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.
Axolotl – Julio Cortázar
“I was acquainted with the lions and the panthers, but had never entered the dark, humid building that was the aquarium.”
A hypnotic synergy (cf ‘The Spider’ earlier and other stories in this book) that crosses a form of symbiosis with some spiritual parthenogenesis via self-deception become truth. Here the act seems benign, in other stories malign. But both benignity and malignity hide each other within? Here the audit-trail betwen the Axolotl and the zoo-visiting man threads previous ideas about Mimicry of the Chameleon as well as about preyer and preyed-upon becoming a balance of truth and fiction reflecting each other, reflected, here, in the aquarium glass (cf ‘The Hungry House’)… It is a disarming act (cf: ‘The Complete Gentleman’), especially in its tone of “indifferent immobility” like a retrocausally prehistoric creature aching for its natural stony fossilisation before it is – with mixed feelings? – re-ignited upon some still precarious moment of brinkmanship by this tale’s skilful synergy of ‘its’ self with ‘my’ self. Cf: the synergy in Dunwich between Wilbur and what he summoned or what summoned him… (16/11/11 – six hours later)
A Woman Seldom Found – William Sansom
“At last the young man achieved himself:”
A second, but worthy, bite at this book’s cherry by William Sansom. This one takes place in Rome. [First, however, I need to share this quotation with you, a quotation from Elizabeth Bowen (my favourite writer, along with Robert Aickman, Marcel Proust, Lawrence Durrell and Thomas Ligotti): <<With all that Miss Selby scarcely ever went out: wasn’t it funny? She had not ‘done’ any of the places; she was ‘keeping’ Rome. For when, for whom, was she keeping it? One didn’t like to ask. That was Miss Selby’s secret, which, like a soap-bubble at the end of a pipe, would bulge, subside, waver, wobble iridescently, and subside again. Later, among the trees of the Pincio it transpired that she was keeping Rome for Somebody. Ah, really? Miss Phelps found this beautiful. Miss Selby interrupted her sight to confess that she allowed herself daily small rations; she would stand looking, for instance, through the railings of the Forum without going in.>> From ‘The Secession’ 1926.] Meanwhile, in the Sansom, we have another suggested moment of crystallisation or symbiotic focus as that of Axolotl and me or of Spider and me (but here with a tantalising promise of concupiscence!), plus another echo of this book’s sameness-of-places-making-travel-a-chore theme (here potentially gingered up by the aforementioned tantalisation) and a further elongation of the ‘long sheet’, here more fleshily! A wonderful wonderful vignellarette. [elong = gnole] (16/11/11 – another 45 minutes later)
The Howling Man – Charles Beaumont
“Paris, of course, was enchanting and terrifying, as a jungle must be to a zoo-born monkey.”
Another disarming protagonist as the reader continues to stalk this book’s leitmotifs-to-gestalt when, in this story, the audit-trail “serpentined through forests, cities, towns, villages, and always followed its least likely appendages”. If I’d known what and whom: we could have prevented many of History’s ills. I even suspect that this book has left a number of ‘red herrings’ in my path of critique so as to entice me into wilder and wilder visions of, say, a Mrs Rochester howling in a far reach of a Monastery’s upper corridor or of an invalid child howling for some Secret Garden from a Monk’s cell. All I need now are “unhousebroken words” to tease out History’s Toynbeean ‘Challenge and Response’ –“madness or respectability”. Or just an imagined Grand Tour of a pre- and post- Third Reich Europe in the hope that destinations or destinies are never boringly the same and that such travel is never a chore: and that Satan’s debt crisis resides not at the end of any journey undertaken towards my personal rainbow’s end. Beaumont’s prose is wonderful. As is the Faustian plot. (16/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
Same Time, Same Place – Mervyn Peake
“The wild beasts prowled around me.”
This story is yet another major discovery for me by this book. A young man’s view of a form of claustrophobia while living with his obsessively detailed parents. Leaving on an ‘adventure’ to disrupt that ‘sameness-of-places’ boredom he enters London’s West End streets (both a sort of carnal zoo and a refined ambiance in a relatively small area) and he has an idolising variety of this book’s ‘spiderous symbiosis’ with a splendid being he sees as a large-head upon a woman (cf my vision of a huge head in ‘Mister Taylor’) at a restaurant table towards whom his endemic obsessive nature turns as a romantic crush (cf ‘A Woman Seldom Met’). The style and content also remind me constructively of some stories by Elizabeth Bowen and Robert Aickman [and of common themes with VIOLETTE DORANGES by David V. Griffin and EVEN THE MIRROR by Ursula Pflug – both stories from ‘Null Immortalis’]. The stranger ‘homing-pigeon’ ending is so utterly pathetic, even bathetic, I am reminded, somehow, of a well-known group Picasso painting the title of which I forget (as I was similarly reminded at the recent end for me of ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes). “He had the longest neck on earth. His starched collar was the length of a walking stick, and his small bony head protruded from its extremity like the skull of a bird.” (17/11/11)
The VanderMeers are the biggest, if not wildest, beasts prowling the Weird Jungle or the Zoo of Dreams, keen on giving their genuine pearls to those with or after or by whom they prowl or are prowled. A lion’s paw with sticky thorn needs to invent its own Androcles. But, meanwhile, who hunts or haunts the Colomber just as the Colomber itself hunts or haunts whom? Which our Proustian Self of the Day? Which our beast of the bush, bird of the sky, burr of the sea?
