The Life of Polycrates & Other Stories for Antiquated Children

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 Life of Polycrates & Other Stories for Antiquated Children

by Brendan Connell 

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:

In common with my normal practice, I shall be giving the real-time impressions of my reading journey. As far as I know, the only story I have previously read is ‘Maledict Michela’ that first appeared in Nemonymous (2004). 


The Life of Polycrates


“…and he obtained mercenaries also from Bottiaea, Illyria, Crete and even as far away as Libya.”

I do appreciate the philosophy of history if not with any real personal grip upon the facts of history. Thus, I’m letting these antique times and “dramatis personaæ” flow over me, confident that the head-lease author would not lead me astray when I come to answer questions on this period in my quiz league. Indeed, there are footnotes in the book so far to give me even further confidence of academic substance. The language, however, not only speaks of hedonism – in this life story of Polycrates and his more effete or gauche brothers amid a  scheming and/or ruthless Gaddafery of a Clan or Dynasty so germane to our current times – but also the language is hedonism in itself: an aesthetically-wrought and clause-rich texture – highly sauced – ranging from “garlands of lotus flowers” to “a stench worse than toad guts“. I sense this prose is ripe with figs of meaning waiting for me to split with my tongue (helped by teeth) and to savour the substance inside… Yet, whither my “praegustator“? [An intriguing start plot-wise, too!] (8 Apr 11)


“There were roses that were half white and half red…”

If it is possible for many multi-slatted examples of wooden-box to contain the million meanings here vying for semantic hegemony without them splitting asunder to the unmanning sound of rasping nails unnailed, then Polycrates is the one to provide slave-galleys to transport those boxes direct from the synchronised authorial imagination to the reader’s inner collation of random truth and fantasy.  < There are many geometric angles here of epistolary interchange, footnotery, Pythagorean conceits, the grafts of individual crafts to bring exotic fruits and cookable creatures of ancient history to the well-carpentered fiction table. > (8 Apr 11 – three hours later)


“…a baby demanded that his mother’s milk be boiled with Lampsacene honey before he would condescend to drink it.”

{ And I feel I am an antiquated child being fed by Mother Fiction as fathered by the Head-Milkman himself, still letting it flow through me with all its arabesque flavours of multi-parenthesised baffles and fables, or veils and piques. }  < And in this section there is an intriguing fable of this author being advised he is too perfect a wielder of the words and to appease the jealousy of other perpetrators of literature he needs to throw a wobbly. > There is a parallel Fable in the book concerning our packer of words nailed up within Polycrates fresh from real history. The Moral of the Fable? Only a reader with his wits about will understand it. Meanwhile, I can only admire the lists of pungent goods (as if exhibits in some esoteric museum of meticulously culinary incunabula, intaglios &c) enhanced into both better and constructively worse goods by careful choice of words from a treasure-house of rare words. [And there is “Libyan ivory” (a hint of Gbagbo, today of all days?) and a mention of the “King of Egypt” (perpetrator of the aforesaid Fable); consequently, all we need now is to learn that pride precedes a fall – but I keep my powder dry.] (8 Apr 11 – another 3 hours later)


“He undertook divination by figs, by driftwood and by the coagulation of cheese,”

A change of tone that speaks of war – but still with culinary fire-power (the powder no longer dry but baked like capers in garlic).  This novellette is an astonishing SFtopia* or premonition* of current Gaddafery in essence, as a present tyrant meets future tyrant amid mercenary or rebel absurdities fighting for either side dependant on which makes them feel more hilariously Brendan-Connellian**. << *assuming this story wasn’t written in the last few days. >> {**the meaning of this adjective describing a discrete literary genre will become clear once you read this book.  Full of excellent wordplay, tentacular clauses and graffiti and epistles, and footnotes like this one. Fabulously enfabled. } (8 Apr 11 – another 2 hours later)


Collapsing Claude

“…a creature half scorpion and half man;”

