I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of ‘The Bestiary of Communion’ by Stephen J. Clark (Passport Levant MMXI). 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: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/
Landscape format, sewn hardcover with dust-jacket printed on heavy cardboard paper, cloth boards, gold folio, silk ribbon, end papers and full-color frontispiece (plus three further internal full-colour illustrations). There are 144 pages in total. The edition is limited to sixty copies of which this one is hand-numbered 20.
I am pleased to see this publisher (Dan Ghetu of Ex Occidente Press) is still prolific in publishing great books, contrary to what I was led to understand and as publicly anticipated by the publisher himself a few months ago. I hope the logistics of book delivery and authorial care have improved from what I was also led to believe publicly from various third parties some time ago. I’ve never needed to complain in respect of myself, I hasten to add.
THE HORNED TONGUE
“…that particular night it took the shape of his pillow. No matter how he pummelled or kneaded its flesh it would not comply, it would not let him rest.”
You know, I feel an added frisson of claustrophobia and atmosphere reading such fiction in a heavy-duty book (such as this) that I know will be owned by only 59 other people in the world. A secret written, a secret read. A secret told, a secret heard. A secret sparely shared. Here, (in 1960, in a city that has a Spui Square), a husband – in a sort of retrocausal unrequited-love syndrome – seeks his missing wife in the way a famous detective may have done but, instead, heads (with his wife’s discovered diary in his hand) straight – via a sinister (spirtualist?) establishment and a meeting with a protagonist wielding more power over the story than perhaps Stephen J Clark himself wields – towards, I simply guess, a variety (as yet undetermined) of metafictional nightmare. (11 Jul 11)
“…a samizdat version, a rough manuscript by an author called Mikhail Bulgakov,…”
Amid “junkyard effigies” or dummies or scarecrows (as markers), with shuddering Ligottian reminiscence, our wifeless protagonist is involved in some really insidious dealings and cross-commissions, and a book [that I’m sure Ex Occidente Press / Passport Levant itself could have published retrocausally for these truly haunting scenes (judging by that publisher’s erstwhile “Peacock Escritoire” &c. &c.)] leading to one of the most poignant moments I’ve encountered in weird literature featuring the statue of an urchin boy (in the hindsight of what had been said of it earlier). (11 Jul 11 – two and half hours later)
“Be warned, he said, for when you speak the language of dreams others will distrust and shun you.”
This novella, I vouch, is a major work in weird literature. It certainly does disturb and haunt in a very real way. And if you felt the last section’s ending was poignant, the actual ending of the whole novella is even more so! Almost unbearable. But fulfilling for an oldening bookish man like me, in many ways — [Coupled with the intertextual horror of a book’s actual smothering grip of reality beyond its ‘book-ness’ that reminds me of many of the metafictional and non-metafictional stories in ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’ and, also, there is the stated context of a “small balcony“…]
“The words seemed to dance from the page into his mouth. He and the words became one.” (11 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)
THE LOST REACHES
I. “Its toy turrets, windows, balconies and roofs all contorted into perplexing angles,…”
A ‘pursued’ journey across the snow with wounded man – with deft hints of those in the party – towards a House [of Leaves??] wherein there is its own version of white-clad ‘snow’. An intriguing opening, absorbing a small band of readers, as if taking us into the house, too. (12 Jul 11)
II. “…her face concealed by a mask and headdress that was a hybrid of peacock and owl…”
Exploring the isolated foundling house, amid grief about one of our number (and fresh-opened wine), and an oblique reference to a ‘Mr Schulz’ in our past, some of our group view paintings, one of which seems to be a vaguely retrocausal ‘mirror’ (my expression not the book’s, maybe not even the book’s concept at all). This writer certainly knows how to enthrall… (12 Jul 11 – seven hours later)
III & IV. “The artefacts seemed eager and restless they stirred in the shadows enticing her into making fresh correspondences, new memories from old,…”
Indeed, from two protagonal viewpoints, the foundling house either reflects our story already told or imposing a new story on us yet untold that we assume is an old story. There is some very fine prose of the weird literature school here, while the paintings themselves, their subject-matters etc, make their own correspondences. The house sits in my brain, almost. (12 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)
V & VI. “This museum holds shadows of things that will be as well as shadows of things that once were.”
