I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of the book entitled ‘An Emporium of Automata’ by D. P. Watt (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/
The purple dust-wrapper is an extraordinarily stiff heavy-duty one yet aesthetically pleasing. Even more extraordinary is the fact that there is a second dust-wrapper, under the first one, identical other than being slightly less stiff.
This is a highly aesthetic hardback book, with very stiff pages. The cover illustration is ‘The Stage Performers’ (1958), by Walter Schnackenberg. The colour frontispiece is ‘The Sleepwalker’ (1913) by Jan Zrzavý.
Also, there is a centrifugal portrait photograph of the author in black & white.
I: PHANTASMAGORICAL INSTRUMENTS
Erbach’s Emporium of Automata
“Nothing is absurd or ridiculous. Things are the truth, or not the truth.”
I love seaside piers. I love magical amusement arcades of a traditional mode. I love the reaction of children to excitement and mystery and absurdity without fear of the possible retrocausality of disappointment. I love prose that flows so easily it’s like injecting it directly into some vein-imaginarium. This first story has all those things. And more.
A story-as-show run by a proprietor within whom this double-jacketed book and its inferred author ‘work’ as if he were a body-puppet probably more real than them. (2 Nov 10)
Of Those Who Follow Emile Bilonche
“…he seemed genuinely interested though, in all the connections I was making, with his work and certain authors whom I thought were relevant…”
A collusive, materially ‘selves-destructive’, exercise in collecting a writer’s books, whether they be those of D.P Watt or S.D. Tullis, or islanded Emile Bilonche with whose gauche Man Friday the reader needs to contend while flowing through these vein-ready segments of prose … seeking to exploit the next Whovian Van Gogh… (2 Nov 10 – three hours later)
They Dwell in Ystumtuen
“For how was Elizabeth to know the truth?”
I am half-Welsh and thereby hangs a tale. A scholarly research of facts and a living faith in facts that are not facts but faith … compete.
The fact of faith-fairies means justifying the murderous ends via truth’s failure to create the necessary retrocausality. Only thus playing with my words and concepts can a critique begin to touch another collusive “reader” with such a text: a touching tale with a Lawrencian aftertaste. (2 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)
[Sorry, I’m feeling my way here. I’m hoping that my real-time reviewing experiment (second anniversary this month) – when it finally meets its stiffest challenge as ‘An Emporium of Automata’ so far seems to be – will evolve into something even more ground-breaking, something that I cannot yet predict. Bear with me. I am currently brainstorming by the skin of my thin ice.] (2 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)
[Sailing too close to the wind… failing to ‘gestalt’ the ‘leitmotifs’ to the mainbrace … my first real-time inability to reap retrocausality?]
The Butcher’s Daughter
“…as though the present were some hazy half-place awaiting the clarity of tomorrow.”
A wonderfully chilling yet poignant story of a young couple taking over an abode and its accoutrements from a butcher’s daughter who had lived until she was 110. The story has a number of telling illustrations. A classic. An eschatology of scatology, inter alia, “But then isn’t everyone’s existence a mystery. […] …and wonder at its ridiculousness…” (3 Nov 10)
“As you can see there were sixteen children from the marriage. However, I have decided to begin a new tree rather than disturb this one.”
A perfect M.R. James story, a new one for the canon? Perhaps. A traditional, chauvinist, protagonist spends time on the Isle of Wight, visits a church with a Lily Christ, has trouble with his hotel room….
The synergy of symmetry in time mutated beyond and against his finer sensibilities. Loved it, including its ending that, for me, reflected the Alice-like ‘adventure’ in this book’s first story.
“He struggled a moment with the stiff latch…” (3 Nov 10 – three hours later)
This story starts with my favourite quotation: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” (Walter Pater).
And the story itself is a major experience for me. In many ways, similar to a Mark Samuels style of fiction, if anyone knows it, but also with an element of Sarban (a book by whom actually appears in the story) and the blankness with which I am obsessed in much of my own fiction, if I can be so bold as to put me in it, too! Well, the top of this website shows me in Hastings and when I was reading this story I was listening to random music on the internet and Elgar’s Nimrod variation from Enigma suddenly came on…
It’s about a shell-shocked, darkly-bookish individual visiting an old friend in a hospice, and as with ‘Room 89’ we have that synergy of mutant symmetry fading in and out (like a precarious radio station?)
