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.
In the Penal Colony – Franz Kafka
“How can anyone take this felt into his mouth without feeling disgusted – something that more than a hundred men have sucked and bitten on it as they were dying?”
Four characters known as “the ‘something'” (like the earlier Swede and American) – one being the Traveller – who, for me, with this book as described earlier as my journey I’m communicating publicly even while I make that same journey, is the Reader, a fact that takes on a new meaning when the Reader learns that the penal punishment involves an accretively and Heath-Robinsonly word-described contraption that punctures, as a form of Harrow inscriber, the skin with the very words of the crime’s sentence. A very powerful , nail-grating story that is absurdly and semi-didactically Kafkaesque: a pointilliste or Braille fable about the fog of politics, of crime and punishment, of OCD-type procedures and beliefs … and the Harrow itself is made of glass (cf: the writing within glass of the M.R. James story as well as, here, the Karswellian Officer). (Also cf: the Hell Screen and the Dissection). Which is the Colony, which the Colonised? A telling inclusion of this story that’s come up completely fresh to me after many years as well as probably being, for me, more gestalt-enhancing than the more famous ‘Metamorphosis’ would have been. [Imagine reading this story on a new-fangled ebook – it just wouldn’t have the same power, I suggest.] (9 Nov 11 – three hours later)
The White Wyrak – Stefan Grabinski
I shall quote a larger section this time as it seems to create an understanding of my process with this real-time review in general: “Only Antarek looked at the master’s tales in a different light, and managed to get to their core. The rest of us, however, called Kalina’s stories balderdash. They were engrossing, sometimes horrible, until one’s flesh crept and one’s hair stood on end, but despite it all, only tales and balderdash. Yet life soon taught us a little differently…” As, in vague parallel, this review is hopefully doing with this book. The master is a sort of a benign ‘Fagin’ (or this book’s erstwhile Nuth) of “journeymen” (tellingly), ie. chimney-sweeps. Beyond this or nearer to us than this, ‘The White Wyrak’ is a memorable weird tale of an old brewery with disused chimneys that need cleaning of their old-brewed soot (my expression, not the story’s) and what repulsively parthenogenetic life-form that such ancient soot can incubate – thus endangering unwitting chimney sweeps… (9 Nov 11 – another hour later)
The Night Wire – H. F. Arnold
“Queer story, wasn’t it? Not that we aren’t used to it, for a lot of unusual stories come in over the wire.”
Hard-Wired over the Weird. This is a story where the real-time narration of itself is transmitted piecemeal and, like Kafka’s Harrow, that fog of intention and self-deception, penetrates the person who wields the sentences, converting ebook-ephemerality to a real traction of text. Massive stuff. Tiny story. (9 Nov 11 – another 2 hours later)
The Dunwich Horror – H. P. Lovecraft
I, II, III, IV & V: “The bent, goatish giant before him seemed like the spawn of another planet or dimension; like something only partly of mankind, and linked to black gulfs of essence and entity that stretch like titan phantasms beyond all spheres of force and matter, space and time.”
This story is probably beyond any review, any real-time. There seems to be an annexe or attic or “vacant abyss overhead” being constructed anew or simply strengthened like bespoke parts of a forgotten building to house something beyond the reach of today’s mature gestalt. I return, today, to this classic – with the syllables of ‘Yog Sothoth!’ like some personal Todash echoing within my ancient youthful voice: a memory of my readings-aloud over forty years ago – and I realise I have been “half insane” half my life and now it is time to climb my own Sentinel Hill to find the other half before it is too late. Or just to find hungry stones? (9 Nov 11 – another 2 hours later)
VI, VII, VIII, IX & X: “…issued warnings of the keenest intensity to all librarians having charge of the dreaded volume.”
