to call life futile, for it is. (3 June 10 – another 2 hours later)
“He drew out a packet of cigarettes…”
My favourite tale so far, this tells of a “word sickness” and other things that disfigure the mouth, in parallel with some Tower of Babel / Wittgenstein concept of language. It is genuinely frightening – a sense of horror at something that happens to all of us, i.e. being taken over by a natural process as part of growing-up, one we all know without really thinking about it.
[Also seen in the light of ‘Glickman the Bibliophile’, one needs to take time out & go sit in a smoky bar and just think thoughts. But do we think in English? I hope that bloke in the corner looking at me is not about to speak to me…!] (3 June 10 – another 90 minutes later)
A Question of Obeying Orders
“…he extracted his packet of cigarettes from inside his jacket, lit one with the candle on the table, drew on it, paused, and then blew out deep blue smoke into the air. The wine had made his thoughts hazy and tobacco aided his concentration. / He flicked ash from the tip…”
Another loner, this time a soldier deserting the Kaiser’s army … faced, via a tableau vivant, with Horror of a traditional nature, but which tradition? Meanwhile, another self on self confusion, effectively visualised dramatically. A monster summoned to shoot in a different war of souls. (3 June 10 – another hour later)
The Age of Decayed Futurity
I first real-time reviewed this story last Christmas.
“Often, when I am smoking and absolutely alone, I turn up my skirt and press the burning tip of my cigarette onto the cold white flesh of my thighs.”
This is a Samuels classic. One that ends with talk of pages covered in emptiness (or words in Thyxxolqu?). A writerly Self-Referentiality, zombification, conspiracy, retrocausality of self, and the phenomenon of Celebrity (cf Glickman), this story (as well as adding other themes like modern horror writers’ general trademark topic of static on untuned wireless or television etc), fits this new book like a hand in glove. But whose hand? (3 Jun 10 – another 30 minutes later)
The Black Mould
“It was in the attempt to destroy itself that the mould consumed everything else…”
Although the previous story is a Samuels classic, this one is possibly a general classic – one of creeping cosmic horror. I can easily imagine myself as a young man in the Sixties loving this story, reading it aloud several times to myself and then to others (as I did then), savouring each word of this rich prose and visionary power. Yes, genuinely, this is great old-fashioned stuff. And I sense the authorial soul of this book relishes old-fashioned horror and traditional weird literature and is an exponent of it, with tinges and twinges of modern originality to pepper the effects. ‘The Black Mould’, old -fashioned, yet instinctively a tale for our times. (3 June 10 – another 45 minutes later)
Nor Unto Death Utterly (by Edmund Bertrand)
I first came across this author’s by-line in the Samuels collection ‘Glyphotech’ (which was the subject of my first ever real-time review in 2008 HERE).
“…a form in which modernity played no part; other than to facilitate the return of the glory of the past.”
This story is a wonderful Poesque tale in highly textured antique prose, whereby “metempsychosis” or transformation bears a kinship with the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ and Nemonymity – and whereby felt past preoccupations of horror (felt by this reader on behalf of the story’s imputed head-lease author) regarding different forms of transformation, unnatural and possibly evil. Relating to gender or to a Goddess sensibility that even Christian conversions sometimes reveal for me regarding ‘Our Lady’, i.e. for me as a non-believing bystander. Disregarding that possible irrelevant subtext, this tale is thought-provoking in many other respects and lends more traditional Horror Genre delights to those of us who often thirst after them. (3 Jun 10 – another 90 minutes later)
I have not yet read this book’s last story – and, before I do, let me say that, in my opinion, I feel this collection is greater than ‘Glyphotech’, but less great than ‘White Hands’. This is what I said about ‘White Hands’ in 2003: HERE
Having said that, I feel that ‘The Man Who Collected Machen & Other Stories’ has already proved the potential to grow on me – and who knows? And when I read the last story, later today hopefully, the book may crystallise into something I cannot yet predict….? (3 June 10 – another hour later)
A Contaminated Text
“For them the track of time is from end to beginning…”
This story is an acquired taste or coda. It is nothing without the rest of the book. One sheds light on the other. Hollow world? Hawler world, I say. Secret wisdoms. And the whole book is contained or contaminated by two consecutive sentences in this story:
“They dreamt of a decayed city of inverted steeples shrouded in fog, of black stars in a blood-red sky, of being dead-but-alive, and of searching after a cryptic symbol of no human origin, a symbol which alone brought oblivion. They were tormented by a voice seeming to call from a great distance, a voice muttering unintelligible words, a voice that bubbled and spat like hot tar.”
It should have used a filter tip.
A major book that needs dwelling on for longer than a single read. Samuels is Poe plus Borges and a lot more. His work is better and worse than it seems. But that is its skill.
In a few months, I will come back here and comment in a new real-time on my own review.
In common with all my reviews, I only review fiction. The last item in the book: A GREAT LIFE SPOILT: Wilde, Douglas & Machen: I shall read this in due course but I shall not review it. (3 June 10 – another 2 hours later)