I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased from Amazon. And it is entitled:-
THE DRACULA PAPERS: Book I: The Scholar’s Tale – by Reggie Oliver (Chômu Press 2011).
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: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
In common with my normal practice, I shall be giving the real-time impressions of my reading journey, without first reading the book’s introduction or knowing as little as possible about the book other than it was recommended to me by people I trust.
I – III
“…means of divination, through the tossing of coins and the examination of entrails, the contemplation of stars or the patterns and hues in decaying cheeses.”
Firstly, let me say, that having only just started this hefty book, I can already tell that the head-lease author of this book – or, perhaps, his appointed Narrator, Martin Bellorius, a doctor and scholar reviewing (retrocausally?) in 1632 incidents in his previous life – is a born story-teller, drawing the reader straight into a compelling picaresque and often rumbustious tale, a tale of the start in Germany of his commission to travel trans-Transylvania and the characters he meets and with whom he converses. A beautifully limpid prose laced with an edge of scholarship and an original puckishness of barely hidden humour together with the sensed tangibility of archetypal human mythos often involving the act of scourging. [To some extent, so far, it reminds me of ‘Melmoth the Wanderer’ by Charles Maturin. And I now realise what I must have already known: that Maturin is short for Maturing – the act of always falling short of the perfect climax that is your death…till, apparently, you succeed.] (11 Feb 11)
IV – V
“We hate most what we least understand.”
Eventually arriving in Prague, the Narrator’s retinue of two grows to three potentially, but are characters accreting to stick fast or simply to spear-carry? The story unfolds with a degree of prudishness that does not actually hide the unprudish things happening! Elixirs of life, the accrual of immunity in poisons, dwarfish and giantish folk, slight cannibalism, masked balls, and swashbucklery of filmic proportions. Gorgeous convulsions of plot, bawdy or lovesome, but still Undercurrented with scholarly temperateness / spiritual passion, recurrences, visions involving cumulatively or separately some Undercurrent analogous with (my analogy, not the book’s) a Synagogue within a Christian cathedral or vice versa … or a Masonic Mezquita? So far, while the Narrative wins, the Undercurrents keep their powder dry, I’d say. So those who love a great story and nothing else will not be disappointed. And those (like me) – who seek leitmotifs whence a gestalt is eventually to be accrued – feel they will also not be disappointed. (11 Feb 11 – three hours later)
VI – VII
“The fact that I did not trust her does not mean that she was in fact untrustworthy.”
This is the second time I’ve mentioned the word Amazon in this review, and here, as our ‘heroes’ descend into Transylvania via the Carpathian Mountains, they are captured by a band of brigands led by a woman, almost a jekyll&hyde character (Cf: Odetta & Detta about whom I’ve been synchronously reading and reviewing today from Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’ series) – and the unravelling plot of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy leading to her being potentially impaled, a punishment common to this area and one that the Narrator compares to the Crucifixion – echoing my earlier analogy of things-within-other-things: Barabbas within Christ, and vice versa? I also like the way this book seems to have its own internal spoilers (an extreme example existing in this section), being types of spoiler blatantly presented as Aristophanic leaps in the dark to gather the truth of retrocausal surprise. But I’ll continue trying to avoid spoilers myself. (11 Feb 11 – another 5 hours later)
[I already anticipate this book being a genuine popular and literary classic in the Gothic arena, while tantalised by humour and theatricality and adventure.]
VIII – XIII
I earlier called this book rumbustious. Now with much conviction, I shall also call it ingenious. An amenably adventurous style to read, but a trenchantly secret passage to negotiate. Our Narrator arrives to fulfil his commission at Castle Dracula as teacher of scions Vlad and Mircea. “There is no neutral territory here.” Full of inventions to describe the plotting by the author/narrator but also specific inventions within the plot itself. Full of bawdy generational repercussions. Concupiscent antics and sexual retribution by servants. Artistic Goyesques as palimpsest to the individual reader’s impinging tabula rasa of daily concerns outside of the text. Full of ‘Marriage of Figaro’ type machinations. But above all full of well-told Horror – the implicatory impaling of or by oupires and so forth. And a Levantine Turkish Rug in the Castle’s secret passage – as the Ottomans threaten to impede…an Alchemy of opposites within each other. The narrative also proves that Charles Maturin’s dictum: “Terror has no diary” has no foundation in truth.
