The Great Lover – by Michael Cisco

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:-


by Michael Cisco

Chômu Press 2011


Cover illustration: Torso Vertical

Foreword by Rhys Hughes (that I shall only read after finishing the novel it forwards – LATER EDIT: I did read it before finishing!).

 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 other real-time reviews are linked from here:


The Great Lover

“A thrill of suspense draws us taught on nerve-lanyards.”

This appears to be a brief prelude, with the narrator’s voice deriving from a state of being as one of eight dead grave tenants in a type of conclave cemetery that reminds me of incidents in various parts of the Elizabeth Bowen canon.  The prose is effulgent and sufficiently trip-textured to spike attention constructively along the way.  The implication is that we are to hear the narrator’s lifestory from his grave in the rest of the book? (10 May 11)

Chapter One

“Now he rises stiffly, brushing aside a toucan, and begins to grope along the walls.”

I tend to know eventually that I have chosen the ideal book to real-time review because of the personal (accidental?) serendipities involved. Here I know straightaway, not eventually. Recently I watched a TV series called ‘Filthy Cities’ complete with a smell scratchcard for sewer smells. Here, though, I don’t need the scratchcard! …. as a character – The Great Lover – emerges from a city’s sewers as if by alchemy with the earlier prelude, coupled with an empathy of souls also conveyed by a series of books I’ve just finished reading and reviewing (i.e. ‘The Dark Tower’ by Stephen King), an empathy by means of an evolving-of-characters by doorways (and we have a similar doorway here explicitly) – the He and I of King’s Eddie and Roland, here a He and I, whose names or souls (as one) we don’t yet quite ‘get’ – and an underground train away from death (or towards it) reminiscent of an indifferent prose poem I happened to write recently as A Sullen Dream (and I now know why!). And the evolution of the Great Lover character is propelled towards incarnation by not only an alchemy but a Wagnerian alchemy (and, yes, I’ve been listening to Wagner’s Ring recently!). The prose-thrust (if not in its own characterful texture of style that is different in taste if similar in challenge) is serendipitous, too — indeed synergistic — with the opening of another book I hope others will read soon if they can, and I’ll leave readers of this real-time review to guess which one.  Synergistic or complementary, true, but otherwise quite different. So far.  But that’s only after one chapter. —- Truly struck so far, with this novel’s first movements… (10 May 11 – three hours later)

I am a few pages into the 2nd chapter and this is not yet an official report on that chapter.  But my reading mind is fast becoming subsumed (in a good way) by the prose and its reality as stream-of-dream – while the Great Lover interacts in his world with other Great Lovers. And I simply need to report back at this chapter’s interim stage because I feel the text is encapsulating – so far – my long literary life’s yearning for some creative union of Scatology and Eschatology. (And are the Gnomes Nibelung?) (10 May 11 – another hour later)

Chapter Two

“Inside the carpet, she stares in horror as the mouse in her hand transforms into a little naked man…”

In many ways, this novel is not to be judged after only one reading, as I am attempting to do in real-time. But, equally,  it needs to fathom me, too, in the same real-time. I have nothing to add to the earlier comments about this chapter, other than it accelerates its melting dreams, in both subject-matter and the medium of that subject-matter. “…the city is where you find love at last sight: […] Pull away the mold, and see the intaglio broach…[…] Shit, gold, water, and combinations of elements in general bring life about,…” This is possibly the first real-time review where the book retrocausally real-time reviews the review itself, building a gradual crescendo of movements, “comparable to improvising a complex piece of contrapuntal music in coordination with other musicians…”, other authors, other readers, other reviewers, other craquelures upon the textual surface… (10 May 11 – another 3 hours later)

[I admit I earlier read Brendan Moody’s review here, ostensibly then enticed by his description of “an unusually odd review” when linking from elsewhere to it – and as I’ve only read the first two chapters of the book so far I found this a very strange thing to find myself doing. I really think this book switched us for a while by trickery of narrative doors.] (10 May 11 – another 2 hours later)

Chapter Three

Pages 44 -49

“Yet I suspect the time is coming when to overlook him will be still to see him, for if anyone has the ability to bend light it is surely Michael Cisco.” (from Rhys Hughes’ Foreword earlier)

