I’m due to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of THIS HERMETIC LEGISLATURE: A Homage to Bruno Schulz edited by D.P. Watt and D.T. Ghetu (EX OCCIDENTE PRESS: Bucharest: MMXII). A book I purchased from the publisher and received today in the UK.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. In fact I may not successfully progress my reading of it for a while during my current busy process of publishing The First Book of Classical Horror Stories.
CAVEAT: 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 real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/
The stories in this book are written by George Berguño, Rhys Hughes, Karim Ghahwagi, Stephen J. Clark, Joel Lane, Mark Valentine, Oliver Smith, John Howard, Charles Schneider, D.P. Watt, Dominy Clements, Adam S. Cantwell, Douglas Thompson, Colin Insole, Mark Samuels, Reggie Oliver, Anna Taborska, Michael Cisco, R.B. Russell.
Perhaps I shall describe in due course the truly stunning physical book itself (the best Ex Occidente book in this respect yet?) but first the stories – and what a major experience (despite one typo) to start with…
Fugue for Black Thursday – George Berguño
“Time grows in all directions, sprouting new limbs and branches.”
I was opportunely listening to Mozart’s Piano Sonata K333 (just finished being broadcast on BBC Radio 3) while I was reading this story. You will know why opportune when you read it. Also the story today has another opportune synchronicity with the Ukraine-Poland Euro Football Tournament with references in this story to Drohobycz (and the England footballers being taken to visit Auschwitz in the last few days) – and synchronicity with the evil things today going on in Syria. Do I dare belittle the story by calling it Whovian? Still, this truly great story has variations on the theme of Time’s Arrow concerning Bruno the Jew and his three pictorial sketches: following a quote from ‘Tempus Incognitum: a small town in Ukraine’ – Berguño’s story being narrated from the ostensible POV of a first person singular Gestapo officer in 1942 and 1983. Fascinating, intriguing, devastating. “…man or woman or child, old or young, just kill for the sake of killing.” (12 June 2012 – 10.05 a.m. bst)
The Messiah of the Mannequins – Rhys Hughes
“…she looked twice as old as him; but she was fifteen years younger when they married. They must sleep in different rooms.”
Yet another Rhys-Hughesian fictionatronic masterpiece. How does he do it? Well, the character’s name here is Witold and I am reminded of Witold Gombrowicz’s whodunnit (‘Cosmos‘) in tone and contraption: echoing the previous Berguño story with (as I put it) a ‘Time’s Arrow’ conceit plus here an out-augural comet. The whodunnit in the Hughes: who (or what?) is the Messiah presaged by the comet? And there is much joy in logical reader-tangling: with mannequins and mannequin’s mannequins and clock-making – not a Pinnocchio’s nose in sight, but a nose with no nostrils instead. A delightful unabsurdly absurd gem, enforcing the view that ultimate truth can only reside at the bi-telescopic intersection of such slanting glances. (13 June 2012 – 1.35 pm bst)
The Fall of a City Planner – Karim Ghahwagi
“…lowered his resigned gaze down towards the cobbled carpet beneath his feet.”
A deeply textured prose that is ripe with a civic architecture between real time and dream time: as a tale of a downtrodden part of Copenhagen being brought up to scratch for us conceptually by the author’s vision of town-planning and by the town-planner’s own vision — within “the wounds of time” — of bird-cages replacing the heads of loved ones and of birds themselves or perhaps simply of a “white of winter” swan (Aleda?)): “paper-mached” rather than ‘papier-mâchéd’ (with typographically conjoined hyphens liberally peppered instead of ‘loose’ en-dashes as some sort of symbol that towns and text are also mis-conjoined). A”statue-laden” nightmare with its “…bones jutting out of its filament, conveniently rearranged into a new composition of possiblilty” like this story, a nightmare (wonderfully written) that seems to tap into ‘Time’s Arrow’ I’ve identified so far in this book “…to wretch that infinite moment…” (14 June 2012 – 7.15 pm bst)
[I have just remembered that I reviewed Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass: Bruno Schulz – last November – for the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’. It now seems strangely apt in time’s hindsight. I have pasted that review in the first ‘Comment’ below on this page. Caveat: I am not an expert on Bruno Schulz and that is possibly the only story of his I have read.]
Great Ruins of Tomorrow – Stephen J. Clark
“As well as the analogy I’d drawn with the clock I had often morbidly thought the device resembled a small coffin,…”
One of the great contraptions of literature, perhaps, will be the hindsight view of Stephen J. Clark’s ‘Tremblepiece‘ – not Heath Robinson so much as Time’s own accretion of ‘fears’ and unknown seasons and weather-systems of spiritual thought (a “seismographic pupa“) all in the light of, now, a new town-planning for this book caused by the bombsites of war. Generational “convergence” as Time’s Arrow becomes here a hybrid of a clock and a coffin (itself like a pointer) or an arrow on the dial of a barometer and much more. Another densely textured gem, here through the eyes of a female protagonist involved in those very Whovian inter-generational flows. “We cannot afford to give in too much to the excesses of the imagination.” The danger of reading this book? One of Clark’s ‘fears’ and ‘corrections’ / ‘infections’ “…like the ruffles in an old stair carpet that cause you to trip in the dark.“ (15 June 2012 – 11.10 am bst)
Letters in Black Wood – Joel Lane
“We moved house five times, but there was always a park.”
