The Mascarons of the Late Empire & Other Studies
Below is the original real-time review previously deleted by accident now replaced here today (15 Aug 10)
I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews. And it is of the collection entitled ‘The Mascarons of the Late Empire & Other Studies’ by Mark Valentine (Passport Levant 2010).
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
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.
Publisher: “Sewn hardcover with dust-jacket printed on heavy textured cardboard paper, cloth boards, gold folio, silk ribbon, end papers and full-color frontispiece. The Passport Levant volumes are published in a large landscape format of 24.5 x 22cm.”
100 copies. 93 pages. This book is gorgeous. It reminds me, too, of the ‘landscape’ format used for the first five editions of ‘Nemonymous’.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
A Walled Garden on the Bosphorus
“…to taste on the tongue of his imagination.”
A medlar medley of images … veils and piques (literally) … whereby the narrator meets Felix Vrai amid a gentle Constantinopoly or imaginarium of exotic sects that may alter something we all take for granted: reality. It would be a shame to seek more clues than that about the story-as-person in the ‘room’ where you read it. Walled or not. (25 Jul 10)
The Mascarons of the Late Empire
pp 23 – 33
“…to make order out of labyrinths and imaginary lines.”
This book delightfully cracks from time to time as you turn the pages – like a mascaron appearing suddenly in a walled silence.
It was chance, perhaps, I read John Howard’s ‘Silver Voices’ (Ex Occidente Press) before I read this one but – so far in this story – there is mutual resonance of almost random meetings in cafes. Here, however or moreover, are troveable languages and cartographies both to match and to contrast. A New Latinate Constantinopoly or Imaginarium – afloat upon a mist’ress of densely textured gautiers & jewelled prose. I am literally and literarily agog. (26 Jul 10)
“He had never known any great city of the late empire not to possess at least some mascarons;”
Quests and an unrequited love … and matronly concerns amid a “medley of humanity” – and a language (a weirdtongue or tonguage?) that creates reality rather than merely describing it. This story is so rich, I needed to absorb it in these three smaller bites from its cluster of exotic fruit. I wonder if the circular chess game will ever be resolved from or …
“…into the apricot warmth of the morning.” (26 Jul 10 – ninety minutes later)
pp. 44 – 58
“…dusk descended like the powder of a fine rare blue spice,”
On the edge of a Lovecraftian vision (but constructively not quite), we have here some of the most powerfully redolent ‘fantasy’ I think I have ever read in my life. Valentine – with the emphasis on tine. The pages don’t come to life, the language upon them doesn’t come to life, but that of which the language speaks comes to life through some strange alchemy of literature that re-infects (retrocausally?) the paper whence it comes to life with the mascarons (now as words) that once stained them like living watermarks. The cartographed faces of unrequited love, at every turn, an unrequited love for woman or for wonder or for wordmongering, a love that one learns by the craft of reading to requite.
“…the shuffling sound of books settling down in their places, as if drawing succour from each other.” [Cf. the shuffling words within books in my review two weeks ago of ‘Groaning Shadows’ by Paul Finch HERE.] (26 Jul 10 – another 2 hours later)
“Xust was particularly well-situated, for it had itself been part of no less than six different countries one after the other during the 20th century,”
A touching portrait of a cigarette historian and his meeting with the personification of the Carpathian Republic. I feel a telling vision of a European twentieth century is encapsulated for us simply by this story’s memorable scene explaining the nature of the ‘lantern’ that could be seen on the hillside above Xust. [A more telling vision than that derived from scrying the “fewmets” that litter most of the outsides of our buildings these days where smokers congregate for unseemly relief (my own thought, possibly not the story’s).] (27 Jul 10).
The Atelier in Iaşi
This starts as an Elizabeth Bowen-like essay in her style of fiction, a mystery invitation to an art show that indeed reverts to the walled or unwalled room where you read this story on the stiffest pages between even stiffer boards upon an age-scored desk of even stiffer mien: an intriguing Romanian city (not a million miles by the nearest cartographer’s trick or “line of a balcony” from the wonderful leitmotif town in the above-mentioned ‘Silver Voices’ book) and a genuine sense of completion by incompletion. Mr Ramsey in ‘To The Lighthouse’? ‘The House of Leaves’? Or simply a conundrum that is kept in the biggest atelier of them all – my own head.
And, through its words (truly great stories in themselves), this book in itself, as a physical artefact, is also, I promise you, its own self-volitional “art installation”.
“There was, after all, surely a difference between the artist and the art; and it did not do to mix them up.”
END (27 Jul 10 – three hours later)