The Wounds of Exile – by Reggie Oliver
I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews. And it is of the fiction entitled ‘The Wounds of Exile’ by Reggie Oliver (Passport Levant 2010). An imprint of Ex Occidente Press.
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’s website: “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.”
I’m not sure of the correct terminology, but my edition has deliciously green dustjacket, fly-leaves and bookmark.
100 copies. 94 pages. This book is gorgeous. It reminds me, too, of the ‘landscape’ format used for the first five editions of ‘Nemonymous’.
” ‘Indeed the more difficult a work is to read, the more highly is it praised, because to praise such a work is to praise oneself for having the strength to read it.’ “
So far, this book is not difficult, and I come to praise it not to bury it in a clever critique. Also, so far, it is positively untedious. A 16th century Constantinopoly – with walking on religious eggshells as well as Sheherazadic rivalries, harems, Sultans and other Vathekian intrigues…or certainly that flavour if not the due strict chronology within my unToynbeean mind. It is beautifully written and I look forward to the rest of this presumed exotic novella by one of my favourite nearer-today ‘Strange Story’ writers. (I recently wrote a story – ‘Blank Screen’ – debating whether someone wore a hat that was red or black in 1961 when life was only memorable in monochrome. That gave added value for me when reading this chapter – showing that literature is personal and owned by the reader not the author.) The end of this chapter mentions Baghdad – and a character presaged to “bring us nearer to the very pit of hell than I dare think.” Strange, Baghdad in the ancient exotic scenario brings quite different images for me than it does in today’s post-Toynbeean scenario. (26 Jul 10)
” ‘She was put into a sack and drowned in the Bosphorus yesterday for being caught in the act of adultery, as the law decrees,’ he said.”
This book itself, in physical form, is like the grimoire it threatens to become. Thankfully, I’m not sure where this novellatory fiction is going while, like all great fiction rollercoasters, it becomes exciting from an imaginative point of view. Some spells and infantile monsters summoned by that aforementioned character from Baghdad – trying, as he does, to out-do even ‘the weapon of mass destruction’ djinn of all djinns to satisfy the Sultan’s cerebral masochism – with, as foil, the independent background of our ‘innocent’ narrator and his cohorts. Very effective horror images as ingredients in a “chafing dish containing a mess of lamb’s blood, eggs, hellebore and other substances I will not mention”. One wonders if we dare truly delve beneath the veneer of this book towards things that not even the narrator (or the author himself!) dare mention, for fear of repercussions political, religious and fictitious (the third of those being, paradoxically, the most dangerous to soul and body). (26 Jul 10 – four hours later)
“I was enslaved by her capacity for slavery,”
Our innocent independent narrator and his cohorts are exposed to earth-bound flight and flurry, young love, young jealousy, voyages, pirates, brigands, rivalries amid Seraglio intrigues, close shaves, – with a possible blend of sensibilities from Gilbert & Sullivan (“never shipped a handspike”), Mozart, Salman Rushdie, Rafael Sabatini (with a soul borrowed from MP Shiel), and an essential Reggieness that, I sense, indefinably looms large on the ocean’s horizon (skilfully real and theatrical at once) – laced with a positive, unLigottian “We were in the present, and the present was good.” Stuff like this is not written any more … except here. Loved to have picked Reggie up as a library book in the old-fashioned days of my youth, as it would also have taught me to learn prematurely about a more modern grotesquery of captivating reading. This book’s rollercoaster continues and this particular reader still wonders towards where he is now being captivated. (27 Jul 10)
“In these months, which seemed at the time like years, I had tried to beguile my mind by calculating where precisely we were and what direction we were travelling.”
I could never have predicted this magnificent ending even if I had predicted a zoo on a ship. Poignancy in love, farcical and dream-consistent, this novella is a masterpiece – especially if you work away at its simplicity towards making it more difficult than it actually is. Writing difficultly is often a way of expressing the inexpressible. This book is not written difficultly, however, but it does express the inexpressible. A mighty feat.
“He shifted the spike from his right to his left hand and back again.”
In this age of electronic text, it is good to have this novella’s text on really stiff pages between even stiffer boards within a landscape of history, Ottoman and Russian.
“I looked for the rhinoceros, whose strangeness, I must admit, had captivated me.”
END (27 Jul 10 – three hours later
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/