Shrike – Quentin S. Crisp

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A hardback novella (signed by the author) that I recently purchased via Amazon and received today (3 Feb 12). And it is entitled:-

Shrike – by Quentin S. Crisp

Shrike

PS Publishing (2009)

CAVEAT (1): 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 other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

My previous real-time reviews of fiction by Quentin S. Crisp: Morbid Tales – Quentin S. Crisp ; All God’s Angels, Beware! – Quentin S Crisp ; “Remember You’re a One-Ball!” – by Quentin S. Crisp ; Cinnabar’s Gnosis

===============================

I.The note of the upturned bronze bell was silence made audible. It interpenetrated the realms of both the living and the dead.”

[My first remembered creative writing outside the jurisdiction of school was a poem called ‘O Garden’ that featured a shrike: that I somehow knew was also called the butcher bird.] This chapter, Autumn of course (it always is Autumn with my reading!) – and Brett Stokes, a young man, who had sort of been adopted by the Kunisada family during the time he was an exchange student in Japan, returns for the ‘funeral’ following the death of Mr Kunisada from cigarette-caused cancer. Here both Philip Larkin’s “musical, moth-eaten brocade” of religion and the “excuse” provided by alcohol are factored into what I have called before an element of Crisp fiction: i.e. the Laconics: here the Laconics of Japan and its bereavement rituals.   A touching picture of a granted “leisure of death” told in characteristically well-textured Crisp prose. (2.15 pm 3 Feb 12)

II. “…a gardenful of autumn morning.”

An almost rambling chapter, but somehow at heart we know it is not rambling at all. Brett with Mrs K, Mr K’s widow, leading to comparison of his mother-son type relationships with the meaning of ‘love’ and an ‘ex’ called Heather – and a palimpsest or tracing of erstwhile relationship with Mr K himself, mixed by the “precious” memories within a “still-life” of Japan as ‘genius loci’: the organic, poetically meaningful difference between Autumn there and back where Brett lives. And almost what I can transpose from this chapter’s mention in another context of “crisp notes” now written by Brett about these things as the further factoring-in, via a two-way filter, of the reader’s own entrancingly laid-back journey amid “lost cycles“, self-doubt, “a crisp, lucid pathos still spoken as of old by the gong-like reverberations of a temple bell“, the minutiae of a wrist and sleeping with the pre-funerary dead (as they do in Japan?).  A fiction-truth of all these things that “seemed always and only to belong to the future , or to the past, but never to now.” (3 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

III.Obscurity, after all, was a great part of the aesthetic attraction of failure.”

Resonating between an anti-novel about, say, a Venetian blind or a futon and a dead neglected Japanese writer whom Mrs K and Brett visit at that writer’s museum, as it were, we are teased with the image of a thorn-crucified lizard as a shrike’s latent larder.   Having watched a number of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ recently,  I, too, wonder, if the bird was featured there (Dahl influenced by reading my sixties poem ‘O Garden’, thus later to influence Stokes (via Crisp) in the 21st century?). The leisure of death as a symptom of laziness or of “literary failure” (I can relate to that, at least) or of lie (fraud)?  Or of all three?  There is an intrinsicity here akin to each chapter heading’s explicitly but supposedly Japanese script-capsule of a paper’s print-mark – as if each audit-t(r)ail crosses (cf the lizard) then re-crosses another and another eventually to form the unified pattern of meaning or “death-mask“. And one character says: “I believe Murakami Haruki has publicly stated that he can’t stand Japanese literature. He spends his time listening to American jazz and suchlike.” (3 Feb 12 – another 3 hours later)

IV. “Getting close to someone reminds you how tragic ordinary life is.”

And that if reality can be turned into fiction, fiction can just as easily be turned into reality …  in this new Crispian “Suicide Watch”-type ‘letter’ to Heather from Japan written as if he’s already dead, i.e. another variation on a theme: a ‘dying fall’ that runs, for me, like a paradoxically uplifting vein through much non-vocal classical or ‘chamber’ music (that some people call ‘serious music’!).  The shrike now seems to have a second victim in a desiccated toad, and potentially a third in a live toad.  There follows Brett’s attempted, potentially dream-invading visualisation of the nature of this, or any, shrike. I, meanwhile, try to remain unable to visualise a shrike. I suppose it’s the easiest matter in the world to google it…. [I wish to remain ignorant of its nature, and part of the suspense of this novel, for me, is being on the brink of being told something about it I do not wish to know. I never knew what a shrike looked like when I wrote my first poem many years ago. I suppose I just liked the sound of the word.] (3 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

Dahl or Dali (both referred to in this book’s text), I woke up this morning with their hybrid dreams still presiding.  (7.50 am – 4 Feb 12)

V. “To arrive at life, one must first go through death, that was as plain as all hell, thought Brett, taking the first drag on his cigarette…”

This chapter: sometimes eschatologically mawkish, at other times, stigmatically spiritual, as Brett (who gave him such an awfully off-putting name! … ‘Stokes’ at least partially resonates with spike and shrike and poker-as-thorn) continues his Crisp Notes to Heather, via a “Ghost of Love Affairs Past” version of unrequited Proust, a potential act of dire gratuitousness via Albert Camus: and an abstemious Scrooge wielding Occam’s Razor —- and I remember my cough that I made public when reading “All God’s Angels Beware!” and here the cancer-thorn to be ‘inherited’ from the late Mr K.  Brett’s body as well as soul seen first  as a “fortress” or aspergic defence-system, but seen second, via my interpretation of Brett’s undercurrents of thought, as Terry Buzzacott’s ‘two-timing’ Fortress as Redoubt. Time frozen as Pilate (the embodiment – of all other people who Brett feels watched by – in the unknown  form of a conceivably tiny shrike) is about to drive a relic-nail from Golgotha through Brett’s Breast. (4 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

VI.Stalemate is stalemate is  stalemate.”

Like that Stein line “a rose is a rose is a rose”? Or a woodbine is a woodbine is a woodbine. This substantive chapter is the Earth’s Core of ‘Shrike’, I am currently assuming. A significant visionary episode that it would spoil to describe, especially the nature of the narrative belief underlying its beginning. Simply do re-read the whole of the published Quentin S. Crisp fiction canon before reading this chapter – because it all culminates here.  A judicial theatre of eschatological choice: and one must re-read War With The Newts – by Karel Capek, too, and revisit the cigarettes in ‘The Man Who Collected Machen’ by Mark Samuels: Fiction pulling the strings of Reality: or vice versa: except they are called different names from Fiction and Reality in this chapter, names that would reveal the Spoiler I’m trying to keep Unspoilt.  Whatever the case, this section is a major memorable intervention within the plot’s audit trail, an audit trail that I once thought I was following before reading this chapter: even as powerful as the Sermon on Hell scene from Joyce’s ‘Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man’ that once severely kicked me into or out of touch when a Young Man myself many years ago.  [Emma’s in the smoking Woodhouse. That’s a non-sequitur?] (4 Feb 12 – another 2 hours later)

I forgot to mention – in VI. there is also a reference to “exquisite music” that is not a million miles away from my observation earlier about ‘dying fall’ etc. (4 Feb 12 – another 45 minutes later)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW NOW CONTINUED HERE

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s