Starts with a black ashtray. A touching story of a family as seen by the sensitive narrator – a story of his father’s ‘entries’ in a notebook and, after his father’s death by negligence in a factory accident, the division, firstly, by the family’s members of his memorial ashes in divergent places of their past, and then the narrator’s subsequent attempt to return these ashes together to form a ghost-gestalt of the father or simply the father himself tantamount to what he once was… The emotions are complex, the power simple. Like the way I feel when building leitmotifs in these real-time reviews. Like me trying to form a picture (as I am already doing thanks to all the stories so far, this book’s own Entries) of the mysterious (to me) Bruno Schulz. By the time I finish this book, Schulz’ll be standing in this room, the room where I sit typing this. Time regathered like ashes, like black letters. Parking a preoccupation retrocausally, then getting on with one’s life without it…? “My parents were worried about different things.” (16 June 2012 – 2.40 pm bst)
[I have just noticed that, in faint red ink upon a black flyleaf, I have no. 25 of 122 copies of this book. The same number as I was given for the ‘Secret Europe’ book.]
The Original Light – Mark Valentine
“…a few arrowed words with his dip-pen, in a whorl of dark ink.”
Taking Lane’s ‘family’ into a truly literary and spiritual experience of a story to be slowly savoured and, with no doubt in my mind, to be re-read fruitfully until eternity comes. It tells of a member of this family and his disciple relative (with a yen for those schoolday marbles that seemed to possess their own inner light): who makes bouquets of weeds with scrying phrases hidden on tabs of paper within – that he sells to neighbours. Subject almost to an inscrutable type of retrocausal SF post-holocaust. “There was a green tint in the sky, as if a veil of verdigris had grown over the sun.” There is an inner or original light to this story, a language that is simply exquisite, a physical light, too, explicitly emanating from the [for me a ‘nemonymous night’] Earth – a geomantic gestalt of Lane’s ‘ashes’. “We had been taken by rote through some ink-blotted, black-lettered monochrome maps…” (17 June 2012 – 10.10 am bst)
With Shadow All the Marble Steps – Oliver Smith
“‘Tick-tock’ it shouted in a loud and joyous voice, as it rose like an exultant phoenix from the waters.”
This substantive story is a sleep-smashing story (it woke me up, having started earlier this morning after half-waking), a story that initially struck me as a frenetic Tim Nickels and Rhys Hughes and ‘Tristram Shandy’ prose style in overdrive. Indeed, it is. “…gigantic cockroaches pretended to be dark eyed girls peering from balconies.” A mad mad-scientist tale that has its serious side with satirical references to those mad-scientists who were unacceptably mad and made the past the cruellest month, crueller even than April with teals flying. The book’s earlier ‘Aleda’ now ‘Adele’, and brains kept in pickle-jars, filial parthenogenesis, the tango dance as worth spying upon and excoriating, Salvador Dali timepieces (creating Clark’s ‘Tremblepiece’ with hands like worms), literary splatter-horror, and wild-conceited ironic fantasy to die for. Fictionatronic to the nth degree. Words like salmon in a fast river. Numbers that become “papier-mâché“. My own brain pickled within something physically erected upon the page (it would never evolve like that from an ebook). “Never the less, he clicked his heals and let an unspoken Heil hang in the air like a rancid fish on a washing line.” (18 June 2012 – 11.15 am bst)
Silver on Green – John Howard
“The congealed moonlight of silver pooled in his hand represented firm value, a bulwark against uncertainty.”
On the day (in our own real-time) after the latest Greek political haircut and Spanish bonds reaching unsustainable levels, another substantive story emerges, one that treats parthenogenetically — (via fiction locations and corruptive politics/regime changes made true, here, by the “terra incognita” syndrome: cf:”tempus incognita” at the start of the Berguño Bruno story, and by a vision of London around the ‘League of Nations’ era like a ‘fragment of life’ in Machen casting verity upon everything else herein) — with an old yet tantalisingly “Current and Future European situation“. Here by extrapolating any Eden with its own retrocausal ‘serpent’ (cf: St George and the Dragon) – and by a very clever conceit regarding a role-playing game with coins, tantamount to juggling, building that bulwark against uncertainty (and against corruption: a word often used about currencies and the coins that represent them even if their milled metal bears illicit (or blank) imprimatur), indeed, as our protagonist must surely have discovered for himself if I read this right. Gives me hope. Or, perhaps, in tune with politics / monarchal hierarchies, hope itself, too, must suffer this story’s “pendulum“. Bruno’s standing at my shoulder. He perhaps typed this. (18 June 2012 – 2.00pm bst)
Manual of Quiet Destruction – Charles Schneider
“…everything encountered, living or dead, is infused with a scrambling, scattershot energy, mysterious mineral, terribly uncolored, glorious, burning gauntly, white hot.”
…like Valentine’s ‘original light’ (“like discarded marbles“) or the inner power of Howard’s promissory coins of currency (Howard’s ‘congealed moonlight of silver pooled’ now, here, the “slop and glittering, moonlit sludge was pooled…”). A story imbued with a shimmering, undefined kaleidoscope of Joel Lane’s father-son relationship (“…eat the ashes of The Boy,” and “secret parking sessions“). But, above all it is about me, as I real-time review books obsessively and come close to things I shudder to come close to but love. The Boy who was taken by a showy form of literature and given “that massive, masked head of Papier-mâché” while “Words enter the mind unbidden, telling it terrible things,” as the stories do to me while I try to disguise their masks of truth by re-masking them with a single mask. I shall need to be careful. Need to tread warily upon “the Persian rug which rotted beautifully upon the moistened concrete wedge, in the yard.” Yes, rotted beautifully, like this story. Read more by this author. (18 June 2012 – 8.00 pm bst)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.