[This book seems to be making me break all my rules of engagement with regard to the ‘purity’ of real-time reviews.] Here, in the first few pages of this third chapter, we reach the nub of some plot, here regarding the Prosthetic Libido mentioned by Thomas Ligotti on the back cover of the book. Ligotti also says: “Cisco has an indentity as much as any writer I’ve read.”   The Great Lover who is both him and me as sewn by sewers – set to help a scientist called Armand Hulferde in some sexual mechanics of energy saving?  But I keep my own powder dry and will not issue any more retrocausal spoilers, be it from me or from someone other than me. [This book is sending me crazy!] {In a good way?} This sentence has been removed by its author. (10 May 11 – another hour later)

The rest of Chapter Three

“I am levitating over a city at night. Also a black carpet covered with flowers in pale colors.”

You will never forget reading about the mechanics in creating the Prosthetic Libido. Nothing I say here will do justice to it, except to say it is the synaestheticised reader that forms it – for real, as it were, as an appendage of the author … or of the reviewer (as known reader) who are collaborating minute by minute ‘Dark-Tower’-like, the sewerman, the Great Lover, the scientist… in a splendid Frankensteinish scene from “the workshop of filthy creations” (which is a genuine quote from the Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley that I already know about, an expression not so far quoted in this book I think but highly appropriate to the plot, although Percy Shelley *is* mentioned in-the-text) – as well as Vera who claims not to be a character at all…!  I am truly agog. “The earth rumbles beneath me, as though a train were rushing beneath my feet, but the sound and the vibration seem to go down into the earth toward the City of Sex.”  Like my prostate. (11 May 11)

Chapter Four

“[The earth is hollow, and I’ll prove it to you! (goes down into the earth)]”

This book deals with its reality in the same way as my real-time reviews have always dealt with the books themselves, i.e. building up Leitmotifs towards a Gestalt or, in this book’s case, Co-ordinates towards a Cult or, elsewhere, Beams towards a Ka.  I cannot possibly convey here the marvellous intricacies of the plot, the various characters, the scintillant, if pungent, text – but they are all sometimes rare, sometimes well-done, sometimes even over-done, but never medium.  This chapter deals in constructive originality with a subway version of the Blaine Mono train…and many of you will know what I mean.  [Cf: my It’s A Funny Line, a prose poem first published in 1989]. (11 May 11 – four hours later)

Chapter Five

“…the quills of the feathers swell and begin to grow from the roots over all the form of the soul;”

This continues to become a symphony of images that swirls around a darting audit-trail of philosophical illuminations in a form of revelatory one-liners paradoxically amid sinuous syntax and TS-Eliotian poetics-into-prose: with Aickman-Wood in the potential underground forests and Aickman window-watchers: a clever art of contraption-synaptic Vampirism threading Ligottian “senseless warehouses  and offices really inexplicable” as stalked, of course, through the text, by the quite startling Prosthetic Libido character at his loose-end of multi-desire to plug or be plugged.  And many other breath-taking interconnections that I cannot possibly cover here or, even, safely remember in any shape or form after they’ve entered the fast subconscious-ing compost of my reading-mind. “My name is Name.” Meantime, the text is often like a thicket or hedge through which, one way, you move easily, but another way, you get stuck on pricks. (11 May 11 – another 3 hours later)

Chapter Six

“May is a good month for visions,…”

Before my memory loses the “hastily improvised persons” or “placeholders” from the previous chapter, I would like to compare my recent thoughts on King’s “walk-ins” and his own role I identified as “spear-carrier” in my review of his ‘Full Dark, No Stars’.  And there are many ‘walk-ins’ travelling along the geometric channels of journey shown by Harry Beck’s famous London Underground Map (that is in turn represented by the section-dividers in this Chomu book?)  – supplementing the Map of Audit-Trails that is indeed the essence of this book itself. There is also much of what I recall to be Mike Philbin’s skilful fiction-streaming of violent or bukkake psycho-sexuality potentially infecting this book, for good or bad. Meanwhile, the conclave or honeycomb of eight coffins at the very start of this novel sort of seep and sidle back into the reader’s consciousness within the brine tank of our Jungian imagination-sump or joint compost-heaps of memory, and I sense that a truly startling thing is about to thrust its head above the surface, or the surface is about to thrust its own head above the the startling thing? Plus the fact that in this chapter, you can find a most interesting definition of the word ‘rhythm’.  It’s too much of a spoiler to quote here. (11 May 11 – another 3 hours later)


