I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of “THE OLD KNOWLEDGE & Other Strange Tales” by Rosalie Parker – The Swan River Press, Dublin 2010.
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.
“His face looked quite rigid, like a resting puppet.”
Geraldine – with city-cred – takes a break in what turns out to be relentless rain in Yorkshire and a holiday cottage. The disarmingly simple and crystalline prose conveys much of the conflicting mores of city and country, with the trappings of dream and reality displayed in venn diagrams of morality and immorality, entropy and veneer. It is as if the city and country are fighting to win the same qualitative battle of dream versus reality (using their respective cohorts) – possibly strobing towards a claustrophobic state that is neither. Very effective in its own terms. (21 Sep 10)
“…our cars in the drive look abandoned, their roofs topped with snowy white crew-cuts. We’re all going to bed early because we don’t want to talk to each other any more.”
A diary narrative, a group of competing siblings after a Will, a snowbound haunted house – at first, I thought, a palate-cleansing traditional ghost story in limpid prose that flows sweet as a nut (and indeed the narrative is lightly, absurdly humorous, with delicious ‘dying falls’). Indeed it is that. But if I also say that I was intrigued by the inconclusive nature of the ending or that I didn’t actually understand the ending or it remained linear and straightforward right to the end, any one of which might be a spoiler. So it was none of those things. Whatever the case, it was delightful and, I predict, will become, for me, haunting. One scene for example with music stands. (21 Sep 10 – three hours later)
In The Garden
“You’re probably too young to understand.”
A sort of ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ – if here a childless one – addressing an unseen listener about her garden and the new growth nurtured with due regard to her husband’s own attentions to growth. A slight, if sinister, piece. But sometimes ‘slight’ is good in the context … a short movement optimising the Chamber Music of this book. (21 Sep 10 – another 4 hours later)
A neatly-evoked ‘herb-rich’ story of a male archaeologist as narrator – faced with fret, headache and a baby planted in his hands by a sudden arrival of girl he half-fancied as, previously alone, he studies ancient monuments in deserted areas of the South Downs in Sussex (if I’ve got my geography right). The predicament is well strung on the anxiety harp of not knowing what to do with the living bundle other than take it home…
A dilemma that really accentuates the aftermath when he becomes paranoiac in his later desperate attempts to return and retrieve some confirmation of having done the right thing. I really lived this story.
Child is Father of the Man, while dream or haunting or alternate world may be his creation or what created him. (21 Sep 10 – another 2 hours later)
The Supply Teacher
” ‘Blood is molten red gold…’ “
Perhaps it is appropriate that it is a supply teacher – in this brief peripatetic exercise – who extrapolates on circulation to the class and the various aspects (symbolic and actual) of blood – fielding a question, inter alia, from a child called Carmilla about vampires and exploring much else in this course of blood – all eventually fused with a sales pitch…
I’m not sure if this story’s point will become clearer in the entire gestalt of this book, a gestalt that I hope to discover by the end of this review. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the story in a strangely anti-health&safety sort of way. [I wonder if plants in the provincial garden can be watered with blood?] (21 Sep 10 – another 2 hours later)
The Old Knowledge
” ‘We’re using the quadrant method, by which we expose any subsurface features while retaining four transverse sections for stratigraphic analysis.’ “
In many ways, a sister story of ‘Chanctonbury Ring’, both reflecting the other in subtle and ultimately unnecessary ways (just an added literary luxury). Also connected with ‘In The Garden’ and perhaps others.
A gamine, Maisie, with sick mother, is romantically (?) obsessed with an ancient burial mound and its contents, a barrow that is endangered by progress, and well-observed characters arrive to excavate prior to removal by the farmer who owns the land. The actual excavation, its process and, above all, its diverse finds remind me of real-time reviewing, particularly reviewing this current book. This story, for me, races with blood where blood should not even exist. And this story is a genuine memorable one where there is an artful withdrawal of authorial omniscience at one point – often viewable as a clumsy mistake but here it adds a retrocausality to the age-rings or striations of time. New as well as old knowledge in unexpected interface. (22 Sep 10)
On re-considering ‘The Old Knowledge’, I’m not now so sure it was a withdrawal of authorial omniscience or something else even more artful! (22 Sep 10 – another hour later)
The Cook’s Story
” ‘But, you see, I don’t understand all the herbs in the knot garden.’ “
Like ‘Spirit Solutions, this story is a diary narrative <POSSIBLE SPOILER> the entries of which intriguingly being thrown in doubt by the retrocausality of – or the diarist’s, not here withdrawal of, but resumption of – an almost witch-like omniscience in the diary’s last entry? </POSSIBLE SPOILER>: and, again like ‘Spirit Solutions’, with anthropo-eccentric animal connections regarding the key to the intrigue.
‘The Cook’s Story’ also, for me, still resonates, even as I write, with aspects from ‘In The Garden’: the diarist being a cook (recovering from troubles in her love life) who is employed by a Swedish couple in a huge house, the wife being a ‘herb-rich’ hobby-gardener, ostensibly childless, too, which takes on a new significance here.
I could ramble on about this story forever and its interconnections with the rest of the book. This book, despite its disarmingly simple pure prose style and traditional-seeming supernatural plots, is possibly more intriguing than many a book with dense textured styles and ostensibly complicated plots. An eye-opener for me. (22 Sep 10 – another 2 hours later)
I am a sucker for supernatural tales about paintings, the painting here of an androgynous, semi-religious figure that the female protagonist – who is some amateurish sort of artefact and fine art dealer – discovers in a junk shop. Turns out to be rich in financial worth, good fortune and supernatural baleful influence. An enjoyably uncluttered coda to the literary Chamber Music of this book. Uncluttered except for a bracketing resonance with the first story in this wonderful book: those venn diagrams I described.
“… let out a little laugh. She had learnt that there were many strange people populating the internet.”
NOTE: I shall now read the book’s introduction, having finished this real-time review. Although I am sure it will give me further valuable food for thought, I did not want it to influence my review in any way. (22 Sep 10 – another 90 minutes later)
All my previous real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/