The ‘Star’ Ushak – by Louis Marvick

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of ‘The ‘Star’ Ushak’ by Louis Marvick (Ex Occidente Press MMX). A book I purchased from the publisher.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….

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:

All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here:


Chapter I: Ilona Golmassian

Did you notice the carpet?”

I am not an expert on whodunnits or detective fiction, but this novel starts brilliantly for me (and incredibly!) with a carpet.  A murder upon it, blood sucked out, an article previousy bought by the victim, strange paperwork connected with the article, investigations started with those who sold the article, and a romance in the offing?  Exotic and supernatural undercurrents and perhaps, to my naive eyes, Chandleresque, so far. The style is engagingly textured and I am involuntarily trapped, desirous to continue… (4 Jul 11)

Chapter II: Backstage at the Amphitryon 

“Was it possible that the carpet itself had somehow influenced us to ignore it?”

It has dawned on me that it is difficult to conduct  a real-time review of a (seeming) whodunnit novel, unsure as I am of the pitfalls of ‘spoiling’ it and inexperienced as I am in such plots’ mechanics. So I shall tread carefully.  Suffice to say, that this is plot is intensely fascinating. Particularly to one like me who has also fictionalised a carpet, i.e. in my only published novel. It is almost as if I am embroiled in the plot myself.  Indeed, there is a highly inscrutable I-narrator, involved up to the hilt in the plot’s action, who could well be me, for all I know. The characterisation of the investigators and of the people being investigated over the Professor’s murder, other than, of course, that I-narrator, is superbly conveyed, and draws the reader in. I’m not sure if it is Chandleresque, after all.  More Fu Man Chu?  I don’t know. Early days. But it is exotic and animistic, particulalrly about the carpet. And there is a theatrical scene towards the end of this chapter that is cinematic – with a glamour lady changing behind her dressing-room screen while talking to  the investigators. I’m loving this book, although, by rights, I shouldn’t be – based on my taste in fiction before reading this novel. (4 Jul 11 – another 4 hours later)

[The novelist’s photograph at the beginning of the book depicts a gentleman who looks like the exact blending of myself and my oldest friend whom I first met when we were both aged 11 in 1959 at Colchester Royal Grammar School.] (4 Jul 11 – another 10 minutes later)

Chapter III: I Do Not See Her Face

“The first would be that she had, as it were, two voices – one inside the other.”

I think I must wash my hands of some of what I’ve said already!  This is not a whodunnit, as such, but a what-is-it! Now, more a deeply startling treatment of social perspective in a restaurant, serious music appreciation through studious dialogue and images relating to what faces give off or not vis-a-vis ‘identity’, plus surreal/Magrittean perceptions that may be real, reminding me of Elizabeth Bowen fiction (and a story that was in the ‘Null Immortalis’ anthology: i.e.  ‘Violette Doranges’ by David V. Griffin) and much more. I think (yet again!) I’ve synchronously hit upon a very special book as part of my real-time reviewing regime. A where-doth-it-lead-me novel, rather than a what-I-first-thought. Given time, it may even turn its pages itself. (4 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

Chapter IV: The Gardens of Sargon

“We are merely playing with the facts of the case as we have them, to see how they might fit together.”

Eureka! This is Sherlock Holmes blended with ‘The Beetle’ by Richad Marsh!  Or is it? Is it the need to scry a  street-brawler’s encrypted shouting? There’s a lot of pleasant reading work afoot in this continuously fascinating enigma of a novel. (4 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

Chapter V: The Deserted Flat

“The stupid girl said she felt it shift beneath her feet.”

Investigation into the private diary (hinting of insidious doings) of the carpet’s previous owner – leads to a deserted flat with slanting light as if in a Vermeer painting – and a hidden cracked niche or loophole within Yellow Wallpaper or in Bergotte’s yellow patch on the Proustian wall … (all my meanderings, not the book’s) – or is that me here as reader, or me in the book?  Bear with me. This book does strange things. Meanwhile, behind the wall, something unutterably sad…? (4 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

Chapter VI: Encounter on the Embankment

Pages 68 – 74

“‘Seems to me you should make up a list of what you know and what you don’t know,’ she observed, when I had shared with her something of my perplexity in the Ushak case. ‘Mr Stout, God rest him, always said it helped to get things down on paper.'”

Indeed, and despite some accidents with time today, I’m still eager to get on with this book and fathom out the true nature of the carpet or rug and its connection with Marlowe’s Tamburlaine….  itemising options.

“At a way-station on his return from Agra hundreds of victims were put to death before him, their slaughtered bodies left to rot upon the rug…” (5 Jul 11 – 7 pm British Summer Time)

Pages 75 -87

“…how could I be sure that any of my thoughts were my own?”

This is certainly becoming – as I already suspected – a very high-class supernaturally-atmospheric detective-fiction novel of the old school, yet with an edge of mid to late 20th century European literature and other ever striking breaking-news of character (villain / hero), dream or vision, sexual jealousy, cinematic glamour / romance, synchronous confluxes of past and present eventualities etc. – and the imagined or real animism of objects.  The I-narrator is now full-fledged merely by my empathy with the things he says, describes and reports others saying  – and through what he imparts telepathically to me… (6 Jul 11)

Chapter VII: Timúr the Lame

“…this web of connections which we have been struggling to explain…”

Events reported and re-reported that seem to be forming a pattern – including a breaking news report, for me, straight out of Cern Zoo – keep this whole panoply of cohering events as a Bach partita but one constituted of tigers, tags, pieces, misunderstandings, ruggish rumours, scars … amid my Watsonish mistreads on a Holmes-ish carpet of intellect… and didn’t Tamburlaine keep his captives of war in cages (my question, not the book’s). (6 Jul 11 – four hours later)

Chapter VIII: Crime or Art?