“I even removed the dustjackets…” (3 Nov 10 – another hour later)
Dr Dapertutto’s Saturnalia
A möbius strip of a story – containing a theatre called ‘The Interlude House’ that stages Prologues – another synergy of mutant symmetry via à vis an ‘ubiquitous doppelgänger’ – a supreme blend of Ligotti and Sarban – and a bracketing of the end of this section of the book with the beginning of it… “It was a child’s laugh, a gleeful chuckle that inhabited the moment so entirely that one could not help but smile too.”
But, as I say, this story seems to bring a section of the book to an end – one headed ‘Phantasmagorical Instruments’ – and perhaps later sectioning will cross-refer and enlighten at least this reader as to why he’s been thus sectioned. We shall see. A stiff challenge, indeed. (3 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)
II: GENEALOGICAL DEVICES
“There is no doubt I am some monster living on all sides of circles,”
A reported telephone conversation weighing upon the fate of some new born child by a lady strangely ‘tip-toed’ beneath her skirts talking to a man, while being ‘tellingly’ scrutinised by a ‘monstrous’ non-entity (in some Narrative Hospital?), over-seeing (or creating?) the whole dramatised dialogue in another form of the Interlude House?
[But, still daring to hang this review by a thread, perhaps that child’s ‘moment’ from this book’s previous story is expanded upon or dimminuted by that ‘narrator’: “Funny how vast gulfs of time, huge gargantuan aeons, immense intractable millennia, have given me only an inkling of a moment--“] (3 Nov 10 – another aeon later)
“She glued the paper over the writing on the back of the card and smoothed it down.”
And, hence, we have here – via a realistic Darwinian view, in Ian McEwan style, of a couple in a city who live over an Indian Restaurant – reverberations of the ‘double-jacketed’ postcards of the erstwhile Butcher’s Daughter.
If it’s true, it’s true, however absurd. The poignant lot in life we all face, despite any genealogical finds to boost us…. (3 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)
Samuel Wood – in his late fifties – is life-focussed on model figures in real war panoplies, nurturing plants and his job at a secret Governement Quango akin to Ligottian Corporate Horror. I assume the girl from the couple in the previous story is named in this story and is a catalyst for me not finding a quote to flag this story. I shall get the sack as office reviewer of this book, if I don’t raise my game. A short Pinteresque play without any lines to speak. (3 Nov 10 – another hour later)
Zarathustra’s Drive Inn
“Not that she said anything; you have to guess everything she thinks.”
And I guess that she thinks she’s the same girl as in the previous story. There seems, on the face of it, something more interconnected with this second set of stories than the first. Yet, I keep my powder dry. This one again touches on the urban Corporate Horror, & philosophy, psychology, as well as the down-to-earth, poignant striving to run a pub business in such areas of ‘mind’ and ‘location’ by Joseph who is the Inn’s owner. The girl’s visceral dream almost as appendicitis of the text is as if the story itself has the dream not her. Absurd, but true. The story atmosphere (written by the story-writer protagonist himself?) is this time more TS-Eliotian than Ligottian. This reader is intrigued.
[There is some specific connection between the name of this story’s Inn and the room in the Hotel of ‘Room 89’. And anyone who writes privately to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with this connection will win a prize from me.] (4 Nov 10)
As some buildings on the real landscape are follies, this story is a ‘folly’ on the landscape of the mind. A deft Absurdist tale – of marvellous continentality yet steeped in Englishness – has an appendicitis of the Turret. A Turret to house itself. You will see what I mean when you read the 3rd sentence of the penultimate paragraph of page 138. I would normally flag this story with this sentence actually quoted in italics but I did not want to give away how this 2nd section of stories swamped its own ‘gestalt’ with obviousness. A spoiler of a scorched earth policy of proportions. No, not this reviewer.