The Colomber – Dino Buzzati
“‘Despite being forty,’ said the father, ‘I believe I still have good eyesight. But I can’t see a thing – nothing at all.'”
Hardly the Ancient Mariner! But the voyage continues till his son is older even than I am today. I have been a father of a son (and daughter) as well as a son myself. This is a magnificent find of a fable about an aspirant seaman dogged by his own albatross-shark only to find perhaps he himself is the albatross to shoot and hang around his own neck. Do what you should in life is its moral. Don’t work in the now debt-ridden city of finances all your life (as I did) but fish those Weird seas for retrocausal daily provender to keep body and soul together. But I fear that even retrocausality is too late for me, now. Yes, a wonderful burr of a fable, one which, for me, has not yet reached its gradually accreting culmination. The pursuant burr that this book surely is, urging me onward to complete the task of its journey beyond the clinging ‘sameness-of-places’. I just hope the book’s eventual gestalt is the essential pearl (within the stories’ communal oyster-shell) that I anticipate it being. But, meanwhile, the journey is everything. (17/11/11 – two hours later)
The Other Side of the Mountain – Michel Bernanos
Part One: “Astonished, I glanced around, taking in the hawsers coiled in every corner. Cords of rope similar to those I’d spotted on moored boats. The ship reeked of tar.”
So far, a thrilling adventure of a ship’s cabin boy – and the mutinous and sometimes cannibalistic brutality of the crew, except for the sterling cook, Toine – new type of hands-on, hands-dirty Captain Nemo involved directly with the dangers of a dire becalming and then storm / whirlwind, rather than just showing his third-hand visions through a submarine window? But beyond Part One, who knows? The emerging awesome visions have come to a sort of brink of culmination… No longer the boredom of ‘same places’ of natural sea. The transcending of self-deception. I see this ship as a sort of bodiless skull, detached from the mainland. One strewn with ropes – lianas, lines, liens, ley-lines of brain-tubing? “Like a pointed finger, it approached slowly, ready to suck me into the dead man’s skull .” — “Delusion sparked odd thoughts. God, tired of monotony, had reshaped the Heavens.” (18/11/11)
Part Two: “I came to my senses at last and tried to get rid of it, but the vine stuck to my skin.”
And the audit-trail turns out not be a false one, having now read the second and last part of the story: a monumental tour-de-force as Toine and the young narrator face a red-bleeding mainland world 0f sublime and frightening prehensility: forests that make obeisances, plants some man-eating, others threatening them like diseased veins or vines from within one’s own body; and much more. It is as if they have come to Azathoth’s Core [my expression not the story’s; cf: ‘Nemonymous Night’] — a cross between Inner Earth and the elongation into the whole world around them of that erstwhile skull I imagined when reading and reviewing Part One: i.e. a journey into a nightmare headland of “hideous beauty” involving human ‘statues’ with bones like skeletons (cf: ‘A Child in the Bush of Ghosts’). And a Dunsanyan wood now become Dunsinane. This is the peak of adventure storying literally become viscerally emotional … yet with hard mineral crust insulating accretively…. Whose waking nightmare is it? Toine’s or the Narrator’s? Whose burr is towing whose? The last paragraph is almost unbearable (double-edged with both despair and hopeful poignancy). Another great discovery for me. (18/11/11 – four hours later)
[There is also another real time review of ‘The WEIRD’ currently being conducted – here by Maureen Kincaid Speller – but I shall not be reading it until I have completed my own.]
The Salamander – Mercè Rodoreda
“…my life faced the past, with him inside me like a root inside the earth.”
The erstwhile pool and willow from ‘Genius Loci’. But here a male stalker for real – not just a metaphor like burr or colomber – a stalker who catches the woman he follows and makes her victim to his salaciousness: and the victim by being victim – amid essentially the superstition of iconic ‘statue’ Christianity – becomes the culprit, the ‘witch’ – and she is hunted and given to the punishment of flames — and, via imposed salaciousness to salamander (cf ‘Axolotl’), she transfigures (with Tutuola-like simplicity) into another ‘tell-tale heart’ / ‘screaming skull’ / ‘five-fingered hand’ that scuttles under the marital bed of the man who’d made her his culpable victim – except such a ‘hand’ eventually has its own tiny hand amid the latent pool of her ‘dying fall’ existence….. A densely packed prose told movingly from the first person point of view of the woman / salamander with exquisitely contrastive matter-of-factness. The moral? It’s too slippery to make it worth pursuing, I say. (18/11/11 – another hour later)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.