SECRET EUROPE by John Howard and Mark Valentine (EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE: Bucharest: MMXII).
REAL-TIME REVIEW CONTINUED FROM HERE
Cabaret Zoltaire – Mark Valentine
A Dadaistic exercise by Tristrian Czar? Rhys-Hughesian fictionatronics? Certainly Anthony Hope not. For me, it’s a Geographical Germinal of Gazetteers and Non-Contiguous Alphabeticists. A Zeroist* rejoinder to Baltersan’s Final edition and the Cartographer who once couldn’t get past H having now finally reached Z with much celebration. Now, though, soporifically tracing the lines of coasts with the latitudinal indifference of a grazz-cutter. [*From Wikipedia: “Lewis was born in Walton-on-Naze, Essex on January 18, 1948. He attended Lancaster University from 1966 to 1969, where he formed the Zeroist Group.”] (8 Mar 12 – another 2 hours later)
I’ve suddenly thought why there are 25 stories in this book – and why the number at the back of my book is 26 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (9 Mar 12 – 2.10 am gmt !)
It was a good job I had my ipad handy when I woke in the middle of the night with the above revelation so as to make a note about it at the first opportunity! — Whether or not this is an intentional literary trick, it’s a literary trick that will go down in history! It also has some bearing, I feel, upon my comments earlier in this real-time review about the ‘watermarks on postage stamps’ / ‘book collecting’ syndrome… (9 Mar 12 – 7.20 am gmt)
Not so much quantitative easing as quantitative teasing!
The Waltz of Masks – John Howard
“Those paintings are moving, or are they magnificent people dancing?”
I simply had to look ‘Chancellor Dollfuss’ up on google and thus I then got some idea of the history of Austro-Hungary and Vienna that features in this highly poignant tale. It tells, amid strife and civil disturbance, of hearing Strauss’ ‘Emperor Waltz’ next door in a gloomy block of flats. Having reached the man playing this record, one can listen to a longish (Alzheimic?) monologue of past and present, loves and other matters, as if he is actually there talking to the people involved, even with his dear wife etc. I can’t explain quite how intensely poignant and how it yet latches into this book’s gestalt, other than being, for me, a natural accretion of masked words towards what I am already convinced is a book I shall always remember, a book that stands muster as best Anthology and best Collection … ever? As an aside, I’ll mention that it mentions ‘Old Danube’. Is this an area of Vienna which is old and happens to border the Danube (that I have travelled along in the past myself). Or is it a part of the river itself that is actually older than the rest of the river? If the latter, it is intriguing how this latches into a river never being the same thing from one minute to the next and thus is never old or new along any part of its stretches. And that takes no account of the study of riparian rights? (9 Mar 12 – two hours later)
The Second Percussionist – Mark Valentine
“…to complete this little catechism of the trade, is to be a little naughty. Nobody likes a saint, I assure you. It’s best for it to be discreetly known that you are willing to step a little aside from the strict tenets of the law,…”
…referring to the ‘trade’ (of skilled work) as in being a second percussionist in a classical orchestra (i.e. an assistant percussionist rather than second by ordinal to the earlier Markian tambourine-player we encountered in this book). But it also fits my gestalt of ‘trade’ as part of economics (the Greek ‘haircuts’ having now actually happened this very day). The onward radiating of the European History and its darkening clouds, with which this book is spasmodically imbued, here takes place in neutral Sweden: although at first I thought the city – judging by the initial description – was Milton Keynes! But then I realised: this city is allied to Greek or Roman architecture with elements of John Howard’s white-city or art-deco locations, here sea-borne. Our drumskin percussionist creates his own image carefully through various self-imposed traits (like the ‘naughty’, quantitative teasing element already quoted above). Part of this partially eccentric formula of ‘self ‘comprises him composing a sort of sea symphony like Vaughan Williams… This story is another classic of ‘genius loci’ and genius completely ‘loco’! They keep on coming. The last sentence clinches this as one of the very best. (9 Mar 12 – another 90 minutes later)
A Gift for the Emperor – John Howard
“And millions of marks are poured away like water into our so-called colonies.”
…like quantitative leasing? Akin to authors allowing their readers to lease each other’s imaginations (reader’s and author’s) for collaborative panoplying, except the authors are tasked with writing it all down later. Thanks, John, for this longest story in the whole book as a gift just to me. You didn’t have to, you know. Still, in connection with this story’s “…he’d been making notes in the book. There was a pencil resting on the open pages“, the book itself that contains the story is, I’m afraid, lightly salted with my own pencil marks: as if, in hindsight, to change the course of (geo)political history as well as literary history, I guess. Aural geomancy or simply knot-holes in the wood of the desk where I sit. Even the interaction of truth and fiction as a form of New Reality. To grass-cut as well as hair-cut. The story itself, of the “Versailles of East Prussia”, available as visits of residency for whomsoever bears one of the following titles (all the same person at various times of history): “Elector of Brandenburg, Duke of Prussia, King in Prussia, the German Emperor” – today happening to be Wilhelm II. A ‘genius loci’ of a building and grounds, wonderfully adumbrated or hinted. It is a seriously charming story (with grim undercurrents of foreseeable repercussions that resonate with history as we think we know it) telling of Wilhelm’s planned visit when he sends – by the train he was meant to be travelling on – not himself sitting in the carriage corner but a painting of himself sitting there: and of everything that then derived from – or back towards – a concertina of events … including another book with pencil marks: a book of Kipling’s poetry that may or may not have created alternaties through what was printed in its formal text (the power of the poetry), but also through the possession of it as a handleable book by reader’s marginalia (visible or invisible) as emblems of creative interpretation soaking into the pores of the quality paper. A perfect ending to our perfect book. Thanks for allowing me to share it.
They are ‘objective correlatives’ and leitmotifs and ‘dying falls’ and ‘disarming strangenesses’, such as that painting, that enrich this book: and all the other props with the power of relics within word-passage reliquaries: quirks inside other quirks: history turned into powerful metaphors: allowing readers like us (with only a modicum of knowledge) to learn more about it through the delight of fiction (a double gift). But not only more about it, but also perhaps retrocausing it, till we don’t know if history is really as set in stone as it used to be when I was taught it post-prescriptively as a 1950s child. I’m rambling now and probably not expressing things as well as I should: i.e not in the way the authors would. So, I’ll end by simply asking the unaswerable question. Unaskable, too.
Oh, just one further thought. Fiction is like currency: belief is everything. A painting of a bank-note on the wall of the German Chancellor. (9 Mar 12 – another two and half hours later)
zENCORE! – Bis-Mark (10 Mar 12)