Intoxication by the house’s feral exterior interiorising – and by dint of vintage wine – and by urge of sensuality between man and woman – and by dint of pure literary intoxication – as I try to fathom the various forces of politics, land borders, wall trophies – and a didacticism or tradition of literature quite beyond me but now become part of me as something undidactic or untraditional, beyond me as well as within me. Why has the word intoxication, I suddenly wonder, got ‘toxic’ built in? Why slipper ‘slip’? ‘Bruno’s Dream’. (12 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)
VII & VIII. “There was another flash of light or skin through a break in the undergrowth,…”
This is rare or rarefied material that makes me think that real-time is not enough. I surely need to read this text again and again before committing ‘pen to paper’. Yet, I know I am riding this just once in a moment-of-now as if this is an inverse Proustian search for lost time, where lost time finds me rather than the other way about. Doing a dervish dance through the corridors of Louvre paintings, with the frames and canvases coming off the walls into my my forcefield. Not sprinting, but spinning. Except they’re the paintings I saw in St Petersburg last year, not those I saw in Paris in 1967. The House of stiff Leaves thankfully embedded within hard board covers as a landscape of lost time rather than a portrait of now. (12 Jul 11 – another hour later)
[Intermission: I have just learnt HERE that ‘The Horned Tongue’ is to be made available on-line. This is probably a good idea to obtain more readership for the author, but in many ways, for me, it’s the best of both worlds: because when I read it above (yesterday) I could genuinely say what I did say at that moment of now lost time and experience it then to the full accordingly! – (Meanwhile, I shall continue reading ‘The Lost Reaches’ another day.)] (12 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later)
IX. “…the audience were the true source of the illusion.”
Forced to return tonight by the need to fulfil some renewed urge to read before going to bed – it is as if the foundling House has leaves of Vegetation towards a snowy Narnia – but here a filmic, painterly, weird, East European, self-contained, undidactic ambiance of fantasy not a Christian Allegory – a fantasy that reminds me of the day as a youth I always visited the cinema and they customarily had ‘continuous performances’, where the section of the film you watch after being shown to your seat by the usherette’s beaming torch is what you end watching just before you leave, say, from film’s midddle to middle, and you have had to work backwards to visualise the film in the correct order, by changing things, skipping motives, forgetting sadnesses, ditching happinesses, defragging politics and logic and history and desecration and holocaust … in some strange ritual of half-shafting screen-lit darkness, red embers and billowing cigarette smoke – and blindly snogging couples. (My erstwhile vision, not the book’s, but uncannily it is this book’s vision …later, perhaps. But tomorrow never has today’s vision.) (12 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)
X. “…it was crucial that they remained focussed on their knowledge of the borderland…”
This morning, back in the House proper, I seem to have woken from a remarkable dream (a dream mixed up with last night’s reading of this book – but was it the right book? Or is today’s the wrong one?) [Last night I had read but forgotten, it seems, by checking back today to the previous chapter: “…the audience had fallen asleep while watching the scene...”] Things today are no clearer to me, no less nightmarish (so, am I still dreaming that I have slept and awoken?), no less apolitical or undidactic, although I suspect the protagonists who have abandoned me in the House on this Borderland (couriers, debutantes, a bureaucrat etc) are highly political and didactic in their own terms of history, within their age, their reality. Many glass cases with curios in the darkness – some of which I burn to create a pattern or patterns with their residual power. That I may not be there at all, but, instead, there is some other ‘artist’ or ‘writer’ with a better (or at least better known) ‘reach’ than mine – or than yours (when or if you reach ‘The Lost Reaches’). (13 Jul 11)
XI & XII. “He dismissed the idea that he had been swallowed and slowly digested by the house.”
I submit myself further to this ‘insanely challenging’ reaching out toward the lost reaches of this quite amazing novella. ‘Self’ in jeopardy simply from reading another writer’s book? Surely not. Guns, dogs, visions of giant birds, sprouting chandeliers, smashed balustrades, the destruction of fine art paintings, historical politics nobody has taught me, all to make me flounder further in this nightmare. [I do not intend ‘insanely challenging’ to be negative. Indeed, the very publisher of my recent first novel stated that novel to be ‘insanely challenging’ in a public blurb about it!] (13 Jul 11 – three hours later)
XIII & XIV. “Let us celebrate this last night. Tomorrow all this will be gone.”