[The lady from ‘Telling Tales’ is in this story, too, gingerly (without walking on eggshells) creating a sort a of bracketing of this section.] (4 Nov 10 – an hour later)
III: EX NIHILO
Archaic Artificial Suns
“He knelt at the edge of the balcony, whilst the others watched excitedly.”
An opera-bouffe, an Eastern European Theatre of the Absurd, Beaumarchais, Shakespeare, Stalin? … all these things while the ‘moment’ is again limned by the ‘aeon’, or vice versa. Meanwhile, I was personally entranced by my perceived thought of the entertainment players scene on the hotel balconies in the film ‘Death in Venice’ and Dirk Bogarde’s final scene that soon followed either by cause-and-effect or synchronicity…
And the vein-ready prose is filled with “acceptance and nostalgia“, or “fired your brain with joy“? (4 Nov 10 – another hour later)
Pulvis Lunaris, or, The Coagulations of Wood
I first read this story nearly a year ago and reviewed it here as part of an anthology entitled ‘Cinnabar’s Gnosis’: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/cinnabars-gnosis/
I shall now re-read it in the context of this new book… (4 Nov 10 – another 10 minutes later)
“The puppet is alllowed a freedom to ridicule and vulgarise that no actor or actress would ever be allowed, and in their clowning, clumsy movements he found solace in the fundamental absurdity of existence – and therein also its splendour.”
That says it all. The perfect story of life and death …. and ‘The Places Between’ life and death such as ‘the Interlude House’ — the story of difference by puppet and doll and self — of dirt and alchemy, of lust and love, of temptation and imperviousness, of theatre and reality …. of the parthenogenesis of truth from artifice. The story we all hoped Ligotti would equal or exceed if he were still to write fiction. Hope is forever. (4 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)
Bibliophobia – An Oneiric Fable
“A network of connections and possibilities opened up.”
From Carlos Ruiz Zafón to Mark Samuels, this is a masterpiece of ‘book’ fantasy. Ranging from a Lovecraftian list of titles to a Babel-Tower of stiff pages – comprising the blanking-of-books in ‘The Condition’ to the möbius strip Turret storage in ‘The Architect’ – this is indeed a fabulous fable – footnoted and fidgety.
I can now seriously comprehend the necessity for two dust-jackets.
[Cf: my own erstwhile July view of Paul Finch’s book: here. “Some books shuffle words in the night. I can just about hear it happening if I place the book by my bed in the darkness, as I did with this one last night.”] (4 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)
1 ≤ 0
“I held out a ten pound note. ‘At least let us pay for your taxi.'”
A remarkable self-portrait (after just watching a major TV documentary about self-portraits tonight) of a clergyman who – in relationship with his son and wife – suffers existential angst, a gradual slippage into non-existence. Even God no longer equals 1, let alone 3. He is that non-entity narrator of ‘Telling Tales’…
Major major major stuff from an author growing bigger and bodier and mindier in my mind story of his by story of his I read. (4 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)
“Evil rose like a blooming of fetid yeasts breaking the skin of bruised fruits.”
…as the collections in ‘Bibliophobia‘ and in the Turret of ‘The Architect’.
Here, the collection depiction is one of antiques and the mis-synergy of collector and collected in the light of death and a consequent thirst for one’s permanence of sensibility – and in the light of this book’s ‘gargantuan moment / infinitesimal aeon’ thread of thought.
For me, there is a brilliantly cruel essay – within this fiction – upon the psychology of collecting, the wastage of life in so doing, then when one is older the realisation that it was a waste of life followed by the self-justification then needed for the very existence of one’s collection and its interconnections (some real, some forced). This was a very painful parallel with my own burgeoning collection of ‘real-time reviews’ (with inter-connections direct, indirect or hyperlinked) now, today, at this the Autumn of my existence creating meaningful or meaningless ‘collections’ of words in the shape of writerly endeavour: those multifarious DF Lewis stories, vignettes, nemonymities, baffles, fables, veils and piques: some published, some not. I finished this story with a deep sigh…but a sense of satisfaction that it held a truth worth cherishing. Truths are gems to collect, however repercussive. (5 Nov 10)
“…the more intensely one lives the more likely one is to experience the truth.”
