Real-Time Review continued from HERE.
The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
First published in Great Britain 2011 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles – Lord Dunsany
“…bone shirt studs. / Not even rumour whispered the name of Nuth. Were I to say that this turned his head,…”
…or made it scream? I imagine Fagin screaming, but not not-catch-a-cold Nuth. This is a sort of Fagin of “modern competition” and of the promissory-note economics disguising burglary that beset our leveraged society today. A deeply prose-textured fantasy with Dunsanian-Dickensian humour - with a gestalt-avoiding, art-for-art’s-sake capriciousness. And why do houses near all fictional Dunsanian woods only show their defenestrated backs to such woods, I ask rhetorically? Gnoles likely also live along the Danube? Funnel hollows as well tree-bole ones. (6 Nov 11 – 90 minutes later)
The Man in the Bottle – Gustav Meyrink
“The dull sound of a gong filled the room…”
…and, as in the aforementioned Danubian Todash, this humming sound betokens the contrastively undull drama-within-a-drama in this genuinely sumptous and exotic fabulous-fable of a masked masque, with more Revenge and Srednibution for misdeeds. And the earlier message in the glass now a living message in a bottle. Another gem. [For those interested, my real-time review (2009) of an anthology inspired by the work of Gustav Meyrink.] (6 Nov 11 – another hour later)
The Dissection – Georg Heym
“But the dead man slept. [...] And while the thumping of hammers resounded on his skull, a dream,…”
A beautifully grotesque depiction of a dissection. The skull does not scream during this ‘sleeping sickness’, but there is a ‘dead smile’! Only connect… morbidity with mortality – and where they overlap: immortality? A masterpiece I had not encountered before. (6 Nov 11 – another 45 minutes later)
The Spider – Hans Heinz Ewers
A truly compelling story of a little Hotel room where there have recently happened three separate suicides by hanging … and here we have – web-spoiler beware! - the real-time ’review’ of what happens as written by the protagonist who has chosen to stay there and solve the mystery. This is uncannily like a reversion or inversion of ‘The Dissection’ (just previously read in this book). “And this same place that had just been a bed for passionate desire now become the scene of something quite different.” Also, there are messages through glass plus the earlier Danubian ‘self-deception’ now in a dire fatalistic rhythm, not knowing which self is which. Another evil burr one cannot brush off “like children playing Follow the Leader”. Haunting material. A classic, as surely one must expect more often than not from this huge Weird-Eclectic tome. (6 Nov 11 – another 90 minutes later)
The srendidipity of the spider. (6 Nov 11 – another hour later)
This morning, having slept on this book (not literally!), I am already confident that it will continue to prove to be not only a major reading experience but also a major life experience. It feels as if the last three years of developing the personal skills of this type of ‘real-time reviewing’ — perhaps especially with the Chômu and Ex Occidente book canons — have been a dress rehearsal for this particular review, i.e. the review you are now reading above and below about my reading, spider-to-spider. (7 Nov 11)
The Hungry Stones – Rabindranath Tagore
“Amid the eddy of these dream-fragments, amid the smell of henna and the twanging of the guitar, [...] I would catch like a flash of lightning the momentary glimpse of a fair damsel.”
…the twanging like the gong for a new Todash, and our common cotton clerk protagonist is at first gifted – amid Eastern theosophical / scheherazadic resplendence of prose about a partially used, seemingly haunted, now mentally parasitic palace – with a vision (deriving, for me, from J.W. Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs (1896)), a vision, however, that becomes a vaguely similar negative synergy with the previous story’s spider, here with one of those nymphs and a slave history? This story is told by the cotton clerk on a train to others – as if he is cursing them by off-loading this once deceptively sumptuous start of a story upon them, even while this story once retold and continually retold - towards its inevitable entropy - curses us who have now had it off-loaded upon us when reading it (spider to spider?) today in this Weird-Eclectic book … although this curse is not overt only inferred (at least by me) – and I shudder. Another pursuant burr that can’t be brushed off. (7 Nov 11 – ninety minutes later)
The Vegetable Man – Luigi Ugolini
By means of this fibrously evocative story’s welcome introduction to me, I spot references to “sleeping sickness” and to meaty appendages: this twin-eyed spiderous liana of another victim’s ‘told’ story, i.e. possibly told so as again to off-symbioticise any curse to the listener…or reader. Not the distaff curse of ’red flag’ but some obverse ’green spear’? [Megalanthus become Megazanthus?] (7 Nov 11 – another 2 hours later)
The People of the Pit – A. Merritt
“They reared themselves on high thin trunks and their tops were nests of thick tendrils with ugly little leaves like arrow heads. The trees were red, a vivid angry red.”