“…a perfect combination of imperfections.” (12 Feb 11)
XIV – XVII
The young Vlad, blooded by this book’s narration, is probably portrayed here for the first time ever in such early detail by the ‘breaking news’ in hindsight of our once on-the-spot reporter who proves that terror does have a diary. The Castle Dracula is like this book itself – more Gormenghastly than Gormenghast itself without being like Gormenghast at all. Creatures from a Bosch painting: growing their own musical instruments self-bodily. The Ottoman Turks’ siege-making, making me think this book is potentially the Cordoba Mezquita itself from within. Even, when compared, the brotherly amorous (and otherwise) rivalry between Vlad and Mircea is just a light zither on the strings to deeper themes just welling to the surface. The Beaumarchais machinations: a froth on the daydream. “True evil always smells of madness.” Yet this is fundamentally a great story well told. This Story of the Egg has blank pages I imagine being full of words. Skaters like giant lizards from Capek. Shape-shifting horrror conveyed by fable, metaphor and the sheer reality of the concept beyond even the reallest-seeming ‘waking dream’. Full of contraptions, one Aeschlyus theatrical contraption in particular, if true, that you will just simply LOVE. Greek tragedy morphing into tragi-comedy. Plus some of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever read – leading to a so-called rat vanishing up the chimney. Meanwhile, the Amazon become just one more recurrence or internally presaged spoiler…
“I noticed that the brown snout had only one nostril and remembered the saying that the oupire or murony may be identified by his monomycterous nose.” (13 Feb 11)
XVIII – XX
Vlad’s character evolves almost as a force within the book that the book fails to channel: he is master of his own universe and any author or narrator is not going to change that! Nothing will change or shape-shift his one true love: “a shape that would have been perfect in itself if it had not promised even greater perfection.” The Narrator pretends he doesn’t see her charms. An interesting contrast with the book’s dwarf lovers who when “Separated, they once more became rootless freaks set down in an alien court to entertain jaded appetites.” But then religion starts to expand its undistributed middle: an important passage that I shall quote: “Against one wall was a prayer stool, above which was a crucifix of wood, crudely carved in the Transylvanian style. In a corner I saw another wooden statue, this time of the Madonna, black with age. The face was coarsely rendered, heavy and powerful like an old peasant woman. It was quite a shock to one who had become used to the delicate Virgins of the Italians, or those of the Dutch School, intense, febrile, refined. It spoke of a faith that was ancient and reposed in the common people’s heart, rather than in the splendid institutions of the West. Below the Madonna’s statue was a narrow wooden box, open, in which rested a leather scourge.” This makes a telling backdrop to the fact that, during the miseries of war, it is recognised that the Turks share a common humanity with those non-Turks they fight. [In my 1950s childhood, I read comics about fighting against the ‘evil’ Huns and Jerries.] A message for today. Meanwhile, the two brothers, Vlad and Mircea, wield an (instinctive, plot-secreted?) alliance with each other against such ‘evil’, a subtle alliance transcending their otherwise overweening rivalry or transcending any ‘evil’ they currently harbour or will later demonstrate when eventually treading the ‘scorched earth’ of emotion as well as (unchangeable?) history itself. There are many literary references and subtleties I’ve noticed that I cannot cover in a review, so I will merely now draw attention to this book’s enjoyably and thought-provokingly compelling thrust of story or plot that transcends these subtleties: and here this plot conjures up bloodthirstily the battles and the mechanics of tactics and strategy in war, i.e battles between the forces associated with the denizens of Castle Dracula and the forces of Islam, nothwithstanding any hidden treaties that may or may not exist. But not forgetting the Frog Maiden as an absurdist symbol intrinsic to the root causes of any wars amid our common humanity throughout the ages.
“As I watched them I found it impossible to look on the Turks as individual beings. The army looked like a great crawling plague quivering with life, sending out long trails of slime to infect the land around it.” (Cf Capek’s Newts book) (14 Feb 11)
“Fear, as the poet says, is the handmaid of uncertainty;”
During the aftermath of the erstwhile battles, the Narrator and his retinue (including increasingly multi-faceteed Vlad and Mircea) are helped by a mysterious and monkish Sylvius who shelters them in a cave from the hounds of the Turks and whom I won’t spoil with description of him or you (if it is you), other than, for me, Sylvius is possibly the essence of Transylvania and intrinsic to my concept of Nemonymity (a possible fact that tells you nothing at all!) but Sylvius is perhaps a representative of (or is) the book’s head-lease author who invented – like one of the book’s contraptions – the book that contains those very contraptions: this Sylvius who inverts Plato and is tantamount to being his own self-portrait. I do not wish to bother plot-seekers with Sylvius so please rush over these scenes and simply follow the book’s exciting plot towards another contraption that may save the the Castle itself from being potentially subsumed by a singular plague of Turkish hordes. See, you’ve already forgotten Sylvius, as I have. And reached a blind spot like those blanks in the Book of the Egg that you cannot forget for fear of reading it forever…. (14 Feb 11 – three hours later)
XXII – XXIV
“These men were fanatics and believed that, by dying in this way, they were going to Mussulman heaven full of fountains and nightingales and delectable houris.”