“But an author whose characters were living human beings?”

…and whose readers are his characters, I wondered?  I confess I have not read the play – ‘Tamburlaine the Great’ by Christopher Marlowe. I know of it and feel I know what it’s like.  I was meant to study it once but it somehow slipped through my destiny and I studied something else instead.  Stylistics and Linguistics took over; words became living things, not characters.  But I know somehow that, throughout it all, it would subsist, over the years. Eventually for me to read this book, this chapter, tonight, this pivot of fiction, and Tamburlaine and the words that erected him on the page would begin to exercise their due influence – over forty years too late.  Another accident  with time?  Meanwhile, is it merely a coincidence that Marlowe and Marvick share Mar…? Apocalyptic Horrors hang on each word….(6 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later) 

Chapter IX: Margot Lavender

“Both portraits seemed perversely to thwart the purpose for which portraits are generally made, namely that of resembling their subjects and no one else.”

The opening and subsequently central carpet was one thing but now with characters as fluid forces, I feel a personal strong uncanny connection with this  novel via my own novel. Also, for me, Marvick’s novel seems to me to be a major crafted exhibition of the art of ‘Magic Fiction and Magic Reality within the Ominous Imagination’ as well as ‘The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction’. Meanwhile, the plot increasingly concerns an arch-illusionist with the characters as extras in an ‘art happening’ who may turn out to be those who make extras of the main characters, if not spear-carriers!  Not forgetting the woven thrust of the Detective Fiction yarn itself and also without giving too much away as a plot-spoiler where the actual reviewer is a character in the plot itself. (7 Jul 11)

Chapter X: Discovery in the Reading Room

“I have felt that the fabric of the world around me was stretched very thin.”

Wasn’t Sherlock Holmes a dark force, I seem to recall. I’m not expert, but let that hang in the air in the light of this chapter. I wonder what his carpet was like in Baker Street?  I cannot say too much for fear of spoilers, but rest assured I am thoroughly admiring of this most absorbing plot whither I know not it goes….or where in its weave I shall end up. (7 Jul 11 – another 4 hours later)

Chapter XI: Emmerich Waldteufel

“We’ll find ‘im down by Wapping Old Stairs, I expect, this time o’ the evenin’.”

Wapping is involved with a major news item in the UK today. Also Wapping and Whitechapel were a stamping-ground of mine during the early seventies.  The book seems to have an involution for those who read it – as we also follow a protagonist tempted by the thought of beauty and glamour in the fair sex, and other concerns with the pattern of Literary Aesthetics that begins strait-carpet (as opposed to strait-jacket) the plot and counterplot, friend and counter-friend, of this atmospheric, sometimes reeking, story. (8 Jul 11)

Chapter XII: At The Hippodrome

“Notice how cleverly he dances on the line between truth and fiction.”

…and I don’t mean just the author, but the reader, too! The grand climax it seems – and wow! – without giving too much away – it’s a sort of Frankenstein ‘workshop of filthy creations’ vis a vis Aesthetics (Music, Literature, Theatre, Fine Art, ‘Carpetry’…) in a grand theatrical extravaganza full of light and dark serendipities of destiny, as characters continue their strobe of identity. And, unwittingly, I mentioned something earlier with regard to Tamburlaine that comes to within the fruition of bars here. [And the thematic cross-synchronicities with my own novel are staggering while the vast differences with it remain paramount. Just a symptom of this novel’s masterly involution of effect?] (8 Jul 11 – two hours later)

[Epilogue:“One grows tired of a narrator who unfailingly defers to other possibilities.” — “Is there not a deeper thrill to be had in meeting the glance of a woman one passes in the street and never sees again than in gazing for long minutes into one’s mistress’s eyes?” — “…’we’re Englishmen, remember. We prefer to pretend that there is no such thing as a “deep thrill”….'” — “That was necessary, I take it, to make the carpet grow. When we first saw it, the wool was plump, like tissue,…” — “…the old lady selling apples in Jermyn Street looked like Mrs Stout, and Mrs Stout like someone else.” — “…the reports that disappeared from the newspapers,…” — “Just leave the next page blank.”.  — “It sounds drearily Wagnerian, I know but I haven’t quite grown tired of it yet,…”]

“Let me begin by inviting you to consider what the words ‘text’ and ‘textile’ really mean.” END (8 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)


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4 responses to “The ‘Star’ Ushak – by Louis Marvick

  1. There is a kind public comment upon the above review by Louis Marvick in the ‘comments’ attached here:

  2. Benjamin Uminsky

    Des, this one and the Berguno collections (particularly Exorcist’s Travelogue) have been my favorite EO titles so far. The epilogue for this one was wild. I’m curious to hear your interpretation of what was really going on with Carstairs. I think it can be viewed in many ways.

    I noticed in your RTR that somewhere between 75-87 you began to see that this story was a facade for something else ( I liked the quote you selected). I think for me, it was the discussion in the Bim Bam Room in Chapter X, that confirmed for me that there was a whole other layer of reality to this story… (I hope I’m not spoiling anything…)

  3. Ah, thanks, Benjamin. I think that is the first time that the I-Narrator’s name has been mentioned on this page. Ellis Carstairs to give it in full. I can’t really now empathise even with the self that was my own self when it read this book a a week or so ago. This is becoming a very important book to me – and increasingly so, in hindsight. I think there were forces at work I can’t yet explain.

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