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.
Genius Loci – Clark Ashton Smith
“…the dead willow was leaning across it at a prone despondent angle, as if mysteriously arrested in its fall toward the stagnant waters.”
If anything can follow ‘The Shadowy Street’, this better-known Classic can. It is by the sheer contrast (with that earlier story’s constructive diffuseness that needed focussing): the focus here of the locus is paramount and needs diffusing: and the narrow-channelled ‘Fall’ or ‘Autumn’ that ill-luxuriantly pervades the day (today), and the single-minded mind, for me, of the pool’s spreading influence, i.e. here diffusing the focus of the ‘ley-line’ in the morbid spirit so as to capture the strength of (what I have long called) ‘The Ominous Imagination’. But here, finally, to ‘capture’ literally, whereby the weird writer as narrator depicts his painter friend painting by that heady pool and its haunted willow focus: painting Pre-Raphaelitely, I guess, judging by the events’ outcome! Reading this story is like suffering a fever illness with visiting deliria that linger deliciously or outstay their welcome (depending how you look at it), i.e. after you have put the story down. “The human terror, which perhaps had driven him back toward his normal self,…” [Cf. the earlier John Fowles quote in this review]. (11/11/11 – two hours later)
The Town of Cats – by Hagiwara Sakutarō
“Like someone haunted by a strange omen in the moments before a great earthquake, I experienced an anxious premonition -“
So incredibly synchronous (this book’s stories, I guess, being placed in a strict chronological order of some kind), but this story now blends the erstwhile ‘Genius loci’ and ‘Ominous Imagination’ so perfectly, I struggle to explain exactly what that can mean – even as does the Narrator himself here in self-confessedly naive narration. But this story does not have the overt ‘fever illness’ of the C. A. Smith, although it similarly takes place in Autumn; it has a more clinical vision that teeters on the edge of such a feeling – a new vantage point on the focus of the locus by reversing things metaphysically rather than luxuriantly, i.e. giving ordinariness a new slant, and giving a whole town population’s otherwise hidden soul or gestalt or ‘genius loci’ a glimpse. [I hate to admit this, but I have never read this classic before. But it is appropriate that I should do so (thanks to this book), as I am currently reading (ie started reading before I received ‘The WEIRD’) the three novels entitled ‘1Q84’ by Haruki Murakami (where ‘The Town of Cats’ is featured). Also, I, too, as in this story, have noted the ‘sameness’ of places, making travel a chore. But not the journeys in books! And, in many ways, this is similar to the situation of ebooks taking over from real books. Synchronously, on a public discussion thread today, i.e. a thread discussing The WEIRD, someone suggested that this book being so vast it might have been better to wait for any ebook version of it. My reply was: “Its power stems at least partially from its tangible ‘bookness’, please let me assure you.”] (11/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
The Tarn – Hugh Walpole
“You may say that one novel cannot kill another -“
A literal ‘genius loci’ of the English Lake District and beautifully imbued with Autumn descriptions. Starts with tangible books on (Margaret Irwin’s?) bookshelf, concerns the re-ignition of an old friendship with a ‘past’ of a literary jealousy echoing the M.R. James story and ends with a retro-retribution equivalent to an inversion or spooky reversion of the place-and-soul symbiosis in the C.A. Smith story – with the background of a personal (Todash?) “piping” and “whining“. When starting this wonderful story, I was convinced I had not read it before but then it seemed to fit a bookish memory of mine which gradually came flooding back as I ended it. “Italy or Greece or somewhere!” (12 Nov 11)
[It has just occurred to me that one novel killing another novel could be an apt description of the internal plot of my own Chômu novel: ‘Nemonymous Night’!] (12 Nov 11 – an hour later)
Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass – Bruno Schulz
“Here we reactivate time past…”