I dreamt about my concurrent reading of this book last night. Always a good sign for me with a book.  And I dreamt, too, of ‘Phaedrus’ and – in the spirit of a once-off breaking of my own erstwhile rules with regard to real-time-reviewing – I refer this review-reader to including therein: “We have lost, as it were, the feathers that allowed us to fly. But, certain nutrients stimulate the growth of feathers and allow the soul to soar. One of those nutrients of the soul is Beauty.” (12 May 11)

Chapter Seven (pages 166 – 183)

“I’m a huge smooth ear,”

Contrapuntal ordinals of person (e.g. first person singular, second person singular, first person plural, third person blind, reader person peculiar &c…) make incredibly challenging prose-music as well as kaleidoscope-meaning – and one’s dealing with another sex or another character (‘vera’ being literally truth) is like a novel-reader seeing characters evolve through the obvious ‘blindness’ of text into the statues of visionary dream turning gradually solid then, even, into actual real people who sit in the reading-room with you or us or me or them, often with the coefficient of concupiscence. [That latter expression has just turned up on the page here of my review in real-time and perhaps it is my way of sensing this book’s own sense of ‘prosthetic libido’ in the context of the narrative mazes and philosophical illuminations as surrounded by the first-impressive word- or watch-jewelled settings …. ticking, clicking, pricking by.] (12 May 11 – five hours later)

(The rest of) Chapter Seven

“The Great Lover finds himself in another, new narrative, another character.”

Sex-core and ice-sun within a ‘fiction(re)alised’ hologram of inner Earth?  I have already ‘enjoyed’ similar, if fundamentally different, coincidental-visions before reading this section of the book today.  And, suffering, as I have done, quite regularly over the years from the serious condition of iritis onward from 1973: “Their eyes have developed special ridges on the surface of the iris itself –”  Whatever my findings (and this book deserves more than one reading) I can judge already – two-thirds into this my first reading – that this is unquestionably a great novel and I agree with Brendan Moody in his constructive review linked above that “language, grammar, usage so eccentric that typos are impossible to tell from artistic license“.  I am happy, as long as my wayward reader’s license is also nodded through… 🙂 (12 May 11 – another 3 hours later)

Chapter Eight (pages 201 – 223)

“Some call it Mnemosem which means simply: “wolves”.”

Mnemosyne (meaning ‘memory’) is one of the few words with ‘nemo’ embedded (along with mnemonic, anemone, Bournemouth and unemotional). ‘Mnemosem’ is a neologism, I guess, for the ‘Wolves of the Calla’ who stole children and returned them as ‘roont’ changelings (their memory gone?). Which fits neatly with the ‘Immigrants’ as variant forms of Capek’s Newts – or Vampires that seem collusive with the filters (co-ordinates, beams, audit-trails?) of minds/characters silting back and forth via fiction’s ‘baffles’ within each such filter, if it were not for the saving grace-stitches of (what I have long called) ‘the Tenacity of Feathers’. “…and sometimes – we don’t know why – the wings attach inside the body, and not on the outside.” Meantime, nightmare city-desperations and sexual jealousies are implied (if not impaled) and, later, morals inferred. And we wonder if this book is not a Baffle at all but a Fable. Not a Veil but a Pique. Didactic or fractal or plain frantic – or eventually Finnegans Flann? (12 May 11 – another 3 hours later)


I’ve dreamt about the book again overnight! This is the first book I’ve read by Cisco and I really must read some more when I’ve finished it.  (13 May 11)

(the rest of) Chapter Eight


An expletive action-cinematic mayhem of (as if) internet flash-mobs made flesh as internet creatures rather than as the human beings that stand behind these creatures’ web-avatars (my vision of what’s happening here, not necessarily the book’s) as a literal police-‘state’ as Cop-mass, and Vampires, and Immigrants and Skate-Boarders, swarm the subway narrative arteries – leading to a cisco-kidney (pink) vision, inter alios, of Prosthetic Death this time – a literary event that has to be read not to be believed but to feel merged and then differentiated, differentiated then merged, Libido and Death as prostheses rather than hypotheses. “Against the dais, the wands end in soft hooks, like the fronds of a sea anemone.” (13 May 11 – four hours later)

Chapter Nine

“…and forms a little flat nipple on the front of the eye, through which she can project her fascination beams.”

