The Silver Voices – by John Howard
posted Sunday, 11 July 2010
I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews. And it is of the collection entitled ‘The Silver Voices’ by John Howard (Ex Occidente Press 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.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
I must say this is an exquisite physical volume, with the most aesthetic quality page paper I think I have ever encountered since encountering ‘The Man Who Collected Machen’ from the same publisher. Under the dust-jacket (shown above) there are truly aesthetic black boards with no lettering but a gold-embossed design on the front – and a red marker tape built-in. Plus a stylish colour frontispiece, (159 pages – limited to 170 copies)
Artist in Residence
“The Artist plodded along the length of one extensive building, which began and ended in circular, balconied, projections with small copper-domed roofs.”
A gentle, homely, almost chance, welcome into the explorabilities of an East European town via the passage of a protagonist known simply as the Artist as he preserves a ‘genius loci’ by his Art – and I feel good and peaceful, as well as strangely and inwardly excited, this morning, for having read it. The sense of that town somehow represents for me, you see, the coming into this book. [The prose is simple, laid back even, but deceptively rich.] (11 Jul 10)
” ‘Perhaps you mad and eccentric English, with your mad and eccentric game, would turn everyone else against you,…’ “
The double entendre of the title is exquisite, as is the whole of this gentle literary ‘only connect’ regarding the Great War. It actually involves the witnessed reunion in Prague of characters who once ‘competed’ – in the real-time of that early 20th century – for loyalties and victories-defeats in the eventual geography as well as ethos transformation of Middle Europe that they once experienced and continue reviewing in hindsight. The implications are emphasised by the reported story here involving the town in the first story.
Do we have here the charm of war in a retrocausality as well as a serendipity of connections? Perhaps. But there is also the greater need to prevent it ever happening again. Or, rather, literature like this literature making it possible that it never happened at all even if we (simultaneously) never forget the bravery of those lost in that huge empty gap of time that history once left open for a Great War instead of more civilised interactions like gentlemanly sports events — or like random meetings in a restaurant as in both stories so far. (11 Jul 10 – two hours later)
The Rise and Fall of the SSS
“At the top were the three letters SSS (in Moderne style) enclosed within two horizontal lines which met in the circumference of a circle which surrounded them. In turn the circle was embedded inside a shape which some had thought looked like a distorted and badly printed arrow.”
Taking place, during 1930, in the Romanian town featured in the previous two stories (a charm-laden and unifying audit trail of a trend or gestalt, one wonders?), this poignantly humorous story – reminiscent, perhaps, of a cosmic yet bathetic Titfield Thunderbolt – has made my day, sending me smiling to the computer merely to record here that the story has to be read for its full flavour of sad and happy human truths and fantasies to seep into your soul from beyond the sky where it aims to soar.
[The quote I’ve made above reminded me of Theodore Sturgeon’s “Always Ask The Next Question” symbol.] (12 Jul 10)
The Reluctant Visionary
“When I had finished I paced backwards and forwards along the length of my balcony. I ran one hand along the polished brass rail that had always reminded me of the rail on a ship’s deck.”
There are many balconies mentioned in this story – but the most important, if only implied, balcony, for me, is, here, the balcony of time. A Wellsian two-way filter of Utopia and Dystopia. In more obviousness, though, between Bucharest and this book’s leitmotif of the same blissful Romanian town, our protagonist – and his Art Deco yearnings to rise beyond skyward in tune with the previous story – conveys what he calls “a nostalgia for the future” (cf: my mention of ‘retrocausality’ earlier in this review). I sense that ‘The Reluctant Visionary’ is a very important story in my reading career tantalisingly providing a suitable and most enjoyable architecture for many of my own, often reluctant, thoughts and aspirations against life’s background of ‘history’ that has already happened and/or yet to come. A story that, I am sure, needs to be read several times to gain from it – and give to it – more and yet more. (13 Jul 10)
In Strange Earth
“…its gothic pinnacles soaring skywards.”
This story left me almost in tears, bittersweet tears. The ‘good place’ – this book’s continuing and erstwhile leitmotif town – gives refuge for the man who, having witnessed the Leader’s Last Balcony Scene in Bucharest, flees here to seek his own ‘nostalgia from the future’ by finding, he hopes, a lost friendship but is affected by visions or dreams of the aged couple (now hand in hand) who were ousted from the Balcony. Another major reading experience for me, an experience in itself but connected outside of itself – [i.e. connected to the fact that this story accidentally seems to mean a lot to me (see HERE where the Leader is mentioned by name) and there was nothing that could have made me then predict the reading of this story in this book that I only received a few days ago!] (13 Jul 10 – six hours later)
‘In Strange Earth’, as a discrete expression of words – cf: the travelling via drill or hawling-pits within the strange earth of ‘Nemonymous Night’.
The Silver Voice
This intriguing story definitely needs reading more than once (and so far I have only read it once as is the nature of these real-time reviews). The leitmotif town – with dichotomies both old and new, airy and claustrophobic, extreme and liberal … “and the way its architecture effortlessly combined everyday humane and urbane values and proprtions with touches of the baroque and strange“. Like the book itself that tells of it?
The above dichotomies are within this story plus internet searches, a father and son relationship reviewed, religious icons, the wings of Romanian politics, a strange book delivered about the Iron Guard, questions and keys also being delivered, a geometricallly cubic windowless room with an iron box perhaps contrasting with another room where the first person narrator “opened the balcony doors to let in more of the cool air of twilight.” And more.
[If this is a silver voice, it is the Soprano in Mahler or Zemlinsky (clear but dark), even Berg songs. Or close encounters with Zoltan Kodaly.] (14 Jul 10)
To Hope for a Caesar
“Would the airy high room become a sort of confessional in the sky?”
A substantial story: a coda to this book’s symphony. It takes place in Berlin, although there is a nod toward the leitmotif town in the first paragraph on page 120. An Englishman gives tours of Berlin, and in tune with the first two stories, there are chance meetings in a café here as if in a plot from Le Carré – leading to an absolution concerning love, treachery, the chalice of politics, Nazi / Communist dichotmies (and circles?) in 20th Century history, cruel / humane, time’s mirror of two pairs of young stripling love, old / new like “teeth next to dentures“. This book ends, for me, with my soul soaring into an Art Deco Heaven. I have sipped upon a Silver Voice, not from the Holy Grail, but from the Golden Bowl. And I do know what that word was that ends this story as well as this book. You don’t often finish books left with such mixed feelings.
“…the sun shone on balconies…”
NB: I shall now read, for the first time, the essay at the end of the book entitled INSIDE THE STORIES – but I will not return to review it here. But I will re-read the whole book in due course. It deserves and needs a re-reading, although I have already gained much from it having already given back to it, hopefully, as much as what I gained from it allowed me to give back to it. Which is a lot. (15 Jul 10)
1. John Howard left…
Monday, 12 July 2010 12:26 pm
I was pleased to see that you’re reviewing THE SILVER VOICES in this way. I’ve read many of the other reviews and have been impressed with the insights you bring out in your comments. I’m sure that the writers concerned have learned from your reviews, and I hope to do the same! (I am very proud that my work has been published in such a quality edition. I find the art deco frontispiece and the gold design on the cover to be particularly fine!)
Monday, 12 July 2010 12:59 pm
Thank you, John. 🙂 des