There are so many other flags to run up this story’s pole, but I resort to the one above that gives no real clue as to the meaning of ‘intensely’ or indeed ‘truth’. I urge people to read this important fiction to learn its truth without my intervention. Which in turn makes a dangerous and misleading mockery of this whole review. But never mind. There is now no way I can withhold the evidence once it has been put in the public domain with such immediacy that the internet has trapped me into.
This is a fable concerning the death of the protagonist’s father in hospital – reflecting my own experience of a smilar event three years ago – and those in UK will realise that today’s date is appropriate for erecting a bonfire and placing the effigy of one’s loves and hates upon it and watch it blacken piecemeal, become brokenly translucent in a pitiful way then perhaps bubble up evil yeasts. The yeasts or fictionalised mentors that raise us beyond Autumn into something one dreads yet welcomes. (5 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)
“…where you will make a mountain of your image.”
From an administration clerk to a tyrant is just one path. This story, if not exactly me, is near enough to me to make this into a Confessional Booth of a fiction for me. It seems to act as short coda to the previous story and it is so finger-pointing at me I wonder if the words were concocted last night while I slept, fidgeting to focus on the truth of the book’s single reader, penetrating its belt-and-braces ‘jackets’ to ignite the bonfire’s spiritual fuse.
“Devious inner mechanisms transfused your blood for oil and you toiled like a piston pounding in an abandoned factory – all for the ‘great work’ that you would impose upon the weak, until they had finally believed they had chosen it.” (5 Nov 10 – another hour later)
It is difficult to shake off the personal – but, if nothing else, fiction is personal truth. Not the author’s, for any author is hidebound by ‘The Intentional Fallacy’. It is the reader’s truth, however absurd, however disconnected from the text. This particular text is full of great stories that stand on their own – Jamesian, Samuelsian, Ligottian, Meyrinkian, but above all Wattian, as I have now learnt to see a meaning in such an ‘authorial style’ by reading this book and then publicly describing that act of reading. [The question remains that by publicly describing the act it may indeed change that very act itself in hindsight or in actuality.]
This book, by retrocausality of night’s fidgeting words, now takes on a new vantage point, where aeon swallows moment, and vice versa. Its gestalt is ‘being’ in everything I found above blended together. It is in the slowly emerging flavour I found in the book while I hope you, the review-reader, find a similar or, even, different flavour during the course of reading my own personal findings of Wattian leitmotif in the book. Leitmotif and Elgarian Variation, each a potential comrade or tyrant, each an enigma, each a condition of music.
NB: The three sections of the book and their subtitles? I hope my aforementioned flavour divides naturally into three other flavours that compose the whole. Despite misgivings as to a ‘stiff challenge’, I think they do. I am the kids grown older from the Erbach story, phantasmagoricised via unself-controlled geanealogy towards the final ‘disturbed tree’ that bears the root of death. Ex nihilo. (5 Nov 10 – another 30 minutes later)
First Editions: An Afterword (by Peter Holman)
Regular readers of my ‘real-time reviews’ over the last two years will know that I only review fiction works and, although I usually read them in the end, I do not read introductions, forewords, afterwords, author’s notes etc. until after I have read and reviewed the fiction itself. And then I never review these introductions etc. So it is rare to find me saying anything about them. I make a slight exception with this Afterword by saying: yes, I enjoyed it (but I won’t say why), enjoyed it even though it is an impostor talking about a book with only one dust-jacket, although special mention is made of the dust-jacket as well as of the people who stalk this book and those connected with this book. The most important thing to say, meanwhile, is that the end of this Afterword (to give it its credit) finishes the whole book with what seems to be a highly significant bonfire – today 5th November 2010. (5 Nov 10 – another 40 minutes later)
NB: D.P. Watt has a fiction work entitled APOTHEOSIS in the book I published in 2010, i.e. an anthology with the title NULL IMMORTALIS (Nemonymous Ten).