I am one of the Cultists portrayed in this book. And like all Cultists, I am more eclectic than catholic, more forgetful than mnemonic or metronomic.  And I forgot to mention another flash-mob in the previous chapter, that of separately autonomous wings that swarm as good as the rest of us (an image that I have lived with for years since writing ‘Agra Aska’ in 1984). Here they form, inter alia, the throne of the Prosthetic Death – probably the most original Horror creature frankensteined up in the whole of literature to date, and I don’t say that lightly. Perhaps the siren from the pirate ship of Whovian TV’s last episode, and yet far far more powerful to the power-context of the quasi-astral-projections inferred from this book (not forgetting that you are one such projection). (13 May 11 – another hour later)

Chapter Ten

“…and hit the blank that’s all that’s there, not even the memory.”

A brief, highly poignant, beautifully written nocturne leading from the repercussions of the previous chapter.  Love is Great in all respects, I find, even in its great sadnesses. And sometime its superman strengths. (13 May 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Chapter Eleven

“Nearly invisible, shade-like figures are coming, walking along either side of the dead train.”

I feel I share a dream-sump with everyone reading this book. [Cf: on a personal front: ‘A Sullen Dream’ linked at the beginning of this review and ‘The Dream of Real Air’ (first published 1992) and the ‘jellyfish imagination’.]   It’s as if that, when one can submit to this book with complete heart and soul as well as with philosophical intellect, the reader can believe in the cult of cheating death – cheating death FOR REAL. (13 May 11 – another 2 hours later)

Chapter Twelve

“Running himself, the Great Lover feels something flash by much faster and veer away…”

This is almost an Alfred Hitchcock-like train-chase finale followed by the petering out of ‘Citizen Kane’ as the camera (here the reading-brain) pans out towards a dark tower (a “huge telephone tower“?) where St George fights his Dragon, or Roland fights the Crimson King, or The Great Lover fights Prosthetic Death. —- I have given up trying to convey to you the book’s intense language multisecting us and then bringing us back together in moto perpetuo or explaining the fact that this book has been the greatest challenge so far for my tried and trusted method of real-time reviewing with so many leitmotifs here and guest-gestalts mocking or disguising the real host gestalt.  Another flash-mob I forgot earlier was that of the Students, and this chapter reminds me of the studious or monkish exegesis required to address this work of literature, and the Matt Cardin type ‘Daemon Muse ‘at work within or outwith Cisco… not just one, but several!! (13 May 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Chapter Thirteen

“Here comes our hero. You remember the hero, everybody always does.”

Possibly — these days (when everybody has read everything) — only oblique or difficult fiction can impart new truths from story-telling. Yet, this is not difficult fiction as such; it just needs sorting out, as they say in Essex where I live.  This last chapter or coda continues that panning-shot (like that famous one in the film of McEwan’s ‘Atonement’) – taking in, during one broad sweep, many of the themes and characters and filthy cities and flash-mobs, even a scrying of a rug-carpet. “British working-class neighbourhood…”, “the rag ends of narrative worn threadbare, sharp and frayed like a banshee call”, “Vampirism runs this part of town from helicopters…”, “But there is no rain, it will never rain here. They have paved the ocean.”, “it is so hard to get through your thicket grounds,”, “and everybody goes on talking about the whether,” … whether this or that, whether this is the ‘perfect’ novel, as Rhys Hughes suggests in his Foreword. To grant perfection needs an element of some benefit of the doubt.  Like Rhys, I give this novel that required benefit of the doubt. [Someone publicly did not give my novella ‘Weirdtongue’ any beneft of the doubt recently, but there is no blame attached to that, of course.]  I admit that this real-time review of “The Great Lover” is as a result of a single reading. That is unquestionably not enough. Still, I am not enough, however many readings I may be able to give it.

“The magic door opens and I go through it into someone else’s dream.” (13 May 11 – another 3 hours later).


1 Comment

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One response to “The Great Lover – by Michael Cisco

  1. I dreamt of it last night again! This time about the Wolves of the Calla, being the masked machine projections or prostheses of Vampires – and deploying Harry Potter’s snitches!

    And finally decided that Cisco’s book will endure as a great one, without any doubt at all! I must read his other books, however.
    [And the Cisco Kid = The Gunslinger?}

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