A graft like the previous rose? Indeed this story is itself a constructive grafting of many aspects – the inverse spirituality of scatology via some of my own deep-felt but generally indeterminate archetypes of modern European literature – blending Saki, poetic texture similar to TS Eliot’s, a kinship with the gratuitous sex-cottaging from the eponymous story of I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like, Samuel Beckett, and many paintings I’ve seen in Tate Modern, but essentially Brendan-Connellian as I continue further to understand that term.  A story of low-life body-horror not for strong stomachs. Because strong stomachs will not be sufficiently attuned to the correct level of creative disgust. [Begs the question what is such literature for? The Horror genre is here one-fingered (“the way to do it” in Punch’s squeaky voice?).  There is always another level of pure gratuitousness beyond one’s previously accepted purest level of it – reaching towards a consciously unsought noumenon that makes you eternally strobe between God and Godlessness.] (9 Apr 11)

The Dancing Billionaire

“A hired pianist, placed discretely off to one side, plays Chopin, a subservient smile freezing his blanched and meagre lips.”

Something about Chopin makes me feel both insulated as an untouchable entity yet conscientiously meticulous in needing to continue my dealings with those wishing to touch me.  This substantial story is a Salon-Proustian expression of a lifetime-in-patchwork (using that meticulously and paradoxically grafted culinary / jewelled (pungent / poetic-honed) discreteness / discretion of the Brendan-Connellian style I think I have sufficiently conveyed already in this review so far) – i.e. Allen Hutton’s lifetime of effete hedonism (cf The Life of Polycrates), the difficulty of relationships unrequited or weirdly fulfilled – arriving at the dissatisfaction, depression, angst of wealth and comfort to the background of exotic spiritualities.  Reminds me, too, of  Italianetto and (in comparison with this Connell story’s beginning) Remember You’re A One-Ball both by Quentin S. Crisp – and, again, the similar creative  ‘laid-backness’ ethos that I describe about I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis. Meanwhile, this otherwise unique Connell story’s contribution to this book’s grafting gestalt? The moustache, I’d say! [Apologies for seeming to make comparisons with this book’s publisher’s other books, but I cannot avoid what autonomously goes through my head when I am subsumed by real-time reviewing any book. I strive to be fundamentally honest about my first impressions and you can be assured that choosing a book to review in the first place is part of some deeper neutrally serendipitous and synchronous choice beyond intention and, once chosen, what I say about it, I hope, is paradoxically both pre-determinedly and free-wheelingly sincere. < Freewheel = freewill. > {Fiction reviewing as a dance?} ] (9 Apr 11 – four hours later)

Brother of the Holy Ghost

“I am fig a latter-day fig”

On the face of it, a typographically experimental prose poem about antiquated Popes which defeated me entirely. I’m hoping hindsight may open some doors… (9 Apr 11 – another 2 hours later)

And in future hindsight indeed, with further study, I am sure I will conquer this work – it is just not suitable for real-time reading until I have become an antiquated child myself: full of hard returns and ill-spacing within each finite sentence.  A bit like recurrent death. “let the children be buried buried in the garden.” (9 Apr 11 – another hour later)

Maledict Michela

A tale of an infatuation or ‘feetiche’ –  and the female protagonist makes the first nod of acknowledgement to her future lover-later-turned-despoiler from a Florentine balcony: and any balcony, I have learnt from experience since first reading this linguistic tour de force seven years ago, is the greatest excresence of all, precariously grafted like an open-topped tea-chest or another slatted wooden container to its mother building.  Collapsing like Claude or Allen Hutton or Polycrates. Meanwhile, this story is a stunning distillation of the book’s style so far, with genii loci to die for.   [Coincidentally, I read earlier today a chapter of another book I’m currently reviewing: Song of Susannah (Dark Tower VI) by Stephen King in which chapter the heroine regained her feet after many years but then lost them again.  It all seemed so sadly appropriate.] (9 Apr 11 – another hour later)

The Life of Captain Gareth Caernarvon

“He had a huge moustache which jutted out from beneath his nose, reclining on thick lips.”

