And it is of ‘Mad Matinée in Baku’ a novella by Albert Power (Passport Levant MMX).
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 book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. 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/
All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/
From publisher: “Mad Matinée in Baku is a sewn hardcover book of 124 pages with dust-jacket, silk ribbon, endpapers and a full-colour frontispiece. Edition limited to only 100 hand numbered copies. $55 inc. p&p to Europe and USA, $55 to the rest of the world. This is a collector’s edition.”
My copy is numbered 21, possesses exceptionally aesthetic yet heavy-duty page paper and has this design on the front of a delightfully stiff DJ:
Prior to page 9 there are two quotes, one from Mikhail Bulgakov and the other by Horace Walpole.
Normally, I start each section of any particular real-time review with, in italics, what I instinctively consider to be a key quotation from the text, key in the sense that it is both personal to me as well as relevant to an ignition of any reader’s engagement with the book as a separate entity from that reader or from any fallacious considerations of Intention.
Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment. The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens?
Pages 9 – 22
“The self-superannuated film actress took a sip from her tall glass of cinnamon-scented tea and winced.”
The style is tea-stained Proustian, exquisite, forcing the reader to pause, sip, savour, shudder with joy simply at the language and proceed with due care and attention. Here we have a well-characterised, once famous but now post-maturing, lost-in-the-crowd, Azerbaijan film actress with an Armenian name meeting someone surprisingly older than herself in a Baku teashop: he calls himself a ‘Brother’ from Dublin. The location entails she can’t order her own drink, being female…
I cannot, shall not, from this point, continue describing the plot (as it unfolds in real-time for me), but I shall describe my impressions, hoping to entice you into buying this book, as not only my first impressions but also my already enduring, unshakeable impressions inform me that you will love owning and reading this book, but especially if you can appreciate someone like me telling you about my journey through it. (4 Dec 10)
Pages 22 -25
“In 1962, I was a girl. Only a girl.”
Apparently, the ‘Brother’, amid today’s tea scents, is interested in an unremembered live play in which our actress took part in 1962. [I am reminded here, without feasible connection, meanwhile, of the fiction of Frances Oliver.] (4 Dec 10 – two hours later)
Pages 25 – 30
I learn elsewhere, significantly for me and for my previous Power review, that Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto was first published on Christmas Eve. And we learn in this book that Walpole’s The Mysterious Mother (about incest) was the play arguably featuring in 1962 a very young actress who is now so far the main protagonist in this book … in a Baku teashop. But I wasn’t intending to re-narrate the plot, was I? This book itself and its wonderfully textured text absolves me of any spoilers I may inadvertently divulge, I hope. (4 Dec 10 – another 2 hours later)
Pages 30 – 45
“Guilty until proven innocent: this was the way it had become with religious orders in Ireland, averred the elderly brother bitterly.”
The side-business of the teashop (parallel with my own buzzing preoccupations regarding my daily life as I read literature) provides backdrop to an intense discussion between the Actress and the Brother. In spite or because of the multi-faceted diamond prose in which it is expressed, the ‘inquisitive’ nature of the intensity of reminiscence in 2010 of 1962 is genuinely compulsive to read-in-regression about possible abuse as I reach a genuine cliffhanger at the end of the first main section partitioned in the book’s text, as opposed to my arbitrary page number references. As crisply page-turning as a thriller, but also as long-lingeringly savourable as a work of close-ordered poetry. All complemented by the book’s design itself. (4 Dec 10 – another 3 hours later)
Pages 46 – 50
“…and be the year of such scintillant sunshine 1962 or even 2010.”
I am intrigued by my seemingly unshakeable memory of the black-&-white Fifties and Sixties, while it is only artful literature that is able to shake me back to the real golden suns that must have existed in those days. And, without giving too much away, the story itself is now in (retrocausal?) ‘regression’ [in this book’s crime-mystery-fiction-of-what-happened-back-then-and-who-did-it? (my expression)] in a similar time-shaking fashion, i.e. back to that performance of the Horace Walpole incest play (rarely performed in England let alone under the Communist skies in the elsewhere of 1962). And back to its medicative incidental music to replace textual longueurs in the play…? By Aram Khachaturian’s onedin or Rheinhold Glière’s glorious Symphony 3? (A clue – this book’s printed dedication is ‘in appreciation of the music’ of the former). (5 Dec 10)
Pages 50 – 61
“But her touch was iceberg cold…”
History and rape sweep back into geography’s politics amid this furthering-back in a (temporary?) plot-foreshadowing regression to 1948 (the year I was born), and a love/hate panoply that is truly affecting. Prose-style-to-work-hard-at-yet-to-die-for together with a thrilling page-turning immediacy and high narrative power. Only truly special writers can do this. (5 Dec 10 – another hour later)
Pages 61 – 78
“Whatever was afoot, whether integral to the performance or disruptive of it, the spectacle taking place in the auditorium occasioned her no small amusement.”
Which is parallel to my enjoyment of this book in the last few pages. From serious rapine and fateful incestuous parthenogeneses of history in the past’s past, I reach here an Udolpho-Vathek Theatre of the Absurd, where audience and play reach their own incestuous pitch of verbal slapstick… I am both crying and laughing. If not in actual fact, certainly in inclination of literary experience. I fear, throughout, however, for our young heroine’s inevitable audit trail of life as seen to be in the process of being mapped out by this book. Especialy as there is nothing I can do about it. (5 Dec 10 – another 90 minutes later)
Pages 78 – 88
I am beginning to realise this is indeed a very clever book. The slow but paradoxically rushed rushdie russonance of religions (including the catholic frailties of abuse) and magicial realities beyond Magic Realism and politics and azuzbek cyrrilics &c &c of language intertwining — but, for the 21st century reader’s health and safety to resist the brilliantly described, pre-yielded-to temptations of concupiscence, I’d advise – in the running-fast, yet slowly-textured, text – the overall caveat of Maturin’s tenet that “Terror has no diary.” Trust in the reviewer. You see, I’m soon to have read the whole book. You haven’t read any of it. (5 Dec 10 – another hour later)
Pages 88 – 111
“But Marinitsa was being rushed headlong forwards so fast that she couldn’t even see,”
I think I have already said what I need to say about this reading experience even though I had not (until now) read the last 20 pages or so. It’s not that I predicted the end. I didn’t. But it sort of predicted me and my earlier words. I feel privileged to have been able to read this cross-religious, visionary, exegetic masterpiece. Pity only a 100 of us will be thus privileged. (5 Dec 10 – another 90 minutes later)
And the culprit, he was Spartacus.