I could go on to tell you about the references from literature, mythology and religion that are planted in the text like precious gemstones embedded in a rock face, landmines primed to explode at the tread of sensitive feet. I could rave about the sparkling dialogue, the elegant and witty prose, and the sheer passion that’s to be found in some of the pronouncements. I could talk about resonances and patterns that weave back on themselves like a demented Mobius strip. I could do all of that and more, but if you haven’t got the message that this book is a little bit special by now then I guess you never will.
– Peter Tennant in UNREAL DREAMS..
What is really remarkable about the novella is not its sardonic wit, dark ethos, apocalyptic bombast, puckish surrealism or even its opening lines, the best opening lines of any fiction in the history of writing, but the fact it compresses the thousand strengths and thousand weaknesses of our most eccentric, wilful, retiring and yet conspicuous literary figure into an extremely neat 30,000 words.
A stunning addition to Des’s work … a landmark event, both in Des’s writing and in literature in general. It tells the story of John Bello; his dreams; his friends, his unusual childhood; his innocence challenged and retained, all set against the surreal backdrop of a destructive conflict that may remind the reader of the remote Orwellian wars of 1984 … If you have not read Des Lewis before, prepare to be initiated into a new dimension.
Lewis’ 1st novella offers night read of genre-bridge 2 far…enuf 2 boggle Kafka & blanch Lovecraft…Say what may abt DFL but truly he’s Merlin of Brit-Lit.
If he’s such a genius, why is he sometimes mocked? Because his work is an acquired taste, like celery or Guinness (Rhys Hughes)
For ordering information please contact D.F. Lewis at email@example.com
a novella by DFL written in 1983 and published in 1998
DFL’s work is very much an acquired taste, one that will not easily find favour with those who seek nothing more from fiction than the quick fix of escapism, or who demand the straitjacket of beginning, middle and end. Opinions as to his merits as a writer are sharply divided. Hailed in some quarters as a genius of the avant-garde, he has been dismissed by others as without talent (an assessment that must surely be suspect – nobody becomes so widely published without quite considerable talent). The truth, as so often, falls somewhere between these two stools. DFL’s best stories are slivers of unreality that stick in the reader’s mind and prickle, constructions of arch weirdness crammed with disturbing imagery, subtle turns of phrase and syntactic contortions that delight by their sheer audacity. But at the other extreme there are stories that make the most tolerant of readers throw up their hands in bafflement and despair (and sometimes not only their hands), tortuous narratives were if whole passages were printed out of order it’s doubtful that anyone other than the author himself would realise or care. And in between these two poles there are stories that are good, bad and indifferent by turn, with each reader making up his or her own mind as to what fits in a particular cubbyhole.
Agra Aska, a novella of nearly thirty thousand words, is a new departure for DFL, and I have to admit approaching the work with some degree of trepidation. DFL is adept at smash and grab raids on the human psyche, but I was doubtful of his ability to mount an assault of a more prolonged nature. In the event it turned out that my forebodings were groundless. Agra Aska reads like ‘The Book of the New Sun’ as written by a composite author made up of two parts Thomas Pynchon to one part St John the Evangelist. It is not only DFL at his best, it may well be DFL at his best yet.
In the past the author has oflen been accused of unintelligibility, and I wonder if in an attempt to pre-empt such criticism he put these words into the mouth of one of his characters, “It’s as if a novel has gone wrong. with no beginning nor end… very rarely making sense.” Agra Aska has both beginning and end, with a recognisable chain of events stretching between these two antipodes, and it makes perfect sense on its own terms.
Briefly then. John Bello and his friend David Binns break the rules at the private school wher they are pupils. The two boys are sent to the city to undergo a ritual of purification, but in the wake of this ceremony tie city is destroyed by an enemy aerial attack. Binns is killed, while Bello crawls out from under the rubble and makes his way to the coast in the company of a girl called Joan Turner. These two are fated to be lovers. The realisation of the depth of emotion between them and its consummation unleashes the transforming power that purges and restores their reality. That is the story as told from the viewpoint of John Bello and filtered through the sensibilities of one reader, but there are other versions of events and other interpretations may apply; nobody can say with certainty which, it any, is finally to be regarded as the truth.
DFL is a master of disturbing shifts of perception and in Agra Aska he is operating at the very limits of his talent, using it to create new and even more dramatic effects. The story opens with thc portrayal of a world that could so easily be our own but with each page the resemblance fades, grows dim, until the reality with which we are familiar becomes just a memory, a dream, one which on occasion is allowed to surface into the world of the story, but in context seems far more unreal and deranged than the author’s imaginings. The plot is nothing more than the plastic tube of a child’s kaleidoscope. It makes everything possible, but is not an end in itself. The eye is drawn to what dwells in thc depths of the tube, the constantly shifting patterns of light and colour that bemuse and disturb and entice.
Agra Aska is not a book in the conventional sense, so much as a svmphony in words, a work with quiet passages and orchestral flights of fancy, with soaring crescendos and moments of crashing dissonance, and DFL is the the man on the podium with a magic baton in his hand, the conductor in supreme control of the forces at his disposal.
I could go on to tell you about the references from literature, mythology and religion that are planted in the text like precious gemstones embedded in a rock face, land mines primed to explode at the tread of sensitive feet. I could rave about the sparkling dialogue, the elegant and witty prose, the sheer passion that’s to be found in some of the pronouncements. I could talk about resonances and patterns that weave back on themselves like a demented Mobius strip. I could do all of that and more, but if ypu haven’t got the message that this book is a little bit special by now then I guess you never will.
At the end of Camp Concentration Thomas Disch wrote, “Much that is terrible we do not know. Much that is beautiful we shall still discover. Let’s sail till we come to the edge.” In Agra Aska DFL has forged a fabulous ship of dreams to navigate the uncharted waters of his own imagination. Unreal Publications is offering passage to all and sundry for the meagre sum of £3.99*. It’s an invitation I urge everyone who enjoys fiction that challenges our expectations of the medium to accept, even those who in the past may have had misgivings about this particular author.
*Unreal Publications changed its name to Scorpion Press before Agra Aska’s publication.
More thoughts on Agra Aska: http://www.nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/8/1987.html?1153130778