Is the Rat King in this book an original character of literature – like Ben Gunn? Yes, I say. Even though the Rat King has appeared elsewhere before under that name, never has he really come home to us as here in The Dracula Papers. A tour de force, a coup de theatre, a plague upon us all. Many characters now come home to roost, much politics, history and religion in cross-section. Siege and counter-siege. Ruse, confuse and counter-fuse. “And without historians there is no history.” Angles on Fear. Terror has no Diary because Terror cannot write, I say. An engouement of horror. This book is a massive talent in itself, give or take the odd Author or Narrator who fiddle at its edges. And the novel – if that is what it is – becomes the Mezquita that I earlier predicted, since earlier discrete or exiled material by the Author is introduced, figuratively, as a Trojan Horse of literature (my term, not the book’s) within its own later larger Trojan Horse ethos as our heroes (minus Mircea as the ultimate spear-carrier) are taken as hostage to Vathekian lands as a means for Castle Dracula’s obeisance to the Ottoman’s eventual negotiated victory. And a new wild fantastical tale in an erstwhile version of Constantinople takes its swing at us. [I’ve missed out a lot, but please! How can one review everything,]
“…that great Christian temple, the glory of the Emperor Justinian, now turned traitor and become a mosque…” (15 Feb 11)
I stand back, for the sake of my own self-preservation, from this – for me today all too relevant – sheer Lovecraftianly cataclysmic chapter … except for making two quotes:
“…the corpse can be locked into the cycle of death and continue to repeat it until Doomsday.”
“The corpse seemed to drink it; I saw the muscles of the throat move, but the rest of her was like stone.” (16 Feb 11)
“The sleeping demon of Ottoman cruelty had been aroused and would not rest till it had tasted blood.”
Adventurous, disguised and waterborne escape from the danger of Stamboul’s conspiracy and counter-conspiracy – towards joy of the present moment then to captivation and eventually to capture by pirates, and this chapter takes us to an even deeper Trojan Horse or metaphorical Mezquita: one that lurks within the Narrator’s companion: Prince Vlad: a particular rhetorical question on page 403. This book seems to be not only the once-in-a-lifetime pioneering revolution in the retrocausal telling of the Dracula myth from scratch, but also its grotesque involution, it seems. And its first bite. (17 Feb 11)
“I longed for madness or death, or some kind of mental numbness to lift me out of such endless torture, but it never did.”
Well death never did, presumably? This chapter is full of hardship and torture for the Narrator and his retinue, mixed motives, a Russsian Zoo on board a ship, self-sacrifice, potential love and Vlad paradoxically both selfish and selfless in his lack of compromise. I sense that Vlad begins (via the text he inhabits) to encompass a belief of himself as a growing reality exploiting the Narrator as intermediary or two-way filter or sucking-drain between truth and fiction. It is Vlad who grows stronger as a rounded character of both strengths and weaknesses…and of potential history. Alongside him, we even become more rounded characters ourselves as readers with our strength to distil truth from fiction and our weakness in being unable to dispel fiction from truth. (17 Feb 11 – two hours later)
XXVIII – XXX
“–a vellum codex of the lives of the Coptic saints–“
Are the dead dead or undead or simply never dead by subterfuge? This rolling news of conclusion contains the power of a mother’s confession as the inner chapter of chapters, inner chapel of chapels, the skater (not a giant lizard this time) among Wagnerian ice sculptures disguised as cracking, alongside heaving, almost S/M concupiscence at early and middle age, some black monkery, implications of the double-headed coin of Christ’s stigmata upon Satan’s cloven feet (my expression, not the book’s as if chiropody is the worst kind of dentistry with drills) and the Narrator’s pangs in giving painful, yet cathartic, birth to this still ongoing Narration, his ongoing ‘confinement’ of the inner truths…
Full of imaginative contraptions, wild scatological and eschatological conceits and the hurly-burly of visionary fiction-on-the-hoof (controlled and uncontrolled at times, if not controlled all the time to seem that way) – this is as I earlier anticipated: a genuine popular and literary classic in the Gothic arena, while tantalised by humour and theatricality and adventure. (17 Feb 11 – another 3 hours later)