…like an inversion or reversion of the previous story’s blood-miscegenation or symbiosis of a ‘vegetable man’ – and here it seems instinctively appropriate that another ‘told’ tale is told by a ‘crawling man’ about ‘upright slugs’ and other lustrous as well as lobstrous things… and this is a hellishly effective visionary horror set-piece (reminding me of the regular Lovecraftian-type readings-aloud that I ‘performed’ for friends in the Sixties) … a Haggardian journey to a pit – a pit that, now, today, I see is ‘todashed’ (coaxed as well as repelled) by ‘whisperings and murmurs’ – a pit shaped like a bottle, the story says – thus, a crawling Meyrinkian man-in-a-bottle even whose ashes will not be safe! … once a baby on all fours but now a grotesquely dislocated grown-up version of that baby: a revelling-in-vulnerability-like outcome of this book’s gestalt, a gestalt so far that is relentless as well as sporadic, blatant as well as subtle, diverse as well as focussed. (7/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
The Hell Screen – Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
“These people, tormented by Gozumezu*, fled in all directions among fire and smoke, [...] The woman who curled up like a spider, her hair caught in a fork,…” *Infernal torturers with human bodies and heads of bulls or horses.
If this book continues to produce such unknown (to me) classics of weird horror, my earlier feeling that it will be a landmark in my life’s experiences will surely and increasingly be borne out. An engaging narrator (expressly afraid, at one point, of losing his narrative thread) conveys a Japanese hell-of-a-shock second to none – one that, however fantastical, hangs together with artfully suspended dis-believability. It concerns a painter who needs to experience what he paints, involving an inferred mass of characters and monstrousnesses and a bestial / anthropomorphic zoo of alter-egos, alter-nemos and namesakes – plus his beautiful young daughter – and the Lord who commissions the painting from him – a “human skull” on the painter’s desk – “words came out disconnected” a la ‘The Willows’ – this genuinely shocking story eventually feeling as if it were written about a Hellish reality that needed to be experienced first as reality before it could be written about (just like the painting the words depict). The work of an adept but loco monkey or of a genuine meticulously artful genius? You decide. (8 Nov 11)
Unseen — Unfeared – Francis Stevens
“One good thing I could do, if one only. I could abolish my monster-creating self.”
Frankly speaking, having read it this once, I now need to re-read this deeply weird noir-crime fiction, a Lovecraftian-xenophobic story about “green golliwogs”, “furry spiders” et al – while “ringing of a gong“. Its narrative is still hanging about, unseen, motive-curdled, upon a city corner in surveillance of my faltering comprehension of it. It seems to further concern one of this book’s running themes, i.e. self-deception. The fact is that I understand it better than it understands itself, I claim! ”Setting my teeth, and fighting with myself as with some pet animal gone mad,…” – and that ‘hell screen’ from the previous story here becomes some membrane to wrap drugs up in - from a “hotter place” even than that earlier vegetable man’s “South America“. (8 Nov 11 – three hours later)
The Editors have now kindly linked to this review and to others – i.e. to reviews of ‘intrepid’ and ‘sustained reading’. The book itself, meanwhile, is ‘sustaining’ me, I say, and the very phenomenon of its existence derives from the most ‘intrepid’ and admirable act of all. When I have completed this real-time review (assuming, as I expect, that I live long enough to do so!) and have read this book’s introductions and notes as a final act on my part in this process, I shall come to some personal conclusion that it is indeed the two Editors’ own valuable eclectic overview or compendium of items of Weird Fiction or that – irrespective of any editorial intentions and deriving from the end gestalt I might discover within it – this mighty book has a serendipitous, synchronous, spiritual significance beyond any normal concepts of overview or compendium. (9 Nov 11)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.