All is as I wondered (even hoped) earlier, except please delete the word ‘almost’ from what I said yesterday and you will know to what I am referring if you re-read this review! This novella I knew was rarefied stuff – and giant beetles may be only half of the story (as yet unmentioned!) – but it is so utterly rarefied and distilled from archetypes of nightmares nobody would wish to unearth, I feel unqualified (even fearful) to enhance or spoil it further. I shall read and review the third novella of this book in a few days’ time, assuming it will represent more such heady stuff that needs sipping rather than gorging upon. “…black ink bubbling from their mouths.” — “I remember all that is to come.” — “…stamped out under the heels of another history.” (13 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)
MY MISTRESS, THE MULTITUDE
I. “What will happen to me once I’ve said all I have to say? And what will become of you?”
I sense I shall become part of a reflected bar scene from (or still within) an Auguste Renoir painting. Or I shall ever be exploring textured pages from Romania for clues as to why or how I “had forgotten how to live”? This tale reminds me – a smidgeon – of the story “The Chymical Wedding of Des Esseintes” by Brendan Connell, where the protagonist is also led away from a bar or cafe by a stranger (as I recall) through a mazy city towards – perhaps to more than one place: an archetype of fetching through war machinations (as here) or through absurdity: a wild goose chase or the ultimate quest of how to start living again or simply to die in peace without the need to keep returning (as I have to this book today)? I am feeling my way. Indeed, as in the previous novella, feeling my way (with a definite frisson) towards a House… (A House and a Countess?) [And Nemec – a form of Nemo?] (15 Jul 11)
II. “Who will paint my portrait? Am I to be forgotten?”
This is 1939 in Prague, I’m told. But it seems like today, the House again imprisoned inside my head – and, despite a different or subterfugic voice, there seems no escaping it by erstwhile delay, perhaps not even by permanent delay (a definition of eternity?). And the book’s overall title ‘The Bestiary of Communion’ crystallises…. (15 Jul 11 – two hours later)
III. “‘Something must be lost. That is the way with pacts. Something must be given. Something must be sacrificed,’…”
Like Ex Occidente Press itself? Beautiful books and their reading legacy but also their potential mis-synergy with life entailed in their logistics of production, delivery and receipt – and their reflected authorship-by-abstemious-numbers? Returning to the story itself – I recall the aforementioned Connell story was a fetching toward a marriage – and here there are echoes of that with the Countess who appears as a painting or, rather, a potential drawing of her by the protagonist. Indeed, there are four pieces of striking artwork in this book by the author. Meanwhile, with some fictionalised relief, I think at least the reader has escaped the House (or vice versa) if not, upon eventual re-reading, the protagonist himself by remaining imprisoned by crystallisation of the prose (always there to be re-read and lived through again, on these heavy-duty pages, within this stolid, stoical, eternal book). (15 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)
IV & V. “Only the devout are allowed into the castle on the hill to pay tribute to a man on a high balcony.”
Perhaps the best of all possible both worlds, being allowed to regularly visit the House and the Countess, without feeling imprisoned. Tempered (good-tempered as well as bad-tempered) by a ‘worsening’ of the nightmares … and by what I understand of the real history of the place-and-time being revisited upon us (so that we can exorcise it by communion with it?). [Compare the other book I’m simultaneously reviewing by inadvertence of randomness: “There is something disconcerting about standing alone in a space that was built for a crowd.” – from ‘The Exorcist’s Travelogue’ by George Berguño.] (15 Jul 11 – another hour later)
VI & VII. “The prisoner seems to have no recollection of the previous night.”
During an extended, powerful rite-of-passage – from continuous-performance cinema (a Full House), and almost literally with his (my) Eyes Wide Shut, and led by a Magus (as from John ‘Nemo’ Fowles: Otakar or even the publisher of these books himself?) – we enter a recurring deja-vu of the Bestiary of Communion and the destruction, then creation of Art – here (again? or deja-vu?) creating a portrait in this landscape book of the female in an (idealised?) frame or the female in ourselves-as-men: and I would be grateful for a female reader of this book to give their own take on this. But, perhaps no need, as we all are upon a spectrum of gender. Just as there is a spectrum of cruelty in any war or unkind act. The same spectrum of cruelty, too, in any period of peace or in any kind act. (15 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)
VIII & IX. “Mr Nemec, soon we will disappear together, further and further into this house.”
Having now read this book’s final recurring sections [and please, one day, cf: my recent novel’s separate sections Nemonymous Navigation and Nemonymous Night] I merely need to say, “I rest my case”. From the Book-as-Horror-or-House in the Bestiary’s first novella, we now have the House of Houses, the Horror of Horrors, i.e. the horror owned or published recurringly by the intrinsic archetype nightmare: the noumenon of nightmare that this book attempts to nail (yes, attempts and it remains to be seen whether it may have succeeded). To know the worst, however, is also to know the best. An important book to read before you die. (15 Jul 11 – another hour later)