Open squarebrackets This morning I was listening to the BBC World Service about the  markedly increased death rate in Russia, and they gave various reasons of ‘living for the day’, hard drinking, speed racing along St Petersburg streets (where I visited recently) ending in death crashes &c. I personally think to let off even more steam they should get back to bloodthirstily hunting dangerous game.  Or more Russian Roulette. Or even cannibalism.  Like Swift’s Modest Proposal but in reverse, there is always a way to keep the momentum going I say! Close squarebrackets.  And Connell’s own ‘Modest Proposal’ is this 1894 daredevil jaunt into the life of Captain Caernarvon – involved in hunting,  collecting rhinoceros horns, stag antlers, and many other appendages, plus duelling, Hell-optimising – all within a compelling narrative employing iconic Connellians that I’ve described before, i.e. pungent or stylised lists of things and collages of prose items all of which have a jungle-racing rollercoaster of an audit trail that takes the reader whither the author dares, even into areas I don’t think he knew he was going to dare enter when he started on this wild hunting trip of the spirit, this quest for the wrenching off of life from its unnatural grafting upon death.  “Knives strapped to foreheads” and a rhinoceros with two heads, one head vestigially small and sweet  yet slaughtered by our hero Captain, who often did such things mentally or actually dressed en femme – even crushing a doe-sweet reincarnation of his wife – and including a gentleman’s club story in that tradition of fireside ghosts. But not ghosts here. But cruelly exploding specimens of live game (or Russian Roulette) that live on forever, even affixed to lethal friendships, once so loyal. I’d even gore this book with lethal criticism, if I could. Or, like Caernarvon, taste the flesh of humankind. (10 Apr 11)

Molten Rage

“Massimo arrived back at his car, but it was booted. He shrugged his shoulders and threw his car keys into the the gutter.”

I keep my door-key on the same key-ring as my car-keys.  All keys are a form of escape. And Massimo lives in a an industrial nightmare that is Milan (brilliantly described) and in a Magic Realism blending Joel Lane and Peter Carey, inter alios, the Leftist truths (for some, dilemmas) including direct action, are canvas-tested with ‘dabs or paints’ of words, including sniffing out dreams that risk us flying without wings in gold sunsets sown with “silicates” and “stigmata“.  To boot a car, is to kick it or remove its back-lid or ‘graft’ a clamp to its wheels like stitching angel-wings clumsily to a man’s back in more hope than expectation of flying or to turn the ignition as one would boot up or kick start a computer.  There are many other keys (some I still hope to find as they were never on my key-ring in the first place before I threw it away), keys to unlock the doors to this gloriously ‘painted’ fable of cruel modern industrial reality, artistic aspiration and revolution-in-the-streets so relevant to facing out those fosterers of our own gathering autocratic austerities as well to the Arab Spring (if not to today’s April sunshine outside) or to this book’s earlier Spartan warriors now heard at our doors (rattling keys). (10 Apr 11 – four hours later)

The Chymical Wedding of Des Esseintes

“Men who existed behind moustaches the size of brooms…”

A Frenchman with my forename in Prague taken on a wild-goose (or wild-calf!) chase by a local to a ‘wedding’ via dives and alleys – towards (as in a coda to the flight in ‘Molten Rage’) the biggest dive of all, a kiss from the ‘bride’.  There was not even a balcony to help him (after a climb) get through a window to reach the wedding, only yellow shutters.  This story does not defeat me as ‘Brother of the Holy Ghost’ earlier defeated me, and I at least greatly enjoyed the tussle with this one.  Not absurd or gratuitous so much as dreamtrope-inducing. (10 Apr 11 – another hour later)

I sensed this story was familiar to me. Indeed I have not only read it but I have real-time reviewed it before as I have now discovered subsequent to writing the review above: [[And this story is a tale of a Frenchman on holiday in what I see as a Proustian form of Prague being led in a Dreamer’s Duress, if not upon a Pilgrim’s Progess, by the story itself in the guise of one of its own protagonists through the city’s ambiance of tasking inhabitants towards a wedding and this book’s Meyrinkian reality – where symmetry is more than just pain. A wedding as collider? Very evocative with gem-like prose. (28.12.09)]] (10 Apr 11 – another 20 minutes later)