…and, this morning, some news arrives electronically (invisibly) that soon there will be an American edition of the book (hard copy as well as ebook!). Meanwhile, the piping of whippoorwills (playing the same part as a gong does in the book earlier), and an entity that does not belong to a monstrous zoo but is a zoo of once discrete creatures in itself, judging how the various multi-blended-creatured descriptions are made in an admixture of plain speech and Lovecraftian indescriptivities and elided common speech and disjointed Willow-code. An invisible monster, too (a la Dharma Lost). Whateley had “no skull“, so where is it? Things softening off like the Wyrak into spewy nothingness. A “sprayer” like a ‘prayer’. But this is a mighty, cosmic tale of “earth brain” and a vacant space for something simultaneously at both magnetic poles, “inner earth”, “foetor”, “ichor“, all the words and ideas and Lovecraftian indescriptivities I recall from my first pre-mature experience of this blinding narration 47 years ago in youthful pre-cataclysm times – so I shall “no more concoct a humorous paragraph about it” other than with “haff faces” of today’s new-fangled genealogy: we never had the internet then to seek back into ourselves as well as into our own perhaps even stranger, then unknown and unknowable, nameless and unnameable, ancestors! Ill-begotten sounds, smells, visions, non-visions – Gawd! “…the memorable Dunwich horror”, will it come back, via this Weird-Eclectic book, this new Necronomicon in disguise?… the invisible book at last made visible only, it seems, today, to be made invisible again … creating crop-circle trenches in the previously uniform grasslands of our pre-maturition, nay, pre-gestation, imaginations. “Help! Help! … ff — ff — ff..” A seriously great story. Can anyone buying this book not have read it before? It needed to be included, whatever the answer to that question. (10 Nov 11)
The Book – Margaret Irwin
A remarkably haunting story I’ve not encountered before – about a bookshelf and the protagonist’s lack of confidence in the gaps between the books, and one ever-written book that seems to be a curse to his way of life, relevant to his finances and arguably to the current world economic storm and finally to his own sanity and to his view (and thus to the well-being) of his family and pets. This seems to be the natural story to follow (or pursue) the previous story and its Necronomicon – and similarly to follow my own side issues there regarding other non-books like e-ones! And a roaming non-hand like that earlier tell-tale five-fingered ‘skull’. Although I did study Latin once (47+ years ago), it is now, for me, just more arcane code, but luckily here translated, including: “…dissection of 783 children”. Plus this very strange expression from the story itself (not originally in Latin), one so utterly a mental tussle I dare not even try construe or parse its tense declension: “…she could not stop being what she had never been“. And I wonder if this is Margaret Irwin’s uncharacteristically strangest story? (10 Nov 11 – four hours later)
The Mainz Psalter – Jean Ray
“I’d rather hear stories of witches and demons than that demoralizing ‘I don’t know.'”
A story of books, Gutenberg-with-solid-printing-press-books, so aptly in tune with the previous two stories – yet also a very strange unsolid story of a boat called The Hen-Parrot that has its name changed to the The Mainz Psalter (note the ‘salt’) and a fantastical adventure – a cross between William Hope Hodgson and Jules Verne and HP Lovecraft and William Golding (and Jerome K Jerome – Algernon Blackwood earlier?), whereby the ‘unsolidness’ – beware spoiler! – derives from burning the books and their owner becoming an empty (Ligottian?) mannequin as if they owned him (drowned him!?) … my mind spins in glass like lost print! This is seriously strange – and inspiring. [I know this book can’t contain all the weird authors, but my mentioning Hodgson above has also made me think of Arthur Machen, Elizabeth Bowen (possibly, for me, the greatest weird writer who ever lived), Tommaso Landolfi, and some living writers who (I can see) are more problematic in choosing to represent in such a book… Not a complaint, but an observation for debate. After all, this book will have its own gestalt eventually when all inclusions and omissions will become clear on the final judgement day!] (10 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)
A quote from the previous story that I forgot to mention: the first bit a la ‘Night Wire’, the second bit: me during the 1990s! “Reines, the radio man, was taking notes. / Reines spends all his spare time writing stories and essays for short-lived literary magazines.” (10/11/11 – another 90 minutes later)
The Shadowy Street – Jean Ray
“…pitiful books whose pages were still joined like desperate hands.”
Wow! Albeit not a recognised term in literary criticism but, nevertheless: Wow! Jean Ray has a second bite at this book’s cherry, but there is no complaint from me. This story is a true discovery for me – and it is worth the price of entrance into this vast intrepid tome alone (as I’m sure can be said of other inclusions, too). Firstly, fitting neatly into the ‘bookness” theme of the previous three stories, we have two separate synchronously discovered tangible manuscripts here that need ‘gestalting’ by the reader: an audit trail (“sinuous trail“) or, for me, a literal ley-line that follows the quasi-cartographic thread of a street in another dimension. Srednibutions. Greed. And other inferred emotions. Missing heads. Smashed skulls. Truly haunting fears. “Fortified by this nonsense”, “manufacturing saints like sausages”. A Todash tide of sound, for me, via a viburnum bush, & HPL’s earlier “vacant abyss overhead” where, in this story, stairs come to a sudden pointless end. Becoming “an accomplice of phantoms“: the story’s author, narrator or its reader? The editors of this book, I say! [On a more personal note, resonating with the quote I’ve given at the head of this section: cf. from The HA of HA: “Can you recall the lasting effect of the most deeply disturbing collection of horror stories you’ve ever encountered? The narratives join hands…” — From THE USELESS by Dominy Clements] (11/11/11)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.