Images and themes from Proust, Kafka, Aickman, Sakutarō, plus another type of sleep-sickness, decorative bunches of black ferns, the ‘sameness-of-places’ as in shops, a bookbinder who becomes an angry dog (at the arrival of ebooks in his world?), another heath-robinson contraption, self-deception (“things that I try to conceal from myself“) and many more images and themes in this astonishing ‘winding-hole’ (my expression, not the story’s) of a retro-causal waking-dream disguised as a fiction … the story starting with another of this book’s cartographically ‘spiritual’ ley-lines, i.e. this one in three ratcheted segments: the winding corridors of the train, of the forest route, and of the sanitorium – and along this ley-line, our protagonist (as with Tengo in ‘1Q84’) visits his father in that sanatorium. Is the story didactic or purely an absurd wonder of the world? It could be both. That’s its miracle – never really to be sure about anything. HPL’s “vacant abyss overhead”? Cerebral emptiness. Or rigorous metaphysics harvested from dream and fictionatronics? Or simply today’s Todash become eventual white noise “- dull chords disturbing space beyond the limits of audibility.” [I am conscious that this real-time review appears to be growing increasingly like that same cross between intellectually rigorous and imaginatively nonsensical. But I blame or credit the osmosis of this book for that effect. To be ‘like’ something however is not the same as being that thing. And I am, of course, serious in my attempts to portray my journey of reading this book as best I can. Whether this real-time review is of benefit to anyone else but me is not for me to say.] (12/11/11 – another four hours later)
Far Below – Robert Barbour Johnson
“A half-dozen times we’ve had a sort of mad ‘Bronx Zoo’ of our own down here -“
Wow! Yes, another ‘wow!’ discovery for me, particularly in the context of this book and of what I just said about being like this book, but not actually being this book. Not only starting with a train, like the previous story, and ending with it, again like the previous story, but also middling with it, this ley-line or audit-trail or ‘gestalt’ seems to include a significant points-change for my whole testing theory so far about this book’s leitmotifs. Attuned to the todashes of the ‘Night Wire’, “telepathic powers” communicated second-hand in H. F. Arnold but here come home to roost upon the narrative self itself: Lovecraftian “Them” (like those ‘them’ as ‘thoughts’ I mentioned re ‘The Willows’), “broadcasting their presence” – and the monstrous Proustian self so underground we can only admit it’s us if that means we can save that same self as well as saving others of our self’s ilk (or what used to be that ilk). Amazing, amazing stuff. “- the strange echoing, somehow pregnant silence of empty vastness.” We are our own ley-line. [Intermission]. (12 Nov 11 – another 2 hours later)
Smoke Ghost – Fritz Leiber
“…by their own volition thoughts rose up into his mind and gyrated slowly and rearranged themselves, with the inevitable movement of planets.”
An astrological harmonic of harmonics – or a gestalt ghost cohered from all the features of our declining society – and a office-worker who was once a seer-child … this work is a powerful tale of this man who scries roofscapes from the elevated train upon which he commutes to and from work (cf. the underground train in the previous story) – and a parthenogenetic soot creature (cf. ‘The White Wyrak’) or a black-man shape upon those roofs, a thing that stalks and threatens to stick to him like that unbrushable-off burr again. This spooky story (with didactic depths) should not be read just before bedtime, as I just did on a whim, thinking I had finished for the day. A whim or a compulsion from something that made me read it now? “A real ghost. Not something out of books.” (12 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)
White Rabbits – Leonora Carrington
“…watched a bluebottle suck the dry corpse of a spider between my feet.”
With the symbiotically potential influencing across Pest Street from balcony to balcony (as in the earlier story entitled ‘The Spider’), this startling vignellarette is a shard or scintilla of random truth and fiction that paradoxically resonates unscintillatingly with the inner and, eventually, outer sickness of feeding processes from ancient times and, for me, with the new custom of saying “white rabbits” out loud at the start of the 13th of any month. (13 Nov 11)
[This book is also its own feast, the Premier League of stories, upon which it is too easy to pig oneself reading. That’s not surprising as each story feels it has been meticulously hand-picked by an editorial soul with impeccable taste for how one should define Weird Literature (more of that later, perhaps) and for what stories can best deploy such a ‘genre’ with their own evolving synergistic soul inside the covers of a single book of intrinsic bookness. Meantime, just a few more names to add to my earlier list regarding tentatively debateable omissions: Oliver Onions, Reggie Oliver, Mark Valentine, Joel Lane, Quentin S Crisp, Rhys Hughes and Sarban.] (13 Nov 11 – an hour later)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.