The Search for Savino (written in conjunction with Forrest Aguirre)

“Two Confederate American gold coins, one obverse on the left eye, one reverse on the right, tattooed on the eyelids…”

Is a tattoo a graft or an artistic stain or something else?  (My question not the story’s, one I don’t think has ever been asked before, let alone answered). The ‘search’ in the title is very apt, as the reader needs to work hard (with, I found, some eventual fulfilment) to search this patchwork of documents – cohering towards gleaning a gestalt, i.e. gleaned from descriptions of Savino artworks, his letters and those of his associates &c., and the miscegenate mystery of art for art’s sake married to a story that isn’t. (It’s art alright, but not for its own sake). I reveal no more of the sinister undercurrents, other than that the translator of one of the letters either cannot spell or he was translating something that had a meaning that was deliberately the tipping-point between understanding and complete confusion: “As you know, the lawyers have a lean on my work…” Or someone’s elbow is grafted to the canvas? Frankly, this story becomes an excellent tussle with hybrid genius.  I may sometimes poke fun, but one can only do that with artists and artefacts one respects.  [There is also a wonderfully iconic Connellian that I suspect Aguirre may have written with a golden glint in his eye: “The river’s water is stained with the hues of cinnamon, cardamon, anise, turmeric, coriander, powdered ginger and peppercorns…”] (10 Apr 11 – another 90 minutes later]

The Slug

“…those agitated little cowards called anemones;”

I am an antiquated child; you can tell that from my puckishly humorous, senile-leaning, self-satisfied relish at my own working-class intellectualism.  Hence, my relish in the slippery slope portrayed by this seven-page story with 24, yes, 24 numbered sections: a segmentary slug, perhaps a slithy tove or capekian newt or armadillo-enema, where the down-and-outs to whom I gave money now owe me money. It started with a character called Marcus, but Marcus sloped off like all my other friends, and his introduction as a character was just a graft on a story to hopefully turn it into a 24 chaptered novel and thus delay my inevitable reincarnation as one of the slugs in my kitchen that I find at 3 am when on my way to relieve my bladder.  (10 Apr 11 – another 3 hours later)

Peter Payne

“He superimposed the mythopoeic vision of God on the corporeal world, lending his life that essence of naiveté necessary to soar above the common strains.”

Having started this morning thinking about the daredevil riders of St Petersburg in comparison with Captain Caernarvon, we have here, this evening of my day, Kaptain Peter Payne, trick motorbiker-stuntsman and, I duly shake off all pretension to puckishness or humour, as this book now moves its gear to a more serious leap over cars rather than booting them down, in this telling finale, this ‘molten rage’ flight, this ultimate sacrifice on behalf of one’s vulnerable family (as partially seen in this story through the eyes of a member of that family) – while, all the time, you, Peter Payne, were the most vulnerable of them all, like Polycrates, Claude, Allen Hutton, even Caernarvon – but you did it for them. Honest labour, honest graft, albeit in sudden spectacular daredevil bouts … then amortised over several years of hindsight attrition.  As the author of this book did it for us. As Christ did it, too, with His body still hybridising upon or into the grain of His cross – and still no hope of Heaven. A dying fall for the perfect fiction collection in its own terms. (10 Apr 11 – another 2 hours later)



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4 responses to “The Life of Polycrates & Other Stories for Antiquated Children

  1. Pingback: My Real-time Reviews of Books by Other Writers | DF Lewis's Real-Time Reviews

  2. Pingback: My Chômu Press Real-Time Reviews | My Last Balcony

  3. Pingback: Real time review « Oxygen

  4. This book’s cover artwork is: ‘Head with Turban’ by John Connell. I love this painting.

    The book itself is a nice paperback, beautiful to handle and to read.

    The other review quote above regarding The Chymical Wedding of Des Esseintes is taken from here:

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